I freaking love Pixar movies. For most of my life Pixar have been consistently releasing hilarious, imaginative and incredibly intelligent movies, and for me they have been a constant source of entertainment and wonder. I’m pretty much the perfect age to have grown up with their movies: I loved Toy Story and A Bug’s Life when I was a kid, I was just getting into superheroes when The Incredibles came out, I was sort of a moody teenager and too cool for “kids movies” for a few years after that but then I reached sufficient maturity to get right back into them in time to bawl my eyes out at Up and Toy Story 3. The studio’s output has gone downhill a bit in recent years but their back catalogue still gets regular re-runs at our house.
Their best movie by miles, and a strong contender for my all-time favourite film, is Wall-E. I love everything about this movie. I love the adorable robot characters. I love the hilarious silent comedy. I love the incredible visuals. I love the brilliant environmental themes. Most of all I think it’s a movie with an incredible heart, and you can tell that it was made by people who really love and care about telling good stories.
And what do we do, dear readers, when we like stuff? We over-analyse the heck out of it! So read on to find out why Wall-E is not only the greatest story ever told but also contains the answers to all life’s mysteries and stuff.
Noah’s Space Ark
Ok, I love indulging farfetched theories as much as anyone, but to me this one is obvious. Wall-E is Noah’s Ark through and through. One of them is a story about a world corrupted by greed and sin, where a giant ship is constructed to save the remnants of humanity from a terrible calamity that befalls the earth, where the only surviving humans must wait on this ship until the earth is safe to inhabit again, and in which a small white creature is sent to scour the earth and bring back a green plant as a sign of life…… and the other is in the old testament.
So yeah, the parallels between the two are plain to see. Wall-E director Andrew Stanton is a Christian so it’s easy to see how the idea of embellishing his robot love story/environmental allegory with some Biblical imagery would seem appealing to him. But is that all it is? Just some extra symbolism to throw into the mix? Or is there more to the Noah’s ark comparison, and the inclusion of Christian themes in general, than meets the eye?
This is where the fanboyish over-analysing really comes into play. Let’s do this.
Did the Rest of Humanity Die?
One apparent difference between the tale of humanity’s redemption at the hands of a centuries-old old loner on a mission to restore love to the world and the story of Noah is that Noah’s ark only held Noah, his family and a whole lot of animals. Whereas the ship in Wall-E, the Axiom, holds rather a lot of people. Exactly how many people are on the Axiom is never explicitly mentioned, but if we follow through on the Noah’s ark analogy it would suggest that every human not on board the starship was killed by the inhospitable atmospheres of the highly polluted earth. Which would be kinda dark for a kid’s movie.
The fact that Wall-E is basically a post-apocalyptic movie is kind of glossed over but if you think about it it’s certainly possible that they didn’t fit the entirety of humanity on a single starship. It’s hard to judge the scale of the Axiom when it’s in space but from the interior shots it doesn’t look like it could fit upwards of 7 billion people in it. Especially not when you consider the SIZE of those people. So…yeah. The backstory of the Wall-E universe might be more grim than they let on.
So if they aren’t on the ship, where are the rest of humanity? Let’s just say I reckon Wall-E’s insides could crush a human skeleton into a cube just as easily as a pile of rubbish.
Where is God in it all?
Amazingly enough, one of the characters who features prominently in the Noah’s Ark story is God, the great I Am. God sends the flood, God tells Noah to build the Ark, God removes the floods again and basically drives the entire story.
Equally amazingly, God is nowhere to be seen in Wall-E. But there is someone/something that’s setting events in motion and pulling all the strings. And that’s Buy N Large, the fictitious mega-corporation who seem to own basically the entire earth and every major company on it, as well as the Axiom and pretty much everything else. BnL are in the shadow of everything that happens in the film- the excessive, consumerist lifestyle they embody ruins the earth, it’s their plan that sends the remnants of humanity off into space to be pampered by robots until they’re on the verge of losing their humanity entirely, and it’s their little binocular-eyed robots who are tasked with cleaning up the mess left back on earth. In an incredibly subversive final joke, the last thing you see in the film, after the credits, the company logos and the copyright stuff is the BnL logo one last time, suggesting that the entire film you just watched was a product they created. Wall-E and EVE and everyone else are the characters in the story but the entire premise of the film is devised by this ever-present corporate entity- they create the flood, they build the ark and they come up with the plan to save humanity and fix everything.
