Sunday, July 20, 2008


Is art for children art? I've always taken the view that there is no such thing as children's poetry, there is only poetry. Yet there are many children's things that qualify as art - stories by Wilde, Kipling, Carroll etc.. On the whole, however, I stick to my view that the best material for children is art's lobby, not its great room. But what about the movies? Children's films are now routinely sold as 'family' films to ensure all age groups are covered. The films in question are invariably made with enough adult material to justify the tag. As a result, it has become routine for the best of these kidult films to be celebrated as art or even great art by critics entranced by the ingenuity and, in the case of cartoons, by the ever increasing technological sophistication. This is usually harmless unless you take it as evidence of the infantilisation of our culture, which, periodically, I do. The case of Wall.E, in this context, is very interesting indeed. I went to see it because of certain rave views in America which said that this was great art. I was almost prepared to believe this as Pixar's Toy Story was, indeed, pretty impressive. But art it certainly isn't. The plot is a mess, there is little real drama, it's far too long and it's not funny. (Incidentally, it's also very fattist, but so am I so that's okay.) Wall.E spends so much time banging home its environmental message with a riot of colour and action that it completely forgets its own narrative dynamics. I assume it works for children, but I'm not sure. The brats around me seemed pretty subdued throughout. So why is it called art? Well, the message - that we are messy, destructive creatures - is true and topical enough and it is technologically breathtaking to the point where I suspect normal critical faculties have been bludgeoned into submission. But the real point is, I think, that people want this film to work at the highest level. There's a yearning for the childish to be true. There always was - look at Carroll - but it is intensified by marketing and technological ingenuity.  The underlying irony in the case of Wall.E is that, beyond the environmentalism, there is another message - that it's okay to be a machine. Is that really the great new childhood truth?


  1. I enjoyed the film. I don't care if it is considered high art, low art, or art. That question has become so tiresome, especially in light of what the art establishment has done to art in the last 100 years.

    You miss the whole point about "being a robot". The robots in the film are just proxies for people. I think that it spoke to the idea of finding meaning within the confines of the limited nature we are all born with. Robots are programmed for a specific role, and to a certain extent humans are programmed as well, and we are all seeking that role, that calling that makes the best use of our personal nature and makes us feel fulfilled. Like robots, we can't see how our little role fits in to the whole. We just hope that what we do has meaning for the larger reality we call life.

    The scene in the robot repair shop was especially amusing. Here we see the eccentrics and misfits among the robot race, whose programming has gone awry. As with humans, these misfits are all the more fascinating. And also as with humans, they don't understand that they are misfits, they attempt to live out their unique calling as if they are making a deep difference in the world. And who is to say they aren't?

  2. One of my best friends, a very intelligent and cultured woman whose opinion I greatly respect, *loved* WALL-E. That said, I think I'm gonna see it. And I seem to recollect, Bryan, that you hated "Atonement," but I thought that an excellent film and a quite good adaptation of McEwan's novel.

    Duck, I agree with you about high/low/whatever art. Chacon son gout (sorry, can't do the accents here). As long as it doesn't involve harming children (which I hear the new Batman does) or animals, I'm cool with it.

  3. I’m extremely sceptical of the whole environmentalist movement and regard it as just the latest of Voegelin’s millenarian ‘political religions’, with results that are likely to be just as dreadful as those of its predecessors, so when I took my son (aged 6) to see WALL-E, I was braced for the usual greenie hectoring and Gnostic claptrap.

    There was none that I was aware of. I read the message of the film as broadly conservative. The human beings live in a society where everything they require is provided by the State and, as a consequence, they have been reduced to the status of domestic pets. They are Eloi. However, unlike the Eloi, when danger threatens, they rally and show their inner mettle. Surely one of the key points of the film is when the Captain literally stands on his own two feet to confront the HAL-like Autopilot and take responsibility for his own destiny.

    As for WALL-E, he may be a machine, but he’s a clearly recognisable type from Christian story: the lowly menial inspired by a vision of an angel (albeit a rather trigger-happy one). The post apocalyptic world – though clearly satirical – is simply a plot device ‘reverse-engineered’ (to use the director’s phrase) from his original concept that WALL-E should be the Last Thing on Earth.

    I found the film to be charming, funny, upbeat, optimistic and somewhat affecting. Is it art? Who cares?

  4. What a stupid review. Art does'nt always have to mean Colors mixed up. If you're a graphic artist you would have understood the depth of texture painting that film contains. Each and every trash object like those Pepsi cans, electric bulbs, lighters etc were hand painted by many artists. and I think I saw nearly thousands of such trash objects in that film. Its Pixar's best film ever.