Hidden among the adventurous archaeologists and the caped crusaders is another highly anticipated hero coming to the big screen in the summer: a tiny cleaning robot that looks like Johnny Five’s nephew and goes by the name Wall-E.

It seems almost automatic that audience excitement follows anything released by the geniuses at Pixar, and certainly a precious hunk of metal with a personality is worthy of Nemo‘s and The Incredibles‘ legacy, but writer Jim Hill has exposed what might be a far less fuzzy, lovable side to the feature.

Hill points out that, despite the sugar-coated trailer that’s hit the web recently for Wall-E, the main premise of the film is a strong indictment of American society – a population of obese humans have trashed and polluted their planet beyond inhabitability, leaving a small robot to clean up their mess.

All the elements are there: a gluttonous, mass consumerist society. Wastefulness that leads to the destruction of the planet. The laziness that comes with pushing our problems on poor, precocious worker robots just looking for love.

Hill points out, rightly, that Disney’s Ad Wizards are leaving out those details in an effort to get you at the ticket counter in July. It’s tough to sell the masses a ten dollar movie ticket while deriding them for being consumers.

Whether or not the message is really driven home by the movie will have to wait until it’s released (or at least until the press screenings). It might be a tragic background or it might get hammered in throughout the film. Plus, Hill might be at least a little guilty of finding a darker side because he’s looking for it. Or at least guilty of seeing it as darkly as he does. As with any social commentary, the audience will get to paint in its own shades of gray.

His contacts at the Mouse’s PR department have revealed their concern to him over how audiences will react to the fat, lazy, earth destroying mass that humans of the future have become. They really don’t have anything to worry about. I may sound more cynical than Hill here, but I doubt that the typical audience is going to think twice about the social message. There’s going to be groups of people who already recycle and love Al Gore that will find resonance in the satire. Most, however, will probably sip the extra-gigantic cola and popcorn that Hill warns us against buying without batting an eye. If they feel their heart tingling, they’ll think its Disney magic before they think its arrhythmia.

So is Jim Hill right? Of course – he’s only echoing the concerns of the marketing team that wants to illustrate how lovable the robotic hero is over how fat and lazy the humans are. But I just don’t see this film having that subversive a core unless you’re looking for it. After all, these are humans of the future! It’s not like we’re fat and lazy and destructive and obsessed with materials, right? Unless you already believe that, you’re probably not going to walk out of Wall-E enlightened.

Who knows? I might be wrong. Scores of heavyset, reality-television-addicted, mass consumers may write off the film as reactionary, as insultingly cautionary, as Inconvenient. The Fat Guys at the Movies may even be leading the charge. But I doubt it. People don’t tend to see themselves as the bad guy in films, especially when the hero is such a lovable pile of sentient metal. Kudos though, Jim, for opening our eyes to another dimension to what might have been glossed over as yet another (jumbo) popcorn movie.


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