Pixar Goes Non-PC with LCD WALL-E

July 7th, 2008 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Finally catching WALL.E on the big screen, I was surprised. The expected was there — high-quality animation, family-friendly story line and the usual. I don’t understand the incredible critical raves (96% freshness on Rotten Tomatoes).

The surprises were from the cloddish lowest-common-denominator insensitivity.  How about future humans are all WASPs and fatties are funny, really funny?

I noticed the chubby slapping immediately. It was very heavy handed and prolonged. When I started writing up my ideas on it, I clicked around to find:

  • One critic (Kyle Smith) had already covered the steato-phobia angle. He’s been skewered by others for noticing.
  • Pixar sites totally avoid showing the morbidly obese humans that dominate the last third of the movie. The trailers and stills do not show the humans.

Kyle’s Flyer

NY Post critic and columnist Smith put it fairly with:

…the human race of the future will become a flabby mass of peabrained idiots who are literally too fat to walk. Instead they zip around in flying wheelchairs surfing the Web, chatting on phone lines and stuffing their faces with food meant to be sucked down like milkshakes while unquestioningly taking orders from the master corporation that controls all aspects of their existence.

Also in follow-ups here and here, he adds such as:

…They never leave their spotless flying barcaloungers — and never could, since their bones have shrunk to useless twigs inside their Shrek-like masses…All foods are made to be sucked down like milkshakes for maximum convenience.

He gets considerable heat in his blog’s comments as well as about the net. He’s called blind to the obesity epidemic as well as anti-corporation. From his columns, I get the sense that he enjoys the ranting about his work.

Cheap Shots

Perhaps it was the laziness of the huge Pixar crew that led to low-brow stereotypes and one-flavor humanity. They surely had their fingers flying with the elaborate animation.

Yet the last third to half of the flick occurs on a gigantic spaceship, an ark populated with the fat white blob folk. It’s like Noah might have scratched the zebras — half black. No one black, yellow or brown need apply. Maybe they have their own separate but equal spaceships elsewhere in the galaxy.

Perhaps in and around the Pixar studies, the vast majority of humans are trim and white. Perhaps Wall.E merely reflects the crew’s reality.

Granted this is fundamentally a kids’ movie. Science is a bit player. There are tiny bows to reality with exposed circuit boards and such, but visual entertainment rules here.

Axiom captainWe would have no idea how these cruising porkers might produce the porker babies shown repeatedly, or even if they are lab produced. Sex and such are not featured.  Likewise, there’s a stylized x-ray on screen at one point to illustrate that the humans will need to start moving to get their shrunken bones functioning enough to support them when they return to Earth.  Then they zapped immediately across the galaxy and not in a decade to prepare. Of course, that’s also not the way people atrophy any more than they would continually increase in girth or be able to turn over much less walk if their bones no longer joined. Science is not it.

The mono-race thing is not as surprising as the ridiculing of the obese. That’s certainly a popular cultural humor form and will likely remain so. It’s safe to insult fatties and mock them.

Decades ago, it could be blacks or women or nearly any ethnic minority. Now comedians and popular entertainment as well as plain folk can joke at the expense of even the slightly chubby and laugh out loud at or say they are disgusted by the obese.

Pixar people likely think they did their part to neutralize the continued propagation of this making every single living human a caricature of a fat person. Even the baby ones have the Pillsbury Dough Boy look, with formless feet. Ha ha ha ha. They’re fat.

Everyone is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay fat, clumsy and mindless. Any physical activity attempt is supposedly hilarious, even as the captain tries to stand to fight against the smart machines for his fellow humans. What should be heroic is awkward and disgusting.

Physique Freaking

Cindy McCainThe day were were heading out to see Wall.E, a right-wing acquaintance sent me another pro-McCain mailing. This one was on the glories of Cindy McCain. To me, she is not well-formed and represents another corner of the bad-body zoo. You need not deride the woman to admit that she is very peculiar and unhealthy looking.

I am pretty sure that the time will come again when the unnaturally and unhealthily skinny such as she are also the subject of ridicule. At the present, people other than humor pros like The Onion try to be decent to anorexics and the extremely thin.

Yet, from serious research and even Paul Campos’ well-grounded pop books, we know that folk wisdom you can never be too thin is a lie. The thinnest people die first and are often sick and weak. Then the fattest go, back and forth from thin to fat on the spectrum. The compilation of decades of huge studies around the world suggests that on average, being 5% to 10% above the theoretical ideal weight is best for longevity and health.

Yet the idea of the size zero jeans or the Nancy Reagan look are high in women’s body images. The former first lady was anemic and ill and under constant treatment as a result. That’s probably still the case. Her thinness was symptomatic not sought. The Cindy McCain wading bird look too does not seem healthy. Women without hips or busts are as odd looking to me as men without muscle mass and shoulders. Some are born that way, other missed hormones and exercise during developmental years, but none deserves derision.

I rather doubt that robot-driven cartoon movie will harm too many kids, be they thin or chubby. Although you can’t be sure in all cases, you’d hope that parents, teachers and doctors aren’t as clumsy and insensitive as Pixar. Kids who don’t fit unobtainable paragons of somatotypes certainly don’t need to be ridiculed or lumped with the lumpiest.

Otherwise for Wall.E, I would have appreciated better science. It would have been easy to research space atrophy and do a decent job with the humans on the ship. Then again, I grew up in the 50s and 60s watching movies and reading pulp that tried to layer decent science on entertainment. It would have been easy for Pixar, but they didn’t bother.

Apparently the director, Andrew Stanton, did the LITE version. “I wasn’t trying to make the humans into fat, lazy consumers…The reason I made them look like big babies was because a NASA guy told me that they haven’t yet simulated gravity perfectly for long-term residency in space. And if they don’t get it just right, atrophy kicks in and you begin to lose your muscle tone—you just turn into a blob of goo.” So, he kind of asked, but didn’t get the obvious, that it was about muscle tone. Filtered through a Southern California brain, that translated into fat, not asthenic. His teaching opportunity became a pop slur.

It’s a small shame that the Disney folk chose the LCD humor for the humans. Yet, plugging into the popular culture for viewer identification is one of Pixar’s fortes. It’s clumsy though.

Big Site Update: Over at Slate, another snooty type, Associate Editor Daniel Engber, joins in the derision and nit picking. He also disdains the simple-minded stereotyping. He goes on to rip the incorrect and artificial link between the human porkers in the movie and damage to the planet.

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