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WALL-E saves the world
July 3, 2008 - Rick Chatenever
Plastic is advancing up the food chain.
A seabird hundreds of miles from the nearest shore swoops down on a floating lighter tossed off a freighter. The bird thinks the Bic is edible and swallows it, taking up space in its stomach meant for real food that could be regurgitated for its young.
We know this from autopsies performed on albatross’ stomachs by researchers in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. If we were there, we’d know it by the plastic washing up by the ton on what should be pristine beaches.
We respond to this news with plastic awareness. The question in the checkout line now is paper, plastic … or what? Except, invariably, you have left your earth-friendly cloth bag in the back seat, out in the parking lot.
It doesn’t matter. I’m now a no-bag guy. Like a balancing clown in a circus, I zigzag with my precarious pyramid of stuff, looking like someone flunking a DUI test, trying not to drop anything en route to the truck.
Recycling is habit forming. My neighborhood has a six-can weekly trash limit; our household tries to hold the line at one. This means frequent trips to the recycling center (I haven’t mastered carbon footprints yet), and hitting the green waste at the landfill often enough for the resident egrets there to recognize my truck.
As landfill regulars know all too well, that sign on the gate saying the place closes at 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays really means it.
Try pulling up at 2:31 with a thicket like something out of a fairy tale overflowing from your truck bed. You get no sympathy.
On a recent dump run — my second that day after a morning spent chain sawing trees — I arrived with a sigh of relief at 2:29 … only to discover a while later, after unloading, that I was locked in. I looked forlornly at the egrets, wondering how one would taste for dinner.
If you don’t get too pious or self-congratulatory about it, thinking green is fun. It’s like eco-dieting, reducing your waste line. It makes you pay attention. That’s a good thing.
Often enough, the wake-up call that gets people thinking green comes in the form of art. Which brings us around to this week’s top movie at the box office. “WALL-E ” is Pixar Studios’ G-rated, computer-animated romance about the last two robots on an abandoned planet Earth.
The humans ditched the place 700 years earlier after thoroughly mucking it up (with all that plastic). They left behind WALL-E, a little yellow trash compactor on rollers. He goes about his daily rounds, beeping and chirping mechanically with only a cockroach for a friend, creating his own skyscrapers of refuse while sorting out the good stuff — lighters, hubcaps, VCR tapes of old musicals — like a monument to lost civilization.
Except he doesn’t exactly get the concept of “lost.” Robots don’t do concepts. He doesn’t get the concepts of lonely or love, either, until a surveillance robot named Eve is dropped off on the planet to take a look around.
In contrast to WALL-E, who resembles a cooler on wheels with binoculars for a head, Eve is bullet shaped. She’s as voluptuous as a ’bot can be with almond-shaped LED displays for eyes. She’s also got lethal rays at her “fingertips,” which means attempts at intimacy can be lethal.
The Pixar crew, led by co-writer-director Andrew Stanton, sound man Ben Burtt (who creates WALL-E’s “voice” like he did R2-D2’s in “Star Wars”) and Elissa Knight who gives voice to Eve, make the robot pair more emotionally expressive than most merely human actors could.
The film’s first 30 minutes, almost devoid of real dialogue, have been likened to Charlie Chaplin at the height of silent movies — not just for the comedy, but the poignancy and pathos.
The ’bots have the humanity in “WALL-E.” Ever since departing the polluted Earth on a sort of intergalactic cruise ship, the actual humans have morphed into roly-poly beings scooting around on levitating recliners with computer screens always at eye level. They’re too pudgy to do much besides eat; hitting the buffet table is considered exercise.
Personally, I don’t see replacing Charlie Chaplin with a robot as progress. But still, Pixar’s collective imagination brims with genius. As a marker of contemporary culture, watching “WALL-E” over and over would reveal something new each time.
Its message about the consequences of not living mindfully on earth may be over the heads of its G-rated target audience, but it gives them something to grow into. Pixar is aiming young for a reason. The folks there know that when it comes to saving the world, you’ve got to start early.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org
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