WALL-E vs. Asimov
There have been many films created that have contributed to the history of Science Fiction as a genre. The animated film “WALL-E” contains numerous characteristics of Science Fiction; the plot, themes, and characters all have viewers scratching their heads throughout it, making them think, observe, and analyze. Knowing the characteristics of different forms of Science Fiction writing, such as Isaac Asimov’s, we’re able to compare and contrast this Disney animated film to Asimov and his work.
WALL-E is a Science Fiction Disney film that was co-written by Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, and Pete Docter. Stanton also directed the film himself, while having Jim Morris as the producer. Working on this project together, they created a children’s film with more intricate technological-themed plots.
Taking place in a dystopian future, this movie is about an isolated robot named WALL-E on planet Earth, which is now a garbage-filled wasteland. Though he is the main character and the only robot left on Earth, he keeps his pet roach by his side constantly. The film opens up with the views of space, showing how infinite it may be, only to focus on this one robot on Earth in the beginning. WALL-E spends the uneventful days gathering garbage scattered on Earth, filling it inside him, to spit out as neat little cubes to organize. We see that WALL-E wasn’t the only WALL-E; there are piles of broken robots just like him, showing that he must have had an evolved mindset for a robot like him for him to be the only one to survive. As he sifts through the mountains of junk and scrap, he comes across items that are completely new to him. To the viewer, these are things that may seem completely routine to us. This, however, shows the different sense of value this little robot has. Anything WALL-E deems intriguing, he brings back to his home to keep as a part of his growing collection. Among these things, WALL-E comes across a tiny plant managing to grow from underneath a pile of garbage. Interested, he scoops it into a nearby boot and takes it back home for safety. As we follow his routine through the days, there is a sudden change. A ship lands on Earth, carrying a sleek-designed robot named EVE.
Keeping distance from the unknown robot, WALL-E follows her around and watches, slowly becoming enticed by her. She roams around scanning the piles of rubbish, seeming to be on a mission to look for something specific. EVE is quick to eliminate anything that moves or looks suspicious, striking fear in WALL-E, but not enough for him to completely run away. He manages to get her attention after they have a moment and eventually brings her to his home to show off all of his collectables. He shows her a film he watches often, of humans singing and dancing, recreating it for EVE. Among this, WALL-E’s robotic eye gets damaged, but he assures EVE to not worry, as he has a large turning shelf that has plenty of spare parts for him from old WALL-E robots that no longer work. He quickly repairs himself and shows off to EVE with a “tada!” reaction, showing the quirky personality he has on top of being extremely clumsy. While showing off his collectibles, WALL-E decides to show EVE the plant he found. Confused as to what it was, she scans it as she did with everything else and suddenly loses control. It’s as if she goes into autopilot, taking the plant into a compartment inside her, then going into what looked like a sleep mode. WALL-E is confused and worried, calling out to her until he gives up. Days then go by with her still dormant, and he takes her with him everywhere in hopes that she’d wake back up.
Things take a turn when WALL-E sees a large ship land again to retrieve EVE. He follows her, and jumps onto the ship as it soars off back into space. They land on an even larger spaceship, with humans and other service robots aboard. We then see just how dependent humans became on robots. They are morbidly obese, immobile, lazy, and completely out of touch with human interaction. WALL-E is determined to get to EVE again, following her all the way to the Captain’s room, who is named Captain B. McCrea. However, Captain McCrea is not alone in his room. The ship’s steering wheel is also a robot, named Auto, who assists McCrea in the daily routine of nothing. It comes as a shock to both McCrea and Auto that one of their EVE robots actually returned as positive for having extra-terrestrial vegetation. McCrea finds out that if this is true, everyone on the ship may return home to Earth as it is finally habitable again. Finally awaken to check for the plant, EVE, along with the others, notice there is no plant inside her. She notices WALL-E and questions him about it before telling him to hide. Auto persuades McCrea to believe that EVE is most likely defective, and to disregard the chances of there being any kind of plant. Following a serious hunt for the lost plant, EVE and Wall-E finally find it, noticing Auto’s plan to keep them from handing it in to the captain.
