One of the most important qualities Walt Disney’s movies,television programs, and theme parks imparted to me as a child, and to children everywhere, was a feeling of reassurance. I’m referring to the works of Walt Disney himself when he was alive, and of his studio the first few years after his death.
Even if the story is about things going wrong in one character’s life, it is clear that there is a larger world out there of sensible people and a system and world that makes sense, that there is something called normalcy, and the goal of the characters is to get back to normalcy or better, to improve their lives and live happily ever after.
The Banks family in Mary Poppins is at first somewhat unhappy, but there is hope and magical delight in the world outside, and there is a policeman and there are friendly neighbors who bring runaway children home. The home of (1961’s)101 Dalmations’ owners is a happy, sane, home, and once the dalmations fight off the bad guys, they return to a state of eccentric yet happy normalcy. The world is expected to be filled with reasonable people who can get along and solve problems.
Even the satirical post-Walt movie The Barefoot Executive indicates that the larger world may be a little silly, but still okay at its core.
To a child, the sense of a system and society that is dependable and rational is extremely important to his feeling secure and optimistic, to his feeling free and motivated to learn and grow and become ambitious within that society.
The new Disney-Pixar movie Wall E is not at all in the spirit of Walt Disney’s movies. The characters of Wall E, Eve and The Captain are Disney-esque and very charming and funny. But the universe they inhabit is the opposite of Walt’s universe.
We are expected to believe and accept that in the future human beings (A) allowed a corporate monopoly to replace the U.S. Constitution (and all other governments) and become a dictator and (B) that no one noticed a problem with garbage disposal until it got so bad, the entire species had to leave the planet. In this dystopian vision of the future, the technology to build extraordinary robots and a spaceship that holds and takes care of the needs of the entire human population exists, but not the technology to get rid of garbage and plant trees or grass. Human beings are intelligent yet immensely moronic simultaneously.
Above all, the problem with this film — and the fact that busy parents, or their child care providers,will one day buy the DVD and play it over and over for their children without watching it —is the message that the universe makes no sense and the future is dark and adults are incapable of dealing with their problems until long past catastrophe. This is not a reassuring message to children who love life and can’t wait to grow up and flourish. It is harmful.
As my 5-year-old son said, “That’s a Garbage Planet. That’s not Earth. Why are they calling it Earth?” He understands that Earth makes sense. People are rational beings.
I explained it’s a make-believe silly story abou tEarth in the future where, as my wife said, “people become stupid” and can’t get rid of garbage. I reassured him and his sister that it’s ridiculous and that this is not going to happen in real life.