Film Review: WALL•E: rediscovering an ecological message in Pixar’s masterpiece

by Alberto Sclaverano for Citiplat

WALL•E is one of the greatest achievements of modern animation cinema. It was produced by Pixar Animation Studios and distributed by The Walt Disney Company (which owns Pixar since 2006). Not only this small gem won the 2008 United States’ Academy Award (the Oscar) for Best Animated Feature, but it also received widespread critical acclaim, continues to be regarded among the best movies since the beginning of the century, and is often put on “best 2000s films” lists. Seeing it again after fourteen years help us to focus more on its ecological and environmental themes, which were not analyzed enough when it came out.

In the future, life on Earth has become unsustainable due to mass waste and rubbish accumulation and plant life destruction. So, the planet is evacuated and robots are left to clean it. One by one they stop to operate, except for the titular character: WALL•E. Forgotten by humans, who are committed to a long “space cruise” among the stars, little WALL•E continues to do the same things for centuries, collecting rubbish and compacting it into cubes. Then suddenly humans come back and send an advanced robot, EVE, to verify if Earth can be inhabited again. WALL•E falls in love with her, and will not only help her with her mission but follows her to the space station, where new and dangerous adventures wait for them. Even if it is a cartoon, the plot contains ideas that could fit well in the best science-fiction films of all time. The images are breathtaking: the super advanced spaceship contrasts the desolation of planet Earth, now reduced to a giant waste dump which reminds us of post-apocalyptic tales like the Mad Max saga. But not all hope is lost. A single, living seeing discovered by EVE suggests that the planet can be lived onto again.

The movie denounces the consequences of a consumerism-oriented lifestyle. Humankind in the future has consumed the planet’s resources, to the point of making it unlivable. When WALL•E arrives on the spaceship and meets his creators the images beyond his eyes are terrifying, even if told with humor. All men and women are now obese, they need flying armchairs to move, and spend all day connected to virtual reality, being unable to walk and uninterested to talk to each other. It is one of the best representations of a dystopian consumeristic world, and the fact that it was portrayed in an animated film is the definitive testament to the genius of the Pixar Animation Studios’ team. WALL•E satirizes the worst attitudes of today’s society. While in 2021 828 million people suffered from starvation according to data, WHO also certified that 39% of adults in the world are overweight. This great imbalance is also reflected in the exploitation of Earth’s resources. A small fraction of the human population consumes way more than the rest of humankind. It is the well-known concept of “ecological footprint”.

All these themes are exposed in WALL•E. Sure, the film is a science-fiction fairy tale by Walt Disney Studios, but it can help us to reflect on some of the most important questions of today’s world. How much we can consume Earth’s resources before making the planet’s ecosystem collapse? The film is charming, deeply moving, and sweet when it describes WALL•E and EVE love story, but if we look at it in terms of environmentalism and the ecological message it can become serious and very spot on: we need to save the planet and this could require adopting a less consumerist lifestyle, especially in the most developed nations. WALL•E is a movie made for kids, who will certainly love it, but adults should watch it too.