20 January 2020

'WALL-E' Will Be On Disney Plus, But You Don't Have To Watch It

Pixar Animation Studios/Walt Disney Pictures
On March 31, 2020, Disney Plus will launch in the UK. With it, decades of content will be available at our fingertips for approximately £7 a month. Now that my eldest daughter is 3 years old, I'll probably be investing in the streaming service. She's already a fan of Frozen, Moana, Up, Coco, and Brave, and I'm obviously going to be all over The Mandalorian.

In the lead-up to the release, however, I've been considering the titles that I wouldn't want to show my daughters. Every time I do so, there is one film that tops the list: WALL-E

For those who haven't watched the movie, a quick synopsis might raise some confusion about this. For starters, its protagonist is an awkward, anxious, and adorable robot — and who among us isn't a sucker for a lovable droid? 

Through WALL-E, who has been built to help clean up the world, the film tackles the global waste crisis. We learn that Earth is wholly inundated with trash, largely as a result of the mega corp Buy N Large, which produced just about every possible product, and encouraged people to buy just about every possible product, in astounding quantities. As a result of human beings living really unsustainably and covering everything in junk, toxicity levels rise and the planet becomes uninhabitable. Everyone has to move to outer space to save the species. 

Pixar Animation Studios/Walt Disney Pictures
Just a little relevant, right? A recent BBC article estimated that, across the world, we produce over 2 billion tonnes of solid waste per year (or enough to fill over 800,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools). Photos of landfills or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch should be enough to make anyone want to recycle more. Climate change is such that parts of the world are literally on fire. Orangutans, and plenty of other animals, are on the fast-track to extinction. Twelve years after its release, talking about environmental collapse (and teaching kids about it) is arguably more necessary than ever.

Here's what isn't necessary, though: equating the downfall of humanity to fatness.

Thirty-seven minutes into the movie, we see human beings for the first time (until this moment, the story has focused on WALL-E and another droid called Eve). Two men fly past the screen in hovercrafts. They are chatting via a holographic tablet that appears directly in front of their faces. This way, they don't actually have to move those faces to speak to one another directly. 

The characters are fat. 

Pixar Animation Studios/Walt Disney Pictures
Seconds later, the panorama opens to a greater picture of the space station. Hundreds of people zoom past in hovercrafts of their own. They are all glued to holographic tablets, too. Their fingers move to control the buttons on their seats, their mouths move to command droids to bring them food (like liquid "cupcakes in a cup"), but that's just about all the movement they are capable of. 

All of these characters are fat as well. 

Pixar Animation Studios/Walt Disney Pictures
When one man soon falls out of his chair, we see him writhing helplessly on the ground like a newborn infant awaiting rescue.

Unsurprisingly, he too is fat. Everyone is fat.

Pixar Animation Studios/Walt Disney Pictures
We learn that these are the descendants of the humans forced to evacuate Earth 700 years ago. A very brief throwaway comment suggests that bone loss and weight gain will be consequences of living in micro-gravity, but for the most part, the characters' bodies quickly become a metaphor for the wastefulness we observed earlier back on their home world.

The message is clear: These people have "let themselves go" in much the same way as they let the planet go. It might have been their ancestors who were responsible for the destruction of Earth, but their wastefulnesses, gluttony, and superficiality (framed through the size of their bodies, their addiction to technology, their inability to read or write, and their general complacency) have been inherited from the actual culprits.
Pixar Animation Studios/Walt Disney Pictures 
When was the last time you turned on a film or television show only to be met with an entire ensemble of fat characters? The answer is likely never. Even in 2020, size diversity in media is usually limited to one or two token characters on any given program. I'm still shocked when I see a plus-size body on my screen, and doubly so if their character is a redeemable one — so rare is positive fat representation.

When every single human character in a movie is fat, it's obviously been an intentional choice. In the case of WALL-E, it is an undeniably fat-phobic choice. WALL-E's fat-shaming is a little different to the norm, however, because there is no single verbal fat joke. No one berates anyone else's "cheese thighs." No one moos or oinks at a fat woman walking down the street. No one uses terms like "blimp" or "whale." No one bullies anyone else at all. 

With its striking visuals, what the story does, instead, is correlate fatness (and subsequently fat people) to the death of the planet and de-evolution of the species. In its depiction of all fat people as wasteful, inactive, superficial, and generally lacking in intelligence, WALL-E reinforces stereotypes that already exist in the actual world without ever needing to vocalize those stereotypes. 

Pixar Animation Studios/Walt Disney Pictures
IRL, fat people are routinely blamed for draining the NHS. Fat people are attacked on Instagram for not promoting ethical fashion and sustainability (as if ethical brands were even making our size). Should we actually need to utilise mobility devices or show any sign of ill health (neither of which is remotely shameful), we are always mocked or blamed for our situations. We, with our greed and disregard for wellness and unruly, ugly bodies, are constantly told we are bad people, bad role models, unfit parents, unfit humans.

There are no depictions of parenting in WALL-E, but we do see a group of chubby babies in front of a screen. They're in hovercrafts, too. How they were born, I do not know (given we're led to believe humans have become disinterested in, if not entirely incapable of, any form of physical activity). What I do know is that they are parentless; nurtured only by another screen. 

Pixar Animation Studios/Walt Disney Pictures
When the ship's captain realises that 700 years after humanity's relocation to space, Earth might actually be able to sustain life once again, he says, "I can't just sit here and do nothing. That's what I've always done. That's all everyone on this blasted ship has ever done." Although the quote is meant to signal positive action, it signals something else, too: the idea that fat people are fat because we do nothing. We are nothing. We aspire to nothing. We have nothing to offer. 

This is not the kind of message I want to pass down to my daughters. Some might argue that children are too young to put all of this together. Some will say kids are more interested WALL-E himself than in the humans around him. As someone who was fat throughout much of childhood, however, I simply don't believe this is the case. I know this movie would have further ingrained the ideals that were already causing me so much self-hatred. Even if I didn't process it as such at the time, it would have been yet another voice ridiculing, and underestimating, people like me.

Pixar Animation Studios/Walt Disney Pictures
The film culminates with humanity's re-evolution. People learn to walk again. They learn to farm again. They learn to run and play outside and make open fires. Into the end credits, we see them shrinking over time. The thinner they get, the better the world becomes. Thinness — and all that is assumed to come with it (cleverness, determination, forward-thinking, physical activity) — saves the day.

WALL-E may not feature any verbal fat jokes, but it is the perpetuation of this narrative that makes it so dangerous. 


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