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A couple of people have been griping about Wall-E director Andrew Stanton's refusal to admit that his cute little movie about a robot in love actually contains some pretty upfront green politics, but there's a far more polarizing reference in the film than its harmless pro-environment agenda. It's no major plot spoiler to reveal that, about an hour or so into the story, Fred Willard appears in a recorded message as the mysterious president of Earth's corporate government and orders the ship's captain (Jeff Garlin) to "stay the course." Wait, we've heard this one before: It was the go-to statement used by the Bush administration for about three years or so when describing its modus operandi in Iraq (the term was abandoned when staying the course started to sound like a bad idea). In Wall-E, the context is quite different -- it's an order to not do something, rather than take action -- but hard to ignore nonetheless.
Certain critics with (surprise!) conservative slants have taken issue with this. At Dirty Harry's Place, John Nolte expresses his disappointment in the first paragraph of his review: "Have we lost the wonderful studio who brought us The Incredibles and Ratatouille to Bush Derangement Syndrome?" he asks. New York Post critic Kyle Smith picked up the rant and decided to write his own, even though he hadn't seen the film yet: "This kind of crack, lame as it is, also breaks the spell of the movie by hurling you out of the theater and back into reality."
Smith, of course, didn't have the frame of reference to know what he's talking about. (Welcome to the world of extreme miscalculations in the blogosphere.) Nolte, on the other hand, rightly deems the first act of the movie "magical" and complains that the Bush reference sullied his love for Pixar. "Other than the dark chuckles from the liberal critics around me, what's to gain?" he asks. "Why go there?" To which I would respond: "Why not?" It seems like the kind of order Willard's character would give, it reflects the circumstances, and places an otherwise far-fetched narrative in the context of modern times. Wall-E is an innately political film for viewers old enough to recognize it as such; what's the harm of one more bullet point from the headlines? Before you complain that "Stay the course" now belongs to yesterday's headlines, it's important to realize that Wall-E takes place eight hundred centuries from now, so maybe the line implies that rhetoric is cyclical.
Then again, perhaps my own political proclivities have misled me. What do you think? Do politics belong in family films? Does the inclusion of the "Stay the course" line have topical implications regardless of the context? Well, Willard thinks so.