Wall-E: Avoiding the Lorax

I went and saw Wall-E yesterday with the kids, and the proof that Pixar has made another winner was that the flick held Stalliondo’s undivided attention for almost the entire movie. (He got fidgety near the end.) I ended up liking the film a whole lot more than I thought I would, probably because I was bracing myself for a high-tech version of The Lorax, a story that makes me wretch just thinking about it.

Who could forget the colorful piece of bile that is The Lorax? It’s Dr. Seuss’ environmental screed about a fluffy busybody that wants to shut down the Thneed industry. Thneeds, which everyone needs, are made out of Truffula trees, and the Lorax speaks for the Truffula trees, doncha know, but the Onceler is chopping all of them down and choking the rivers and leaving a desolate wasteland, forcing the Lorax to lift himself by his buttocks into the sky, leaving behind a platform that says, pretentiously, “Unless…”

It’s preachy, didactic crap that makes no sense. I mean, come on! Ol’ Onceler would be replanting Truffulas all along the way so as to keep the Thneed industry in business and make sure his product line never stopped moving. People fail to understand that those who make their living off the land have a vested interest in ensuring that the land remains profitable – which means keeping it in good, fertile condition. The government and the tree huggers want us to abandon the land to its own devices, but the results aren’t great. Believe me, I’ve tried that technique in my own backyard, and it doesn’t work well.

(As a tangent, I should note that My Esteemed Colleague once protested the removal of a grass island in the middle of his street by sitting in front of a bulldozer and reading The Lorax. Now that would have been a sight to see.)

Anyway, The Lorax is, I think, the gold standard for maudlin environmental claptrap, and by expecting a similar dose of green guilt, I was relieved to discover that wasn’t really what Wall-E was trying to do. It’s there if you look for it, though, especially in the idea that it’s unfettered capitalism that will do us in. The world has been co-opted by a massive corporation called “BuyNLarge,” run by a president played, in live action, by the brilliant Fred Willard, and the corporation also runs the government, too.

As if the problem we face is that capitalism is running wild! We’re hobbling capitalism every chance we get, all around the globe.

And capitalism is far better for the environment than Obama-style centralized command-and-control government. Anyone remember Eastern Europe in the Iron Curtain days? The egalitarian communists were far greater polluters than we decadent Westerners. So it’s silly to fear a metastasized Wal-Mart taking over the world.

There. Moaning over. Because Wall-E uses that as a backdrop to tell a very simple story about one lonely soul who finds true love. And that’s really what interests the screenwriters, so it doesn’t really matter what the backstory is. The character of Wall-E is remarkably expressive, and the movie is at its most powerful in the first act, when he and his lady love, Eve, are essentially the only “living” souls onscreen. Can a movie with only two characters and no real dialogue really hold the attention of a three-year-old? Yes. That’s a colossal accomplishment.

The movie falters somewhat as we leave what remains of Earth and rejoin the human race in outer space – I’ll wander into mild spoiler territory from here on out, so skip to the end if you want to avoid any and all plot info – because suddenly it’s not just about Wall-E and Eve, it’s about the fate of humanity. I found that distracting. I didn’t really care if humankind found its way again – I just wanted to know what was going on with Wall-E and Eve. In this sense, the movie almost fell prey to what I call The American President Syndrome, which I will explain quickly.

You remember The American President, don’t you? It was a movie where Michael Douglas was a widower version of Bill Clinton who falls for a lovely lobbyist in the form of Annette Bening. The whole thing was billed as a romance, but it’s a bait-and-switch. Because to win his lady love, he has to appear before the press corps and give a ten-minute speech featuring highlights from Michael Dukakis’ Greatest Hits, including praise of the ACLU, a defense of flag burning, gun control, and, of course, reducing carbon emissions. You realize by then, if you didn’t before, that this was the filmmaker’s agenda all along. Oh, sure, they’ll throw in a sappy romance because that will get you into the theater, but it’s just a spoonful of sugar to make the bitter leftist medicine go down.

(It’s interesting to note that Aaron Sorkin, writer of The American President, brought the same concept to TV with The West Wing, promoting movie Chief of Staff Martin Sheen to TV President and abandoning the romance in favor of dramatized DNC talking points. Is there really any question as to what story he wants to tell?)

Wall-E almost goes down that road as humanity is forced to come to terms with its failures, but, thankfully, it never fully succumbs. Even amid the commentary, there’s a beautiful extended sequence in outer space featuring two robots, a fire extinguisher, and static electricity that’s as magnificent a silent love scene as has ever been put to film. And even after the fate of humanity has been settled, there’s a final scene between Eve and Wall-E that resolves the story that matters, the story that never gets fully subordinated to Lorax-style greenhouse gaseousness.

Yes, Wall-E has some dumb ideas, but its heart is always in the right place. It’s Pixar’s second-best film – after The Incredibles, of course. Needless to say, it’s a movie worth watching.

________

I’m done reviewing the movie. I’m now going to talk about something tangential, something in which my wife had absolutely no interest when I tried discussing it with her last night.

I want to say how cool it was to have them use those excerpts from Hello, Dolly throughout the film. That’s Michael Crawford, he of Phantom of the Opera fame, trying unsuccessfully to mask his English accent and sing “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” a delightfully sappy old tune that I once sang as a solo for the Kids of the Century long, long ago. I know all the words and was singing along – it’s hard to sing the line about “A lovely lilt that makes you tilt your nose,” though, because the L’s get all cluttered together.

Lest you get any mistaken ideas about renting the whole Hello, Dolly movie, let me disabuse you of that notion right now. The movie version stinks. They ditched Carol Channing – the quintessential Dolly Levi who, if she’s not dead, is probably still touring with the show – in favor of – *shudder* – Barbara Streisand, who sucks. I saw Carol Channing play Dolly live back in the early Eighties, and she was magnificent. Babs blows.

The end.

Stallion Cornell: Automotive Bonehead
Happy Fourth of July!

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