WALL-E and My Son

As a parent, I have hoped to find common interests with my two children.  While my neurotypical daughter is outgoing and gregarious, my son is on the autism spectrum and does not relate as well.  His communication skills are limited and his specific interests are topic based, like dinosaurs and planets.

In an effort to find a common love, I attempted many different activities.  While my love of baseball has yet to translate towards any of his athletic inclinations, I was able to truly bond with my son through the magic of film, and that film was WALL-E.

My wife had bought me one of those “100 Movies” scratch-off posters for Christmas.  While we would hesitate to watch The Evil Dead, American Psycho, or A Clockwork Orange with our children, there were a few films to mark off the list we could take in as a family.  We began with Toy Story.  My daughter became too invested and started to cry, my wife and I waxed nostalgic about our memories of watching the film in 1995, while my son half-heartedly watched until his attention was focused elsewhere.

This cycle was repeated for The Lion King and Up, with my son barely giving the films any attention.  But, there was one more kid-friendly film on the list.  The cycle was preparing to rev up once again.  My wife and I sit in our chairs, my daughter sits next to my wife and my son sets up shop on an oversized beanbag.  I fired up WALL-E on Disney+ and was expecting the cycle to repeat once again.

I always enjoyed WALL-E.  I remember watching it in 2008, laughing and (almost) crying and was particularly drawn to the environmentally-minded storyline.  It was beautifully animated and featured a memorable (and Oscar nominated) Thomas Newman score.  I held it in high-regard, but I had no personal passion for it when it was snubbed for Best Picture in 2008.  I just remembered it as another one of Pixar’s hit films that I enjoyed.

All my feelings changed that night.

As the film began, and Newman’s score twinkled on, a dirty wasteland of planet Earth catches the eye.  All alone, sorting trash and making new discoveries, is the little robot WALL-E.  My son was captivated.  WALL-E never spoke, but much like my son, he had plenty to say.  From the robot’s cleaning routine, to his meeting and courtship of EVE, to EVE’s stasis following their discovery of the plant, to the launching of the spaceship with EVE and WALL-E aboard, nothing is said, but everything is conveyed.

This storytelling device seemed novel at the time of WALL-E’s release, but it feels transcendent now.  While the dialogue of Toy Story, Up and The Lion King was beyond my son’s understanding, WALL-E spoke his language.  We realized something truly special was happening as WALL-E and EVE danced through space.  As the two robots intertwined, I watched my son fall in love with a film.  Nothing in the film could pack the emotional wallop that moment did.

For myself, all this did was endear me to the film more.  I watched with enhanced openness and paid closer attention to the action than I did 13 years ago.  Following the delightful end credits sequence, I sat in flabbergasted awe and admitted WALL-E was a bonafide masterpiece.

My son has gone on to like other films and he might one day like a film more than WALL-E, but it will always hold a special place in my heart.  After that night, watching films with my son was not the repeated cycle, but a new learning experience to enjoy what is in front of him.  He now watches films with new attentiveness, all thanks to an obsolete cleaning robot.

Everyone has the right to their opinion, but any wrong word towards WALL-E will be swiftly dismissed.  You can have a problem with the film, but I was in that room on that special night.  WALL-E is a perfect film, and I will always be grateful.

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