The movie WALL-E, produced by Pixar for Walt Disney Pictures in 2008, is the heartwarming story of a small, trash-compacting robot on a mission to fall in love and save humanity. While the film might initially seem like a simple futuristic cartoon, the themes of romantic comedy fill the movie and are so prevalent that one could describe it as a romantic comedy. With some deviations, WALL-E easily fits the genre. WALL-E futures several classic romantic comedy themes, including a city and nature dichotomy, moonlight, moonstruck, and moonshine, celebrations, obstacles to the “course of true love,” multiple pairs of lovers, comic characters, and a play within a play. Each of these themes, as defined by Northrop Frye, are prevalent in WALL-E.
The plot of WALL-E includes most of the romantic comedy themes, while also deviating and including commentary on the effect of large corporations, the fall of capitalism, and technology’s pull on human physiology. In this futuristic dystopia around 2105, Earth has become so filled with trash and debris that it is unlivable. Humanity, led in the most part by a megacorporation named Buy-N-Large (BnL), flees Earth to live in massive starliners in space. Behind them, BnL left trash compactor robots to clean up Earth. After 700 years pass, all the robots stop functioning except for one, WALL-E, who has been continuing to pick up trash. One day while scavenging, WALL-E finds a tiny plant. He keeps it, as he collects all unique and interesting objects he finds while picking up trash. Shortly after, a giant spaceship lands on Earth and sends out EVE, a probe whose main directive is to find evidence of life on the planet. WALL-E quickly becomes infatuated with EVE and tries to impress her with his collection to flirt with her, including a recording of “It Only Takes A Moment” from Hello Dolly. When he shows EVE the plant, EVE takes the plant and becomes inactive. WALL-E attempts to reactivate her, but fails, and EVE is eventually taken by a spaceship to the only starliner still active in space: the Axiom. WALL-E, not wanting to lose EVE, clings to the spaceship and follows EVE into the Axiom. On the Axiom, humanity has become obese and attached to the technology that performs everything for them. WALL-E follows EVE to the captain, Captain McCrea, who with the help of the autopilot robot, AUTO, discovers that the plant EVE held has disappeared. EVE is upset by this and blames WALL-E. EVE is determined to be malfunctioning by Captain McCrea and is sent to a diagnostics chamber, where WALL-E, thinking that EVE is being tortured, sets out to free her. GO-4, one of AUTO’s lackeys, tries to dispose of the plant and WALL-E in an escape pod, but WALL-E exits before it is blown up. He saves the plant and EVE forgives him, and they dance together in space, which also brings together two individuals aboard the Axiom, John and Mary. EVE brings the plant back to Captain McCrea, who has been reading up about Earth and wants to return. AUTO, who has been given directive A113 by the BnL CEO in 2110, has been told not to return to Earth, and so mutinies against the Captain to attempt to keep the plant from being placed in the Holo-Detector, which would set the Axiom on a path to Earth. He throws WALL-E and EVE into a trash compactor. They successfully escape and place the plant into the Holo-Detector as Captain McCrea deactivates AUTO, and they all return to Earth. Unfortunately, WALL-E has been damaged by the fight to get the plant into the Holo-Detector, and he loses his personality. EVE kisses him to regain his original self, and they reunite. Humanity and robots restore Earth and the environment on Earth, and as revealed in the credits, successfully and slowly turn Earth into a green utopia.
The setting of WALL-E is the definition of a juxtaposition between the city environment and nature. Earth has been destroyed by humanity, and every essence of green and nature has been taken away from it, as it is turned into a desolate wasteland. In the film, “green life” and a “green world” mean hope for everyone involved. To WALL-E, the plant is unique, and since he likes collecting unique things, he is drawn to it. Eventually, it becomes a symbol of his devotion to EVE, who wants the plant not only as her directive, but to create a more beautiful life for the humans. The humans and Captain McCrea need the plant to get out of their life led by BnL and want to journey back to Earth, where memories of the culture there remind them of a better life outside of their technological monotony.
