June 25, 2008

Pot? It's Kettle on Line Three!

THE RANT notes with amusement the following summation of WALL-E, the new Disney movie for children arriving in theatres this Friday:

WALL-E is the story of the last little robot on Earth. He is a robot and his programming was to help clean up. You see, it's set way in the future. Through consumerism, rampant, unchecked consumerism, the Earth was covered with trash. And to clean up, everyone had to leave Earth and set in place millions of these little robots that went around to clean up the trash and make Earth habitable again.

Well, the cleanup program failed with the exception of this one little robot and he's left on Earth doing his duty all alone. He doesn't know he can stop working. But it's not a story about science fiction. It's a love story, because, you see, WALL·E falls in love with EVE, a robot from a probe that comes down to recover the last plant left on Earth, which curious little Wall-E has picked up. He absolutely falls in love with her.

According to Wikipedia, the speaker of these words was no less than John Lasseter, the chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios. Mr Lasseter reportedly made these remarks in a presentation to investors at Disney's 2007 Investors Conference, and a PDF transcript with his remarks in it is hosted at Disney's Web site. You're welcome, I'm sure.

My question: did any of the investors at the conference raise an eyebrow at this? I mean, for God's sake, it's The Walt Disney Co., which last time I checked made a lot of money off rampant, unchecked consumerism. (Not that I disapprove of rampant, unchecked consumerism, mind you).

So I'm torn here. In making a movie that implicitly bashes rampant consumerism, yet was undoubtedly made with an eye towards encouraging rampant consumerism through the purchase of toys, books and myriad other merchandising opportunities, has Disney achieved capitalist enlightenment or plumbed a new depth of soulless, hypocritical greed? I can't say I know the answer to that. But I bet the investors were happy, if perplexed at first -- as we can see in this dramatization:

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EXECUTIVE: Thank you, John, for that exciting presentation. Now, we'll turn to the FY 07 forecast, and --

INVESTOR: Excuse me! Excuse me!

EXECUTIVE: Yes, sir.

INVESTOR: Uh, Mr Lasseter said the backstory for the movie involves an Earth littered with trash due to rampant, unchecked consumerism.

EXECUTIVE: Yes, sir.

INVESTOR: Uh, do we really want to bring that up?

EXECUTIVE: I don't understand.

INVESTOR: Don't we make billions of dollars a year encouraging rampant consumerism? I mean, Christ, everywhere I go with my kids, it's Little Mermaid this, Buzz Lightyear that, I want I want I want. Not that I mind this, of course.

EXECUTIVE: Well, "To infinity and beyond!" has always been our revenue target!

(Laughter).

INVESTOR: Right. Which is great! I mean, I want families to spend their hard-earned money -- preferably all of it, and even money they don't have -- at our theme parks, on our merchandise, and on our videos. Especially because we've got a net profit margin of like 14 pc. But aren't we running a risk implicitly bashing the very thing we want to encourage?

EXECUTIVE: But don't you see? That's our selling point!

INVESTOR: Eh?

EXECUTIVE: People want a feel-good summer movie they can take their kids to see, right? Well, this is certainly one of them. Parents can feel like their kids are learning a valuable lesson, while at the same time tempering their own consumerism. But they'll just limit it to other things, or buy carbon credits, or do something else inherently useless. They won't limit it when it comes to buying our merchandise, which their kids will love! And demand.

INVESTOR: But the DVD boxes to all our videos could fill Yellowstone.

EXECUTIVE: You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. Besides -- we're not Lucasfilm!

(Murmured agreement).

SECOND INVESTOR: You know, you can't argue with that logic.

INVESTOR: Well, yeah, but ...

EXECUTIVE: Did I mention we have a whole bunch of gelato left over from lunch? It's free!

(Cheers)

EXECUTIVE: That's right! FREE GELATO!

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I'm not saying. I'm just saying.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at June 25, 2008 10:00 PM | TrackBack
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