In its history, production, plots and gestures, slapstick comedy was tied to the rise of modern labor in terms of both Taylorist theory and Fordist practice. Comic heroes ranging from live action comedians Chaplin or Keaton to animated animals Felix or Mickey worked against work through the playful excesses of their obediences and transgressions within an increasingly rationalized, industrial world. The digital animation studio Pixar summoned slapstick and its specifically Fordist resonances in its 2008 feature, WALL-E, yet offered a twist in humanizing a figure of perfected Fordism itself with its title character, a robot repetitively working in a post-apocalyptic earth devoid of human life. Explicitly modeled after Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd, WALL-E contrasts with the film’s humans, who are entirely liberated from labor through automation in a satirical reflection of both post-Fordist accounts of the ‘end of work’ as well as broader critiques of a distracting digital culture. This article focuses on the film’s revitalization of slapstick traditions within the context of recent debates about post-Fordism, the future of automated labor and the transformation of working human bodies. Just as slapstick’s relationship to modern labor touched on the playful mode of its cinematic production as well as their form as indexical montage so too does Pixar’s corporate reputation as ‘Creativity, Inc’ suggest a complex relationship between its slapstick hero and the digital labor animating his movement. The same will be argued of Pixar’s vaunted techniques with both digital image-making and commodity generation, both of which suggest a nostalgic animation of slapstick’s antinomies as much as a disavowal of the post-Fordist production of which Pixar is vanguard.
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