Monday, June 30, 2008

The Trouble with WALL-E

On Saturday, I took the kids to see WALL-E, the new movie from Pixar. We loved it, as expected. I've said this before, and I'll say it again. Pixar just does kids movies better than anyone else. I enjoyed the movie, and I expect to get it on DVD and watch it again, more than once. There's one little problem. I realized that there was a problem while I was watching it, and that problem is articulated clearly by Jessica.

In brief (slight spoiler alert): the plot calls for the inhabitants of earth to leave in a spaceship for a five year cruise, while WALL-E tries to clean up the tons of garbage that litters the world. Unexpectedly, the cruise turns into a 700 year cruise, during which the people basically lie around in floating chairs and have their needs attended by robots. So what do you expect the people look like after 700 years of this lifestyle. They're fat.

Jessica feels deeply offended by this. She writes an open letter to Pixar:
Do you know what it feels like seeing a shipful of fat people who exist to show how dissolute and horrible and wasteful people can be? I’ve had fat jokes directed at me. I’ve had people laugh at my pictures. Since childhood, I’ve even had family members poke fun at my body, where I’m supposed to “take a joke”.

Pixar, this is one joke I don’t want to take. It is horrible when you see the only bodies shaped like you as things to laugh at, as living examples of as a culture, how shoddily we treat the earth. There’s no complexity, no understanding, just an easy punchline.

I want to defend Pixar. Part of me says that's what the people would look like. Of course, there would be more variation than the movie portrays. But if people really took to a completely sedentary lifestyle, they really would be fat, in general. Not that every fat person is sedentary (as I well know), nor that every sedentary person is fat. But that would be the trend. It would look silly to have all these people lying around on their floating chairs be thin and sexy.

I also don't think that the fatness in the movie exists to be made fun of. The people are basically sympathetically portrayed. Yes, the "moral of the story" is that we should get out and exercise and not eat junk and not get dependent on machines, but the movie isn't anti-fat. It's anti-lazy. Since (as we all know) not all fat people are lazy, those of use who aren't can simply say that the movie is not about us.

But I can't quite let myself get away with that. For one thing, the movie really did offend Jessica, and surely other people, and I don't think that they are being "too sensitive." It's all well and good for Jessica and I to reject the stereotype that all fat people are lazy, but the stereotype exists, and, like it or not, this movie reinforces it. Pixar should have known that this was how the movie would be received, at least by some people. The common response, "Well, we didn't mean to offend anybody," used so frequently by people who make rape jokes or who portray Barack Obama as a monkey, just doesn't cut it. You may not have meant to, but you did.

So, what's the solution? What should Pixar have done? Assuming that they want to keep the plot, which calls for a boatload of people who have become dependent on machines to do everything, how should they portray those people?

I don't have answers to those questions. As I say, the problem didn't really interfere with my enjoyment of the movie (as it clearly did with Jessica's.) But it did bug me, and I wish I knew what Pixar could have done differently. I wish I didn't have to feel guilty for liking the movie so much.


Jacqui said...

Yes, Jessica is too sensitive. It is AN ANIMATED MOVIE!! There is nothing unrealistic about a bunch of overweight people flying around on hover chairs 700 years from now! At the rate America (and the world) is going, there are bound to be many obese people, floating around on scooters 700 years from now whether we're in space or on earth. People become obese because they live unhealthy lifestyles, end of story. If obese people are offended by this movie, they should get up and do something about their bodies and their lifestyles, since pixar obviously isn't going apolgoize for a very well done movie for the sake of a bunch of whining, overweight people who are only offended because they have put themselves in a possition to be offended. They need to get over it or change themselves. No one is doing it for them.