What if the future was filled with fat people? Oh the horror! A review of WALL*E

In my earlier post about this film, I lamented the heteronormative focus apparent in the preview and the normative gendering of WALL*E and EVE. Now that I have seen the film in its entirety, I am glad to report the gendering/hetero romance did not play the prominent role I assumed it would given the preview. And, I was happy the film critiqued Wal*Mart, ooops, I mean BuyNLarge, in such a funny, thought-provoking way. However, I do have a bone to pick: the representation of fat people as the embodiment of over-consumption, sloth, greed, and mindlessness.

I had quite a few reactions to my earlier post, many of which argued that the film was not as bad from a gender perspective as the preview makes it out to be. I agree. The film is not as hetero-romance focused as the preview suggests, and for this I was glad. (Although I was disturbed that the hand holding scene referred to in my previous post involves WALL*E holding EVE’s hand without her knowledge or consent as she is in ‘shut down’ mode. Seemed kinda stalker-creepy to me). Overall, the movie didn’t ram the romance script down the audiences throat, but I do agree with one of the readers from the previous post that this romance thread was unnecessary.

Also, to the film’s credit, there was a certain level of gender transgression going on. EVE was the savior, not WALL*E. She, like some futuristic Disney prince, had all sorts of tricks up her robotic arm that allowed her to save WALL*E multiple times. And, unlike Disney princess flicks, both the female and male characters were allowed to play the ‘damsel in distress’ and the ‘savior prince.’ And – even better – not a princess dress in sight!

I also enjoyed Wal*Mart of the future, BuyNLarge, being lambasted throughout the film. The skewering of mindless consumerism and unimpeded corporate expansion (love the “BuyNLarge Outlet Mall Coming Soon” sign on the moon!) gives the movie a positive environmentalist spin- one that doesn’t trade in the “Buy Organic” or “Go Green” message that by buying more stuff we can save the planet. This anti-consumerist, anti-corporate theme was great. Yet, things went a bit sour for me once the ‘baddies’ who consumed too much were represented as mindless fatties. In comment threads around the blogosphere, this representation seems popular with many fat-phobes. For example, Carrie at Filling the Well refers to Walle as “Pixar’s first horror film” (without explanation). Then, in the comments section to this post, a fat-phobic reader agrees with the film as horror “if you count the physical state that the human race has come to in the movie.” Roger Ebert’s review also traded in attacking the fattie (odd given that he is a fatty himself!). He argues that the fat humans of the future “resemble those folks you see whizzing around Wal-Mart in their electric shopping carts.” Great Roger, insult two groups with one phrase, fat people and disabled people.

Jessica Melusine, in her post about the film, got it right I think. She asks in a letter of complaint penned to Pixar “Do you know what it feels like seeing a shipfull of fat people who exist to show how dissolute and horrible and wasteful people can be?” As she continues, “It is horrible when you see the only bodies shaped like you as things to laugh at, as living examples of as a culture, how shoddily we treat the earth. There’s no complexity, no understanding, just an easy punchline.” I agree. Pixar could have done far better here.

The mindless consumerist, perpetually-plugged-in human is a scary (and all too real) representation. However, did Pixar have to choose fat bodies to represent these futuristic humans? In so doing, they are perpetuating many of the same fat stereotypes that Kung Fu Panda traded in. Namely: fat people are lazy, fat people eat all the time, fat people are dumb, fat people are out of shape, fat is unhealthy, etc. (For an analysis of the anti-fat message in Kung Fu Panda, see Melissa’s Shakesville post here or my previous post here.)

In fact, it would have made more sense to have these plugged-in-consuming-all-the-time future humans be surgically sculpted in the extreme. This seems the more likely scenario given the way consumerism and the beauty imperative go hand in hand. Then the film could have also critiqued body norms and the crazy excesses people are employing to modify their bodies via technology. I think this narrative has far more possibilities than the endless consumption of food in a cup.

So, while any film that pisses off the far right this much must be doing something right, it also did some things not so well, and some things downright wrong.

In the right category:

  • Critiques consumersim and corporatism
  • Great gadgetry and nostalgia factor
  • Strong characterization of the robots
  • A fem-bot that is as strong/smart (or more so) than the male-bot
  • A representation of humans as coming in more colors than white

In the not so well category:

  • Focus on unnecessary hetoro-love narrative
  • Stereotypical representations of gender/beauty norms
  • Glorification of explosions/violence (especially via EVE’s arm/weapon)
  • The captain of the Axiom white and male (wow, really pushing some envelopes there!)

