Strategic Futurists; Value Systems Specialists

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Pixar's Wall E gives us a glimpse - but is it too cute to hit the mark?

Monday 29 September 2008

I sat in the theatre with my two young children over the weekend watching Pixar's latest animation film 'Wall E'. Once again, (like all Pixar features) it is technically brilliant, and wearing my strategic futurist lenses, suggest that it is a story that is engaging and arguably informative. But I wondered if somewhere along the way the apparent message(s) behind the film misses the mark?

With homage to HAL from the Clark/Kubrik '2001: A Space Odyessy', deliberate showing of the original Sputnik satellite as a human laden rocket ship blasts its way through space junk scattered around the planet, glimpses of the 'supersize' me mindset exposed in Sportlock's film, a nod to the powerpoint documentary 'An Inconvenient Truth' and others like Wall Street ('greed is good') there's no doubt that this is a film with a story to tell.

But will we get it?  Where other Pixar films have successfully negotiated delivering a film with simultaneous double lives pleasing both children and adults alike (strangers are not dangerous and change is fine (Toy Story); laughter is better than anger (Monsters Inc); you can't protect your loved ones by shutting the rest of the 'world out there' out (Finding Nemo) and others) Wall E doesn't blend quite as effectively.

So here's the story for the kids - a small robotic machine compactor with big eyes (think ET) is all alone and finds a friend to play with.  The friend is a bit hard to get to know but with persistence on Wall E's part, that friendship eventually blossoms.  Key message - work at being friends (I guess especially if you are lonely).  For the adults the story line is a bit more straightforward - we are a fat, gluttonous, lazy and selfish species who are more than willing to destroy the planet due to our desire to have more stuff.  But eventually we will see our way through the smokescreen and choose to be a positive contributor to the planet. That is what I took away at least :-)

As a futurist I find the adult message compelling if a tad hokey.  As an adult though I kept flicking in and out of narratives - is this essentially a feel good story, a love story, an environmental story or a story about greed?  I also wasn't sure if the film was taking a deliberate swipe at the industry of consumption (of which film making Hollywood style is both a great beneficiary and purveyor) or whether it was just using the ongoing downgrading of the planet as less suitable for humans to survive, as a simple back story to a 'search for love' film.

What interests me most is that this film could well be the first film from a mainstream 'messager' that considers the notion of 'enoughness'.  Most of you will know that this is a topic I've been tracking for about 6 years when I first started seeing the signs of a shift away from consuumption driven behaviour, and here we have a film that suggests a final destination for that mode of thinking - skyscrapers made out of trash. That such a mode of thinking is yet another step in the journey of homo sapiens sapiens might be arguable.

In current economic circumstances (for the rich nations experiencing a sub-shock) it would be too easy to link waste creation to economic ruin.  I won't do that here and do suggest Wall E is a film worth seeing at some point.  I just hope that the skyscrapers of trash message makes a link to the mainstream (western mode) of consuming at all costs for most of the audience.

 


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