Believing EVE and WALL-E are robots gone rogue, other robots begin to turn on them. Making unexpected allies while fighting their way through, they gain some help in getting the plant to the captain. While they’re fighting their way through, however, McCrea begins to realize the truth being kept from him by Auto. Not only does Auto turn on the other robots, but he turns on McCrea. Auto refuses to allow things to return back to normal, knowing he will serve no other purpose once they’re back home on Earth. Outsmarting Auto, McCrea manages to beat him and give WALL-E and EVE time to return the plant. Successfully landing on Earth, EVE rushes WALL-E to his home after being beaten badly in battle to repair him. “For WALL-E, on the other hand, the journey to Earth is not only an authentic homecoming, it is vital to his survival, for if he does not find replacement parts for the injuries he has suffered on the Axiom, he will cease to function” (Merriam-Webster). After doing so, WALL-E isn’t himself anymore. He functions as any other WALL-E would, and this saddens EVE after she began to grow fond of him. Ending on a happy note, WALL-E gains his personality and memory shortly after EVE sent an electrical current into him as she rested herself on him. The film ends with a pan-out shot of Earth, showing the large amount of green blooming in the distance.
There are many definitions of Science Fiction by many different people. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, Science Fiction is “fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals or having a scientific factor as an essential orienting component” (McCauley). In this story, there are many themes revolving around Science Fiction, humanity, love, and exploration. We see the theme of saving humanity throughout the film, as citizens on the ship begin to realize there are real people right next to them, and not just screens and machinery. The whole plot is based on saving humanity, and preserving literal life. We see love between not only humans, but robots. This ties into the Science Fiction aspect of the film. Robots have the ability to experience thoughts and feelings of their very own. We see the advanced technology created by humans, along with the effects of them on human life. The dependency on robots becomes debilitating to their bodies and mentalities. This dependency obviously becomes taken advantage of as Auto refuses to let anyone leave or he will no longer have a purpose to them. This ties into the characteristics of the writing from a man named Isaac Asimov.
Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) is a well-known Science Fiction writer, who made a hefty contribution to the genre with his oeuvre. It is believed that he brought more science to Science Fiction, having a PhD in biochemistry from Columbia. One of the most significant works of his is “Runaround” because this is when his three laws of robotics were introduced, known as Asimov’s Laws. The first law is that a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. His second law is that a robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the first law. Lastly, a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second law. The film WALL-E breaks every one of Asimov’s Laws with Auto disobeying Captain McCrea, trying to protect its own existence, even at the potential cost of a human life. However, this does not mean WALL-E is any less of a Science Fiction movie. In fact, Asimov speaks on the “Frankenstein Complex” in 1978, which can be seen in the plot of WALL-E.
The “Frankenstein Complex” refers to the infamous story of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s novel, “Frankenstein.” In this Science Fiction novel, a scientist named Victor Frankenstein wonders what more he can do to learn about the secrets of life. He experiments, trying to bring the dead to life. After doing so, he is horrified by the “creature” before him. After abandoning his own creation, the creature becomes angry because of the abuse and discrimination it receives from humans. After having enough, it demands a mate from its original creator, threatening Victor’s own loved ones. The idea of a creation turning on its own creator, the lack of control the creator has, becomes known as the “Frankenstein Complex” to Asimov, and soon, many others. “This fear of man broaching, through technology, into God’s realm and being unable to control his own creations is referred to as the “Frankenstein Complex” by Isaac Asimov in a number of his essays (most notably (Asimov 1978)) (Bartkowiak). This idea of the creation gaining a motive to go against its creator is seen in the conflict between Auto and Captain McCrea.
