I can’t honestly say I didn’t see this coming, but I still feel like this Slate essay, which claims WALL-E goes out of its way to equate obesity with environmental collapse misses the point in a dozen places.
In case you don’t know the basic premise, 700 years ago the out-of-control Buy n Large Corporation — after having swallowed up every conceivable human activity — decided a sensible waste management program would be to evacuate a portion of the Earth’s population to a luxury liner in space while an army of adorable WALL-E class robots spent five years cleaning things up.
No, it doesn’t make a lot of pure logical sense, but, WALL-E is clearly a fable, and also Buy n Large is clearly run by idiots.
Five years turns into 700. In that time all other WALL-Es have ceased functioning, and the humans, still on their cruise ship, have degenerated into a state of permanent technologically-enabled infancy. They even look like giant babies, fat, with short arms and legs. All their food comes in liquid form. (Pizza — in a cup!) When they fall off their float chairs, they aren’t at first even able to stand up. They have the good-natured complacency, but also the ennui, of having every basic need provided, but not having anything to strive for — they don’t even have a way to conceptualize the notion of “strive.”
WALL-E breaks into this complacency — at first by literally knocking a couple of the humans out of their float chairs, and ultimately by giving all the humans something important to strive for: to heal and reclaim the Earth.
That’s how I saw the film. And I really liked it. The giant-baby humans aren’t portrayed as grotesque or repulsive — yes, their infantilism is played for laughs, but the film is ultimately on their side. They have been infantilized by an environment that was constructed to do exactly that. Once a disruption comes along, they show themselves capable of rising to the occasion with heroism, self-determination, compassion — literal and symbolic standing on their own feet.
So, I think that by seeing it as simply some kind of anti-fat-people screed, Daniel Engber is completely missing the point of the movie.