Frank Rich of the New York Times, disappointed by Barack Obama's "small-bore" campaign since he won the Democratic nomination, has transferred his affections to a new liberal hero: Wall-E, a computer-generated cartoon of a waste-disposal robot from the brilliant animated film of the same name. It's not as much of a stretch as usual for the Times columnist to ascribe political meaning to the hit Pixar movie, as he does in today's newspaper.

The stifling corporation that serves as government in the year 2700 is a composite of McDonalds, Wal-Mart and Halliburton; the bloated humans in their floating barcaloungers represent the evolutionary destiny of a species sedated by automation, fast-food and electronic displays; and the call to save the planet could have come from Al Gore, had he the wit and computer graphics skills. Rich is not the only commentator to tease out Wall-E's political agenda: some conservatives have even called for a boycott of the movie and its merchandise.

Now it's entirely predictable that Frank Rich adopted a planet-saving robot as his fantasy presidential candidate; he loves a good pop-culture reference; and any flesh-and-blood politician, even one from central casting such as Barack Obama, can only disappoint 2008's fervent liberals. Nor are Pixar's own political leanings that surprising: the studio is run by former hippies and based in the ultra-liberal Bay Area; and the writer-director of Wall-E has a particularly worthy pedigree: his credits include the writing on Sam Mendes' anti-war drama, Jarhead.

But the success of Wall-E does still provide a useful barometer of the mood. One reason for the conservative disappointment with the movie is because Pixar is the cultural equivalent of the swing voter: despite its hippie culture, the studio has been attuned to shifting public attitudes; indeed, given the lead-time on Pixar projects, it's successfully anticipated them.

The studio's most political project before Wall-E was The Incredibles, a cartoon tale of a family of superheroes, who contend with frivolous lawsuits and the resentment of those without such talents; the 2004 movie is a not-so-disguised argument against enforced equality and political correctness, and was adopted by conservatives as a morality play of their own. This time, however, Pixar is voting Democrat.