Upon reading Horkheimer’s excerpt and taking in all the various points and emotions he brings up in a variety of fields, one point that struck out to me was his criticism of Walt Disney and Disney movie productions on page 161 of our textbooks. While he cites Mortimer Adler as someone who “praises Walt Disney as the great master because he reaches a perfection on his field that surpasses our best critical capacity to analyze and at the same time pleases children and simple folk”, he does not agree with Adler’s assessment whatsoever. However, I wonder how Horkheimer would feel about the movie WALL-E.
WALL-E, which was produced by Pixar Animation Studios, which in turn is a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company, touches on a number of critical issues facing our society and world and was still a critical success both in terms of its message as well as revenue. However, one got the sense that Horkheimer did not truly have faith that a critical success in those terms could not have such a profound message but would rather be a base instrument for the mindless entertainment needed by the masses. Horkheimer states that the sunbeams in Disney movies are not something to compare with Raphael’s works of art, but rather “almost beg to have the name of a soap or a toothpaste emblazoned on them; they have no meaning except as a background for such advertising.”
Yet some of the key issues that WALL-E took on was mass consumerism (which touches on Horkheimer’s point of advertising in film), waste, environmentalism, sloth and the reliance on technology for entertainment and production. It would seem to me that in Horkheimer’s mind, that a film which was so popular and successful in the eye of the masses would not be able to contain messages such as these because it did not fit the traditional mold of what he considered to be “art”. While it is true that much of what is produced today panders to the lowest common denominator and does not contain much insight or deep thought below the surface, we must not immediately discredit all works which are publicly successful and adored by the masses. This is why I believe that WALL-E was such a breath of fresh air because not only was it highly successful in terms of financial gains, but it also took on the institution that created it and touched on very real, very serious issues facing our society. I think that should Horkheimer be alive today, a movie such as WALL-E would make him pause and re-think some of his stances, if only for a short while.