Defending a movie that shouldn’t need to be defended
The comments posted to this CNN essay speculating on what young children will take away from watching Wall-E reminds me that there just aren’t enough rifles and clock towers in the world. The essay itself is fine, however it’s not far into the comments before detractors of the film show up to take an almost palpable glee in mentioning how much they and their children hated it. One commenter seemed proud of the fact that his charming 7 year-old daughter supposedly claimed she’d “rather take a dump” than watch Wall-E again.
As I mentioned in my review of Coldplay’s new album a couple weeks ago, there are people who take a certain sadistic pleasure in pissing all over something that a lot of other people like. Wall-E is pulling down a 96% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, described alternately as a “masterpiece” and the best film of 2008. New York magazine is planning a campaign to get it nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award. Full disclosure before I go on: I saw it this past weekend and fucking loved it. So I’m not just irritated at those who think they’re being edgy and sticking it to The Man (that Man being W. Disney in this case) by bashing the hell out of it, I’m genuinely baffled. It’s not often that I read someone’s thoughts on a film and find that they differ so much from my own that I actually question whether we saw the same movie. Most of time I just chalk it up to differences of opinion and taste (even if your taste happens to be bad). Take Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, for instance: I greatly enjoyed it, but I can reasonably understand why other people did not. On the opposite side, I’d rather have barbecue skewers run through my eyes than watch Enchanted again, but apparently a bunch of other people liked it a whole lot, and that’s fine. Nevertheless, in reading the criticisms that Wall-E was “boring,” “preachy” and “depressing,” supposedly to the point where children were demanding to leave the theater in droves, I find myself wondering if perhaps the movie I saw was really some sort of construct in my own head. I surely know I wasn’t “paid off by Disney” as a few commenters inanely suggested.
One of the most frequent complaints from Wall-E‘s detractors is in regards to its lack of dialogue for more than the first half hour of the film. Now, I should point out that “no dialogue” does not in any way equal “no action.” The time is reasonably spent developing the main character (who, even by the end of the film, only has about three words in his vocabulary anyway) and establishing the plot, with wonderful Chaplin-style slapstick humor (the entire film is blessedly free of fart jokes and anyone getting hit in the crotch), and there is never a moment where you are unable to understand what’s happening on screen. To criticize the film because it doesn’t jump right in with expository dialogue that carefully explains the plot in easy to understand words is ludicrous. What does this say about us as a culture when people, grown adults, get restless and bored merely because a movie has long stretches of time when no one talks and blame it on the movie? These are the same people who refuse to watch movies with subtitles because “I don’t want to have to read.”
Another frequent complaint is the “preachy” tone of the film’s pro-green, anti-consumerism message, not hugely subtle, granted, but certainly not nearly as heavy-handed as it could have been. It seems that a disturbing number of Americans don’t spend good money to have their kids learn something when they take them to the movies, they’re merely looking for something that will shut them up for an hour and a half. In fact, there seems to be a strange sort of resentment towards children’s movies that attempt to rise above the standard Alvin and the Chipmunks fare, as if the filmmakers are trying to suggest that the parents are too lazy to teach their kids valuable lessons such as the importance of friendship and improving the environment themselves (which, of course, in many cases they are). Some also believe that making a movie for children that’s an allegory for real-life problems and issues, as opposed to more crap about princesses and talking animals, is “forcing children to grow up too fast.” I’m not sure why anyone would place environmentalism up there with sex and gay marriage as subjects that are too controversial to discuss with children, but there you have it.
Curiously, many who disliked it insist on unfavorably comparing it to Kung Fu Panda, a film that resembles it in no way other than the fact that it’s animated. I saw Kung Fu Panda, it was all right. Mind you, that’s not a ringing endorsement, it’s merely saying that it was better than The Wild and Open Season, both of which made me want to cut my wrists and aim the spurt of blood at the movie screen. Despite being a parent my tolerance level for most children’s movies lies somewhere between karaoke and getting my finger caught in a screen door. I’m guessing because Kung Fu Panda was released by Disney/Pixar’s rival Dreamworks, saying it’s better than Wall-E is considered a grievous insult. What it’s really saying is that these parents are proud that their children are budding imbeciles who aren’t entertained unless something is blowing up or someone is getting hit with something. I keep expecting the next comment to read “My kids don’t have time for them fancy book learnings, when is Space Monkeys coming out?” If these people actually think they’re doing their kids a favor by claiming they wouldn’t understand or would be bored by the message movies like Wall-E are trying to send, we’ve got bigger problems than spending the future fat and helpless in a space station than we think.