WALL-E: What Happened to Earth in the Pixar Film

Pixar’s WALL-E uses a gigantic unanswered question to pull its plot along, a bit of narrative daring that has contributed to its status as a modern classic. The movie begins with a post-apocalyptic Earth, empty of life and stacked to the heavens with garbage. The film’s little robot hero is the only thing still functioning in the hellscape, and humanity’s fate remains a mystery.

It takes 40 minutes for human beings to finally arrive and considerably longer than that for the question of what happened to Earth to be fully answered. WALL-E’s genius lies in rendering the answer less important than the fate of its protagonist and his love EVE. It reveals the details almost as a subplot before finally connecting it back to its whimsical robot love story.

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WALL-E’s timeline reveals many of the details early, with seemingly incidental details that later draw attention to humanity’s fate. WALL-E takes an excursion early on into a bulk store called “Buy n Large,” which seems to be the only company of any sort. Their logo is on products of every variety -- billboards, transit centers and even the money -- while a headline from the “Buy n Large Times” declares the Earth covered in trash.

Humanity apparently consumed itself into oblivion, with a single giant corporation taking over the world government and selling garbage to its populace until the garbage overwhelmed them. BnL then built a series of outer-space cruise ships, designed to maintain humanity in comfort among the stars until its WALL-E units could finish cleaning up the garbage. Centuries later, humanity is nowhere to be seen, and only one little robot continues diligently doing his job.

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And little has changed. When WALL-E finally arrives on one of the cruise ships, he finds its inhabitants sedentary blobs: dangerously overweight, barely able to move and carted around on lounge chairs while the ship and its robotic crew attend to all their needs. That, in turn, reveals a darker conspiracy. Though the “cruise” was only intended to be five years, BnL declared the Earth uninhabitable and told the AI running the ship to keep the humans there indefinitely. The return of plant growth to the Earth is intended to finally end that cycle, but with the leaders of BnL long dead, no one can tell the AI to change its program.

The novelty of the scenario is notable. The planet’s collective doom comes not in nuclear war or climate change, but materialism gone utterly berserk. The species endures only as neverending generations of couch potatoes, consuming the products of a company that effectively ceased to exist long ago. WALL-E -- having developed a soul and a spirit of adventure somewhere amid the wreckage -- arrives not to avenge or save them but to reawaken their curiosity about the world and return home to start again. Images amid the credits speak to the brighter, happier future they create.

Despite that and for all of WALL-E’s whimsy, its apocalyptic storyline carries a chilling undercurrent. Pixar often drops Easter eggs from its various films into each other, leading to the theory that a single “Pixarverse” unites them all. BnL logos and products thus appear in Toy Story 3 and 4 and Cars 3, as well as several shorts. That suggests that all of Pixar’s various stories end in the colossal trash heap of WALL-E, and its characters ultimately contribute to that fate. Those are dark implications for a Disney film, even with a long-term happy ending on the horizon.

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Robert Vaux (462 Articles Published)

A native Californian, Rob Vaux has been a critic and entertainment writer for over 20 years, including work for Collider, Mania.com, the Sci-Fi Movie Page, and Rotten Tomatoes. He lives in the Los Angeles area, roots for the Angels, and is old enough to remember when Splinter of the Mind's Eye was a big deal.

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