Library Dissertation Showcase

An exploration of the theme of environmentalism in Disney Pixar animations, with a particular focus on WALL-E (2008)

  • Year of Publication:
  • 2021

The intention of this independent research dissertation is to critically evaluate the theme of environmentalism found in many of Disney Pixar’s recent animated films. This essay will focus on the film WALL-E in particular, as it is the most overt example of an environmentally themed film that Pixar have made to date. The Walt Disney Company has been an important pillar of entertainment and socialisation for millions of children over the last ninety seven years of its existence, and within that time, supposedly positive representations of the natural world have been pertinent to the core messages that they have tried to convey, both through their animated narratives and their nature documentaries. This dissertation will seek to uncover whether there are any ulterior motives at play that would lead to Disney Pixar constructing potentially ethically questionable ecological narratives that ostensibly aim to change the environmental outlooks of their target audience, but may in truth be presenting an outwardly didactic position while masking more mercenary motives.

In the last twenty years, worldwide public awareness of the climate crisis has increased significantly and has led to audiences seeking out ecologically relevant media texts for both entertainment and instruction. With this increase in awareness, and its attendant need from audiences for ecologically relevant media, we can see an increase in media production companies adopting eco-narratives in an attempt to profit from the popularity of the movement. However, this essay will aim to prove that these eco-narratives are often altered to allow for the continuation of present patterns of media-fuelled global consumerism; as media conglomerates like Disney Pixar gain an enormous and ever-increasing amount of capital from accompanying plastic-based merchandise sales, they seek through any means to protect these profits now, and into the future. Research into this topic has revealed that there are many academic texts and research papers dedicated to the discussion of the incomplete narratives that Pixar have portrayed in their films; this is particularly the case when it comes to their most overtly environmentalist film, WALL-E (2008), and to a lesser extent, Cars 2 (2011). Although these are the most prominent of the eco-themed films, there are some academic writings on environmentalist narratives and settings in other Disney Pixar movies, such as Up (2009), Finding Dory (2016), Toy Story 3 (2010), and Toy

Story 4 (2019) which further fuel the academic discussion into Disney’s environmental attitudes. This dissertation has wider implications for the continuation of critical academic opinions regarding the irony of a company like Disney Pixar lecturing audiences on the dangers of rampant consumerism. This essay draws on research published from 1975, all the way up to 2020, which allows for a broad understanding of the issues raised and gives a unique perspective into the research topic itself. As data on environmental issues is updated constantly given the current climate crisis, using as many recent texts from the last five years has been central to the construction of this dissertation, and therefore provides accurate and up to date theories and statistics. The main objective for this research project is to attempt to reveal the motives behind Disney Pixar’s choice to portray incomplete environmental narratives to their target audience of primary aged children. A further important objective is to reveal why they do this, and then aim to explain how they do this and whether their corrupt messages are received and assimilated, or whether younger audience members are largely oblivious to these potentially skewed and ethically problematic narratives. This dissertation will seek to better understand these research objectives through extensive textual study and the critical evaluation of the relevant academic texts available. In the first chapter of this essay, there will be an attempt to analyse the period of eco-animations that Disney Pixar produced between 2008 and 2011 that coincided with a surge of popularity for and interest in environmentalism amongst the public. There will follow a discussion of the different methods and techniques that Pixar employ to veil their ulterior motives and aid in the continuation of global consumerism. In chapter two, this essay will delve further into the instructive, educational role that Disney has created for itself, and discuss how this position is abused to mask the subliminal messages that are being fed to children to protect potential future profits. Following this, chapter three draws on data from a recent study into how much of an impact WALL-E has on children’s environmental literacy, which will be used to better understand whether there is a difference in environmental outlook people experience after watching a Pixar ecoanimation.

Finally, in chapter four, this essay will be discussing the financial reasoning for Disney’s intentional corruption of their supposedly environmentalist narratives. Then, this will be linked to their position as one of the most pervasive and greedy plastic toy polluters in the world, a position they will fiercely protect for their own corporate gain.

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