WALL-E and the World
The Pixar Animation Studios, simply known as Pixar to fans across the globe, has grown accustomed to using captivating narratives in their animation films. Beginning back in 1995 with the now famous Toy Story, Pixar has often used the power of the narrative to construct compelling films for the enjoyment of viewers. While nearly all of Pixar’s films are aimed solely at entertaining, and hence free from political propaganda, 2008’s WALL-E differs from its animated colleagues. While the creators may not have intended to implement social commentary into the film, Pixar’s WALL-E utilizes a narrative arc in order to emphasize the dangers of pollution and the importance of the environment and natural life.
One of the most foremost experts on the connection between narratives and environmental issues is Walter Cronon. In his article A Place for Stories: Nature, History, and Narrative, Cronon emphasizes the benefits well-constructed narratives can have on environmental issues. In order to turn stories into more easily recognized and understood objects capable of relating to the general public and stimulating support for an issue, Cronon offers two main types of possible plots. As he states, “On one hand, we can narrate… a story of improvement, in which the plot line gradually ascends towards an ending that is somehow more positive than the beginning. On the other hand, we can tell stories in which the plot line eventually falls toward and ending that is more negative.” (Cronon, 1352) These progressive and declensionist plots, respectively, both focus on the starting and ending points of a plot and have the power to gather support as a result of the way the narrative makes the reader or viewer feel.
WALL-E fits perfectly into Cronon’s narrative categories. Disguised as an innocent animated movie, Pixar’s masterpiece relates to the general public through its use of a progressive plot. At the start of the film, jovial music plays as the camera pans into Earth from space, quickly moving past hundreds of skyscrapers. The light feeling is quickly contradicted as it is revealed that Earth is covered in tons of rubble and trash, and that these skyscrapers are in fact giant stacks of compacted waste. The planet is devoid of life, except for a single plant seedling. The human population is gone after they labeled Earth unsuitable for human life, as a result of the insurmountable amount of waste and pollution, evacuated Earth, and moved in automated space starliners. This creates the starting point for the narrative in WALL-E. Earth is uninhabitable, covered in waste and pollution. It seems to be a direct commentary on the direction that the current global society is heading in as a result of wasteful spending and consumption at both an individual and corporate level.
While the film progresses and includes several aspects aimed at entertaining, the end of WALL-E is drastically different from its start. After a mutiny aboard one of the starships, mankind receives the single seedling from Earth. This prompts the ships to return to planet Earth in order to recolonize it. The film ends as the ship’s captain teaches children to farm and numerous new plant seedlings are show growing. This is far different from the beginning as a world that was once covered only in trash shows signs of life and improvement as a result of mankind’s decision to support environmental growth.
As Cronon discussed, an effective narrative can inspire individuals and give them the impetus to create change around an environmental issue. The progressive plot narrative in WALL-E creates that motivation, leaving viewers with a feeling of hope. It emphasizes that while mankind is currently on a destructive path, one that might ultimately destroy our planet, there is still time to save it and make amends for past wastefulness. Only through environmental consciousness and controlled consumption, which in turn controls the levels of pollution, can the current environmental issues that plague Earth be reconciled. WALL-E, in Pixar’s most significant piece to date, brilliantly constructs a narrative that leaves viewers caring about the environment, prompting thought, and maybe even change, about the wasteful and harmful practices of nation today.
Cronon, William. “A Place for Stories: Nature, History, and Narrative.” The Journal of American History 78.4 (1992): 1347-376. JSTOR. Web.
WALL-E. Dir. Andrew Stanton. Disney-Pixar, 2008. DVD.
About Ed Isola
I am a Mathematics and Computer Science and Political Science double major at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina. Outside of writing, I enjoy wrestling and playing music.