The Fem Spot

WALL-E: great for girls?

Posted in Feminist Theory, Film and Television, queer theory by femspotter on November 26, 2008

November 26, 2008

I was a kid in a candy store at my first screening of Pixar’s new miracle WALL-E. The film has generated quite a bit of Oscar buzz in that it might transcend the patronizing “Best Animated Feature” category and ascend to the higher realm of “Best Picture.” (As if animated movies require less vision or hard work on the part of their creators than do live action films!)

I fell in love with the little bot as he diligently hummed to and fro, compacting more than 700 years’ worth of human trash into orderly spires of stinking excess. As the sign says, he’s “working to dig (us) out.”

The darker message of the film is that we have destroyed our planet, making it so uninhabitable that we literally cannot inhabit it anymore. We relocate to a luxury spaceship cruise liner where – over those 700 elapsed years – we’ve managed to bulk up our body fat and trim down our bone mass. (Sounds like a terrific movie for children!)

Actually, it is a terrific movie for children. The lighter message is one of love: WALL-E and EVE will sacrifice everything – including their sacred directives – to spend time with each other. And what do they do together? Dance and hold hands. Isn’t that love…at least to a 4-year-old?

My husband – of the pantheon of men who tell their wives “No, I will not watch a love story with you!” – watched the film for a second time with me a few days ago. And just when I got up to go to the kitchen for a cup of tea, I heard a shout from the living room: “Babe, EVE has found WALL-E!” he yelled with glee.

Well, he did watch a love story with me after all…but that’s the secret genius of this film: it isn’t what it appears. To recap: WALL-E is at the same time a love story and a condemnation of our collective consumerism and ecological shortsightedness. But the film also proves a theory that I hold dear: gender (i.e. masculine or feminine) is almost entirely a social construct having very little to do with one’s given sex.

My brother the psychologist says that most children can identify their sex by the age of 3 or 4. And even if they have gay parents, they’re so inundated by examples of heterosexual coupling in the pop culture world around them that they begin to distinguish the differences between men and women – other than those differences they’ve exposed to each other on the playground. Before they even see the film, they identify WALL-E as a male character and EVE as a female character, even though these robots are not anatomically correct. The boy is boxier with square shoulders, my brother points out. EVE, the girl, is shiny and smooth. And if you hear their voices, you note that WALL-E’s voice is slightly deeper in tone than is EVE’s.

Magically, these characters’ genders do not correspond. WALL-E has spent 700 years alone on a deserted Earth…with no real company except for Cornelius Hackl and co. in the 1969 musical extravaganza Hello, Dolly! (And let’s face it: Michael Crawford is not the world’s most masculine hero!) Ergo, WALL-E spins and sputters in an earnest attempt at musicality. He picks up trash and shoves it in his vaginal-cave-of-a-stomach. And he’s emotionally moved by all of the little things rougher beings take for granted: a love song, the life of a lowly cockroach, etc. Like Princess Ariel in The Little Mermaid (1989), WALL-E collects precious (to him) things from the long gone human world and treasures them in his tiny, lackluster domicile.

eve-walle1EVE, on the other hand, has a great big weapon that shoots nuclear missiles in a split second. She’s slightly larger than WALL-E, and certainly more aggressive. She rescues him – the “damsel” in distress – and carries his broken body back to Earth in a desperate attempt to heal him and hold his hand. This is an empowering message for little girls, who are alternatively allowed princess role models or Bratz dolls (you know, the dolls who sport bare midriffs and the appearance that they’ve just emerged from botox injection therapy?).

Now, I know what you’re thinking: will WALL-E turn little boys into sissies if EVE is giving little girls another Joan of Arc? Certainly not! But there may be a silver lining in this film viewing experience for boys too: they might learn a little sensitivity…and one day they’ll be open to movies other than Rambo and Die Hard.

The bottom line is that until we’re told we have to behave in a certain way – for instance: our parents say so, our girlfriends do so, or magazines show so – we girls usually behave in a way that feels natural for us. Sometimes, we find ourselves seeking permission to behave differently than other little girls. There are standards out there. This is why little boys often find it difficult to cry…and probably why little girls often find it difficult not to. How quickly they learn the rules!

I’m excited to report that, while WALL-E and EVE might not change our children, they will enlighten them.

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