I admit, even as a kid I was never really taken in by the Disney princesses. Or perhaps it wasn’t the princesses per se, but rather a general skepticism toward fairy tales and happy endings. Disney love was charming and sweet, but far from believable – even a six-year-old could discern that.
Unsurprisingly, a little bit of eye-rolling toward Disney love stories has persisted well into my adulthood. Frozen – which supplants the normal trope of knight-on-a-white-horse-rescues-damsel-in-distress with a touching tale of sisterly love – is refreshing, but still not enough for me to suspend disbelief and really fall in love with the love story.
Lest you think my heart is made of stone, there is one film in the Disney pantheon that has made me shed a tear (or two or hundreds) in response to a believable, moving love story: Pixar’s WALL-E.
I’m sure we all know the basic tale: sentient robot WALL-E (short for Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth class) lives a solitary life on a trash-covered Earth, alone save a cockroach friend and an endlessly replayed video of Hello, Dolly!. As he works in vain to clean a planet that no longer sustains any kind of life, he encounters a green seedling, evidence that Earth may once again be habitable.
Enter EVE (short for Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), a robot deployed by humans exiled in space to survey the earth for signs of life. As we see WALL-E and EVE encounter one another for the first time, it’s far from love at first sight – there will be no songs of love accompanied by hearts and flowers and chirping birds. WALL-E is frightened; EVE aggressive and hostile.
What unfolds in the ensuing scenes – and throughout the rest of the movie – is a tenuous friendship that slowly – beautifully – evolves into real and true love. Without relying on human speech as a crutch, WALL-E and EVE fall in love with one another through gestures, acts of kindness, and non-verbal cues. That the film is visually stunning only enhances the power of their love story.
So why does this get to me so much? I have a theory. When I was earning my master’s degree in history, several professors had a saying about what made good history writing: “show, don’t tell.” That is, you can’t just tell your reader something and expect her to believe it; you need to show through examples and detail that your point is real and persuasive. I think for me, WALL-E is a great example of a film that shows us love, instead of just telling us it exists. Everything WALL-E and EVE do for one another – and the tender moments they have together – shows the power of love with a resonance that classic fairy tales like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty never quite had for me. We’re not just told that they love one another, we see it.
In my book, what makes WALL-E and EVE so compatible is that they really did the work to get to know one another, creating a foundation for a lasting love. The irony is that while WALL-E and EVE are “only” robots, they have a lot to teach their human counterparts about real love and affection. Love is a process, an action, and something that really happens at first sight. So in my book, WALL-E and EVE set the gold standard for a Disney love connection I can really get behind.