In the downright wrong category:

  • Equating fat bodies with laziness, over-consumption, and mindlessness

Overall, I think the film deserves one baby f for its inclusions of certain feminist ideals and premises. EVE is a strong female character (if a bit too trigger happy with that arm) and WALL*E shows a tender, affectionate, nurturing side that male characters are often not given the chance to show in films. For this, I like the film. But, note to Pixar: enough with the gender norms and fat phobia already!

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9 thoughts on “What if the future was filled with fat people? Oh the horror! A review of WALL*E”

  1. It is bizarre how often children’s movies use fat= dumb or evil/ skinny= smart or good short-hand in characterization. I was really struck by this in the Harry Potter movies, particularly in the Dursleys v. Harry scenes.

  2. Habladora,
    Great point. I just asked my son about the Dursley’s representations in the books (hate to admit I have never read the series–one of the pitfalls of full-time teaching–not enough time to read for pleasure!) Anyhow, he said they are not described as fat but as lazy and mean. Guess the makers of the movies interpreted this to mean fat. How surprising!

  3. I am glad you only gave it one baby f and that you were so fair in your review for the movie. To only be fair to Pixar though I’d have to say that their depiction of the humans of the future was also fair. The people were not lazy because they were overweight but rather because they were stuck on a luxury cruise line which destroyed any need to use ones own physical body and mind to do the easiest of tasks such as picking your own drink up, they didnt even have to lift a finger to change clothes. If this really happened and humans became immobile for 100’s or 1000’s of years not only would our bodys become physically weaker but we would inevitably become more heavy set and lazy due to a lack of excercise, propper diet, and overall drive to get up and see the world in a world where you never have to leave your seat to get anything you want. The same theorys have been applied in numberous science fiction books which fuses mankind and machine as one. If man no longer needed legs to walk due to a machine which did it for us, in many theorys we would evolve to no longer be born with them. It wouldnt have made since if they were overally fit or something along those lines because they were forcibly sent away on a cruise ship(the biggest ship to hold as many humans as possible)because the planet earth was dying, not a laboratory where they were able to alter their dna or perform liposuction. Anyways Im glad you liked the film.

  4. Waking Life,
    Thanks for your analysis. I agree with your points that in a way the depiction makes sense. However, as the film is critiquing consumerism and other US trends, I think having people obsessed with body image would have made sense too. Heck, it could have been a “Biggest Loser” cruise or some such set up where people were focussed on making their bodies “perfect.” Anyhow, your points are well taken and I appreciate your careful reading of my post!
    And, the ‘baby f’ stands for a film with somewhat of a feminist message — I think my use of f’s might be confusing as we tend to associate f with a failing grade. I may have to change this or post an explanation of the rankings in a static page.

  5. ooo then i like the idea of a baby f. i thought it was a failing grade. I think an explanation for the grades would be a good idea.
    and yes they could have taken it a different route and made everybody “perfect” but then they would have gotten bashed for not using more average, everyday people. either way someones going to target them.

  6. Good post!

    Your son is mistaken about the representation of fat in the Potter novels; the two male Dursleys are described as very fat in the novels, and the younger Dursley is painted by the author as grotesquely fat in the first few novels (he slims down a bit in the later books). In general I like the novels better than the films, but this is an area in which the novels were actually a lot worse than the films.

  7. Thanks for reading and commenting, Ampersand!

    I’m sad to hear this about the novels. I’m also curious about Dursley slimming down and how this is portrayed. Guess I will finally have to get to reading the series so I can find out about the representation of fat. I am also curious about race/class in the books…

    I must say, having lived in the UK for seven years, I found it is just as fat-phobic and thin obsessed as the U.S. Too bad the ‘fat is bad’ message is perpetuated in the books!

  8. I’m also curious about Dursley slimming down and how this is portrayed.

    IIRC, it’s presented as Dursley becoming obsessed with boxing. He’s always big, but as he becomes more of an athlete a lot of the fat becomes muscle.

    There’s a lot to say about race and class as presented in the Potter books — not all of it bad, necessarily.

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