I’ll spare you what you already know about how great the Wall-E movie and how its strong theme is about the ravages of commercialism. I wanted to talk about the secondary theme in Wall-E, the thread of symbolism that enriches what seems like simple story-telling fabric. Forget the “hypocrisy” that one (of the very few) soulless critics pointed out about the commercial viability of the slickly designed cast against the wholesome message. That critic has forgotten his job is to review movies, not corporate greed, unless he’d prefer the movie to NOT have its message and JUST be a vehicle for Disney’s marketing.
No, that’s not what interests me. Wall-E is a masterpiece because of the maturity of its symbolism, which Pixar has evolved in this movie to transcend dialogue and plot. Consider Wall-E and EVE’s shapes. As if her name wasn’t allegorical enough, EVE has the organic oval form of a seed, and with her arms open, a likeness to the green sprout icon on her chest. Her free-spirit and pure colors, her passion, humor, and angers represent the vivacity of life.
Wall-E, on the other hand, is square. He represents functionality. He compresses trash into building blocks, and he is the color and dirtiness of a worker, a “foreign contaminant” to Axiom’s ship of leisure. Over his life, he develops curiosity and a yearning for love, but must teach himself their nuances even as he fearfully reaches for EVE’s hand.
The two together give us the secondary theme in Wall-E, that life without function is merely survival. The captain realizes this is not what he wants for his people. In this tale, it is life that has forgotten function, and it’s no surprise that the functional robots of the ship seem to have more life than its passengers. Therefore, the return to Earth represents the reunion of life and its functional purpose. Like the ship’s definition of dance, both movement and rhythm are required.
It makes perfect sense, then, that when EVE revives Wall-E, it wasn’t enough for him to be fixed. The damaged Wall-e, reverting back to pure function, is as lifeless as the passengers and their “directive”-less existences. He’s a Wall-e, not the Wall-e, until EVE and Wall-e hold hands, joining the two things they represent together. Then he remembers, like the passengers remembering Earth, and becomes whole again. The plant in the boot too represents the union of life and function, but the boot is also a metaphor for Wall-E’s travels. Life is found, nurtured, not had, pre-packaged.
This movie knocked my socks off, and it wasn’t just the various aspects of storytelling or animation or CGI rendering that did it. In fact, I found several moments to be imperfectly written and directed. Even so, somehow Pixar can give us a predictable story and really have us empathize with things we take for granted, as their movies always do. The metaphor of teaching each other to dance really sells the reference at the film’s end, recalling the final line from Wall-e’s favorite film Hello Dolly:
“Money is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread about, encouraging young things to grow.”