…Except the plan doesn’t work at all. The earth takes hundreds of years longer to become habitable than they expected and things reach the point where BnL secretly abandon the plan to go back home and program the ship’s AI to remain adrift in space and covertly sabotage any plans to return to earth. It’s not the grand plans of an all-powerful corporation that saves humanity- it’s the love felt by a little cleaning robot.
Oh, spoiler alert.
What’s the message here? Maybe consumption and mass-media have taken the place of God in today’s society. And maybe that isn’t going to work out so well for us. The environmental message of Wall-E – that we are destroying the earth- is pretty obvious, but maybe it goes a step further to say that we are actually wrecking ourselves in the process too.
God in the Machine
There’s one very crucial difference between the two stories. In Noah’s ark it’s the good guys who are safe on the ship while the evil of the world is cleansed by the flood. And this is a slight tangent but yes I do find it rather hard to reconcile my knowledge of God as being all-loving and kind with him wanting to destroy the entire population of the world in a flood. I guess it shows how bad things must have gotten for him to want to do that. There was a horrible picture in my children’s Bible of people and families getting swallowed up by the waves which totally got to me as a kid. I mean I get that justice isn’t always pretty and everything…but I guess all of this is a discussion for another time.
Where was I? Oh yeah, in the Bible the good guys are in the ark. Whereas in Wall-E the humans on the Axiom are still under the spell of BnL and their enjoy-no-matter-the-cost lifestyle. The humans are pampered to the point that they never need to interact with each other and conditioned to be docile consumers from infancy. So I guess the humans aren’t evil but they still definitely under the influence of a worldly mindset and not a Godly one.
Meanwhile back on earth the only sentient being who still has the capacity to love and connect with other people is a little waste disposal robot. Poor Wall-E dreams of finding someone to love but since he’s the last living thin on earth (except his trusty cockroach pet) he has to satisfy himself collecting junk and watching crappy old musicals on his TV.
So who is Wall-E in this Noah’s ark analogy? Is he the flood that cleans the earth? Or the winds that God sends to dry up the flood and make it habitable again? Or Noah- the last good man on earth?
Perhaps Wall-E isn’t an actual character from the original story, but rather he represents God’s will in the story- a literal deus ex machina. His ability to go against his programming and to feel love for another creature is ultimately what saves humanity. If things had stayed the way they were- if Wall-E and EVE hadn’t showed up to rock the boat (pun!) then humanity would have spent the rest of eternity adrift in space, lost and alone, without ever knowing there was anything more. It is never explained why Wall-E gains sentience but something elevates him from a simple cleaning ‘bot to being the one who brings humanity home and helps them rediscover themselves in the process.
Love Conquers All
You might think I’m reading way too much into this, but a while back when I was writing a Wall-E article for my old blog I found a quote from Andrew Stanton that totally backs up what I’m saying, where he states that the overall point of the film isn’t to make an environmental point or to warn about the danger of entrusting our souls to greedy corporations, it’s simply a call to love: “What really interested me was the idea of the most human thing in the universe being a machine because it has more interest in finding out what the point of living is than actual people. The greatest commandment Christ gives us is to love, but that’s not always our priority. So I came up with this premise that could demonstrate what I was trying to say-that irrational love defeats the world’s programming.”
So whether or not you buy into the idea of Wall-E as a metaphor for old testament stories, we have it straight from the horse’s mouth that the overall message of the film is one of love conquering every other force in the world. And who is the source of all love in the world? Gee, let me think.