As a Science Fiction film, we see the impact that technology has on humankind, especially when it is man-made. “Christian Journalist, Rod Dreher, explains how in this scenario the viewer sees how their reliance on technology has resulted in the “[loss of] what makes them human” (Dreher 2008). The director, Andrew Stanton, expanded upon this point explaining how the robots eliminated humanity’s need to establish and put effort into relationships. Since the humans aboard the ship’s lives revolved around technology rather than each other they had no need to do this. Luckily, as in I-Robot and The Matrix, a special robot, WALL-E, changes everything and helps to restore balance” (Stone). We see how physically disabled humans become after their reliance on robots progresses to a point of what looks like no return. They are stuck to their moving, reclined chairs, screens for everything they wish, and constant food service. This leads to a lack of human-to-human interaction, to the point where a woman is genuinely surprised to see a face that’s not on a screen. This severe dependence on robots is what cultivates the robotic steering wheel, Auto, to try and prevent them from returning to Earth, even though he was created to help them.
Asimov believed in robots following their programmed ways; “As a machine, a robot will surely be designed for safety, as far as possible. If robots are so advanced that they can mimic the thought processes of human beings, then surely the nature of those thought processes will be designed by human engineers and built-in safeguards will be added…. With all this in mind I began, in 1940, to write robot stories of my own — but robot stories of a new variety. Never, never, was one of my robots to turn stupidly on his creator for no purpose but to demonstrate, for one more weary time, the crime and punishment of Faust. Nonsense! My robots were machines designed by engineers, not pseudo-men created by blasphemers. My robots reacted along the rational lines that existed in their “brains” from the moment of construction” (Beauchamp). Asimov’s entire point in his laws is that a robotic revolution isn’t something that would happen. We see this as a contrast to the character in WALL-E, Auto, because of his rebellion against the captain to benefit his own desires.
We see that the robots in WALL-E aren’t necessarily mistreated for there to be a rebellion either; “The robots of his stories, Asimov concludes, were more likely to be victimized by men, suffering from the frankenstein complex, than vice versa” (Beauchamp). According to Asimov, a part of the Frankenstein complex is the mistreatment of robots contributing to their anger. However, in WALL-E, Auto is never mistreated until it is obvious that his intentions for humankind aren’t sincere; he has a will of his own to keep humans from moving forward. Auto simply allowed his own greed to overtake, therefore turning on his own creator.
Robots in Science Fiction tend to be shown to have their own way of processing new things, and forming their own judgement; “A word encountered by a robot as part of a command, for example, may have a different meaning in different contexts. This means that a robot must use some internal judgment in order to disambiguate the term and then determine to what extent the Three Laws apply” (McCauley). In the film, we see right from the start that WALL-E has his own interests, curiosity, and feelings. This becomes prevalent throughout the film as we see that many other robots he comes across are able to form their own internal judgement just like him, which ends up helping save humans, their creators.
WALL-E is a film that contains robots going against their creators, following the sense of Asimov’s Frankenstein complex, while also going against his Three Laws of Robotics. It is clear Asimov had his rules of robotics set, and never planned on going against them in his own writing. However, we see that other Science Fiction films are able to have similarities to his characteristics of writing, while also having contrasting elements to his Three Laws.
Beauchamp, Gorman. “The Frankenstein Complex and Asimov’s Robots.” Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature, vol. 13, no. 3/4, 1980, pp. 83–94. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/24780264. Accessed 19 May 2020.
Dreher, Rob. “Wall-E.” Beliefnet. July 2008.
McCauley, Lee. “The Frankenstein Complex and Asimov’s Three Laws.” Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, 2007, www.aaai.org.
Stone, Shane. The Downfall of Humanity. sites.duke.edu/lit80s_02_f2013_augrealities/tag/walle/.
Sounds of the Future: Essays on Music in Science Fiction Film. Edited by Mathew J.
Bartkowiak, books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=i5mKZT5D3TMC&oi=fnd&pg=PA44&dq=wall e science fiction scholarly article&ots=pF0um93-Iz&sig=pHF1h5wFrRx1Xo5bJkLhfrVuvKI#v=onepage&q&f=false.
“Science Fiction.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/science fiction.