Disney famously teaches lessons through their films. Remember who you are (The Lion King), just keep swimming (Finding Nemo) and, my favorite, have courage and be kind (Cinderella) are all positive take-home lessons that viewers grasp from Disney movies. However, one Disney Pixar movie is getting attention because of negative messaging. The 2008 movie WALL-E told the story of a lonely little robot tasked with cleaning the trashed wasteland that Earth has become in a futuristic time. The movie was very successful, gleaning critical acclaim and winning Best Animated Feature at the Oscars. Directed by Andrew Stanton, this film made statements about overconsumption and pollution.
The reason this animated film is back in the minds of people today is due to problematic messaging around body image. Namely, the way the movie portrays the human race as fat slobs floating around on a spaceship clutching large sodas. A subset of TikTok creators has pushed WALL-E back into the spotlight and highlighted the problematic fatphobic undertones in this movie.
Putting others down for how they look, dress, think or act is never ok. In fact, the lesson of respecting and being kind to others are among the first lessons many children learn. TikTok content creators seem to agree with the way humans are portrayed as fat people floating through space is a misstep in this movie.
Fatphobia is defined as a bias against individuals who are overweight that stems from a sense of guilt or blame. Fatphobia equates weight and or body shape/size with moral failings. This aversion to individuals of a certain body type is harmful and discriminatory. Fatphobia portrays individuals in a fat body as slow, stupid, lazy, or less than. The movie WALL-E tells the story of what happens after the “end of the world” when humans have trashed the planet and been forced into outer space.
As if that wasn’t crisis enough, the film ups the ante by making all the humans in the film fat floating pawns that are uninterested in anything beyond instant gratification. Content creators speaking out are musing about why it was important to the storyline to depict the humans as overweight. It seems crazy that if the end of the world has come and gone, we would still choose to focus on personal image as a point of pivotal importance. The fact that fatness was synonymous with laziness, stupidity, overconsumption, and greed made WALL-E a pretty fatphobic film in my opinion.
Though the WALL-E storyline does mention that the bone density of humans has changed over the generations that they have lived in space, the consistent roundness of the humans depicted is not that simple. In fact, creator @Feminfitz asks why fatness was the physical change the Disney Pixar creative team chose to display. Surely generations in space would lead to other body changes too, right? @Feminfitz mentions vision changes and hand/arm size and function as plausible changes the film could have used — but they chose fatness.
All humans in this film are in fat bodies and depicted as mentally checked out, distracted by technology, greedy, and lazy, as they ride mobility transports from place to place. Content creator @Amyloops critiqued the movie’s depiction of “fatness as a metaphor to depict human greed as a whole”. In her video on the film @Feminfitz agreed, asking why the overconsumption of soda and food was chosen to depict the theme of overconsumption. She makes the point that the polluting industry of fast fashion could have easily been used to illustrate overconsumption.
Another disturbing point pointed out by @Feminfitz was that if moving will not definitely make you thinner — why would sitting definitely make you fatter? Indeed, messaging like this could lead viewers astray.
In thinking about the danger that comes with misinformation @TheBodyLoveSociety spoke to the disturbing truth that all the humans in WALL-E looked the same. She points out that because we all have different body types and sizes, there would still be variations in the way bodies looked, even if all humans were resigned to sitting for the rest of life. Depicting each human’s weight as the same in WALL-E conforms to the blatant fatphobia stereotype and is just plain fat shaming. A problematic undertone about mobility devices is another point highlighted by both the @TheBodyLoveSociety and a wheelchair user that took to Tumblr to hash out this point.
Replying to @teaaeons #greenscreen Fatphobia in the movie Wall- E, it’s an older movie so hopefully this wouldn’t get made today. #intuitiveeating #bodyacceptance #intuitiveeatingcoach #nondietapproach #intuitiveeater #dietsdontwork #nomorediets #stopdieting #downwithdietculture #therapytiktok #dietculturedropout #dietingsucks #foodaddictionrecovery
While the transport chairs used by the humans in WALL-E were conveyed as a convenience item, disability rights advocates are also speaking out to mention the negative connotation about mobility devices and laziness that this movie conveys. Ableist undertones like this are problematic because it casts wheelchair or assistive mobility device users in a negative light. Individuals that require adaptive assistance, mobility-related or otherwise, should not be considered lazy or useless as this movie depicts.
If you think these critiques sound like overkill, remember that this is a children’s movie. The implicit messages conveyed on screen are transferrable to real life. @TheBodyLoveSociety made a great point by highlighting the fact that children are unlikely to see problematic messaging on television and then choose to be kinder or more inclusive to children of a different body type in their neighborhood or school. Body image and the struggle to love your body is a discussion that starts in childhood and follows each person for life.
This is the problem with society. Fatphobia (anti fat bias) is deeply rooted because of messages like this. This has got to stop. #fatphobia #pixar #walle #undiet #dietculture #bodyimage #antifatbias #undiet #intuitiveeating #intuitiveeatingcoach #nondiet #antidiet #antidietculture #allbodiesaregoodbodies #bodyacceptance
Though critiques of this 2008 film are not linked directly to the blossoming body positivity movement, I think it’s important to view this backlash in light of the BP movement. This inclusive movement promotes body peace and acceptance of bodies that vary in shape, size, gender, color, and ability. Body positivity focuses on the overall health of one’s body, acceptance of different body types, and the changes bodies undergo over time. We are truly moving into a new space with celebrities and influencers speaking out against diet culture and rallying in favor of body positivity and body neutrality.
As a 90s kid that grew up in the days when “heroin chic” ultra-thin bodies were the ideal, and long before the body positivity movement became mainstream — the messaging in this film was clear to me. As a high school student watching WALL-E in theaters, my adolescent understanding that fat was undesirable was reinforced. Sure, the central message of the movie was around global climate change, the importance of reducing consumption, and treasuring life (remember WALL-E guarding the little plant?) that comes from this great planet. Still, the villainization of fatness in this film was not lost on me, even then.
As a body positivity proponent, it’s exciting to see people talking about inclusiveness and picking apart troubling narratives that have been ignored in the past.
What do you think about how Disney Pixar portrayed the humans in WALL-E? Will you watch this movie with fresh eyes now?