The Axiom, thus, is reminiscent of a “false” green world. While it may seem like a utopia, and it is certainly advertised as such by BnL, it is an unhealthy and unrealistic solution for humans to continuously live in because of the ill effects it has on the humans’ minds and bodies. Throughout the film, WALL-E and EVE fuel their romance through the navigation of both wastelands: first, the true wasteland of Earth, and second, the cultural wasteland of the autonomous Axiom. Together, WALL-E and EVE fight to bring back the true “green world:” Earth. Additionally, Frye notes that the “green world is a symbol of natural society,” and that the “proper home of man” is the “’golden world’ he is trying to regain” (Frye). WALL-E, in this context, is reclaiming the “golden” world for humanity, and by extension, himself. The end product of the “green world” is brought to life by WALL-E, EVE, and the humans.
The struggle to place the plant in the Holo-Detector and return the Axiom to Earth is the main obstacle in WALL-E and EVE’s relationship. More specifically, EVE’s directive to find the plant and place it in the Holo-Detector takes priority over her and WALL-E’s relationship, so WALL-E continuously lets his infatuation impact her goal. For example, the first major obstacle is that EVE deactivates while holding the plant on Earth, so WALL-E attempts to flirt and love her while she is unable to reciprocate. The rest of the plot, WALL-E slowly understands that the plant and returning the humans to Earth is important to her, so he helps her with her goal. EVE slowly realizes she also has feelings for WALL-E after watching the footage of WALL-E taking care of her, and after WALL-E saves the plant from exploding in the escape pod. They then work together to accomplish her goal and bring the humans back to Earth. When they do return to Earth, WALL-E is so badly damaged that she kisses him to return him to his former self, successfully sealing their relationship and creating what the audience assumes with the credit scenes a lasting bond.
Frye remarks that “the obstacles are usually parental,” and that factor is not ignored here (Frye). The obstacles in question are that of BnL, the corporation that created all the robots, and is, in a sense, the parent of both WALL-E and EVE. Frye also notes that the plot in a romantic comedy, “the movement of comedy is usually a movement from one kind of society to another” (Frye). This rings true in WALL-E, as the society of the Axiom is changed to inhabit and grow on Earth, who changes from a wasteland to a “green world.”
There are other important themes that contribute to WALL-E fitting in the romantic comedy genre that may be small nods to the genre. For example, the effect of the moon on important points in the film contributes to the theme of moonlight, moonshine, and moonstruck. The film is set in space, true, but WALL-E charges himself during the day, and most romantic moments happen during the nighttime, including when WALL-E holds EVE’s hand while she’s deactivated. Moonstruck is incredibly relevant; the entire plot and most obstacles are caused by WALL-E and his infatuation with EVE: he is completely, madly in love with her and thus makes mistakes and makes a fool out of himself. Moonshine, as representative of art and theater, is particularly relevant. A large part of WALL-E’s personality and character is his love of one clip from Hello Dolly– “It Only Takes A Moment.” WALL-E plays this clip several times, and it is used as a hymn for his wistfulness and his want to be with someone and to fall in love. This also contributes to the romantic comedy theme of a “play within a play.” The plot of this song in particular and the constant playback of the song resonate with WALL-E and WALL-E’s wish not to be lonely.
There are, additionally, several characters that contribute to adding WALL-E to the genre as a second pair of lovers and as comic characters. John and Mary, two inhabitants on the Axiom, are brought together by WALL-E and EVE, and the veil of the BnL automation is lifted after they realize there’s more to life than their automated existence. Additionally, WALL-E has essentially the equivalent of the “mechanicals” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. While WALL-E and EVE are racing around trying to bring the plant to the Captain to put it in the Holo-Detector, they befriend several malfunctioning robots that create most of the comic effect throughout the film, including M-O, a tiny cleaning robot who befriends WALL-E.
Ultimately, it is easy to see how WALL-E is not just an animated film about a cute robot and a dystopian future. WALL-E certainly fits many of the themes of a romantic comedy, and because of this, the film can absolutely be categorized as such. WALL-E contains many scenes and themes in common with the genre. Even though the film may have greater morals and messages within it about the dangers of large corporations, the relationship between WALL-E and EVE shines through and takes precedence.
WALL-E. Directed by Andrew Stanton, Walt Disney Pictures, 2008.
Frye, Northrop. A Natural Perspective: The Developmnent of Shakespearean Comedy and Romance. New York: Columbia UP, 1965.
Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957.
Pei, Lowry. “The Mythos of Spring: Comedy” in Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton UP, 1957). pp. 163-168.