The Optimistic Futurist

May 26, 2004


We’ve all heard the saying, “you are what you eat." Well, we are what we watch as well.

There seems to be a difference in the way we turn out depending on what we watched on TV as kids. Me? I gravitated to the sarcastic, violent mayhem of Warner Brothers cartoons - others felt the gentle pull of Disney programming. I turned out one way and the Disney kids? They are, well, different.

Recently I watched the deluxe edition of Walt Disney Treasures, TOMORROWLAND. Not to date myself, but I remember seeing some of these programs on my blurry TV when they were new, and to be honest, I thought some of the segments might be corny. I needn’t have worried; I had a ball. There might be cracks in the Disney empire now, but not when “Uncle” Walt was running things. These shows are concise, informative, and entertaining. They are beautifully conceived, drawn, and directed. I was surprised that, with all the imagined advances of marrying video to computers, Disney and his artists could present science and the possibilities of the future better than most contemporary science shows. All too often today’s shows are created with a tightly designated age span in mind and are unwatchable to anyone outside the targeted age group. TOMORROWLAND programs have something for everybody, and they succeed as entertainment without leaving anyone out.

When we saw these shows on our 19 inch Philco TVs back in the fifties, our expectations were at a lower level than they are today. The programs on this two DVD set are gorgeous. They were animated to the old Disney standards and are in color. In 1955 we didn’t have that option, so they were broadcast in black and white. I don’t know if there was any restoration of the original footage, but the results are quite impressive with today’s equipment.

But what about the science, hasn’t that changed drastically since these programs were conceived? Yes and no. Aristotelian, Newtonian, and Einsteinian physics haven’t changed since the fifties, so the information presented on the programs is still correct. What has changed is our outlook to the future. Walt Disney was a supreme optimist, and that shining belief is evident every time he addresses his audience, even fifty years into the future. Back when these programs were made, Nature was still the adversary to be beaten, controlled, and used. Here in the twenty-first century we are discovering that Nature is more fragile than we thought, and in fact could use our help.

These programs are produced by Leonard Maltin, who also appears as a guide and host. I ended up zipping through those parts. Do Disney programs really need an introduction? What is strange about these programs is the prominent German scientists guiding us on our voyage of discovery. It seems that winning WWII had unknown benefits, even for Disney. The terror and destructiveness of Hitler’s Vengeance weapons is totally ignored, only their scientific value is examined; again the emphasis is only on the positive.

This two disc set contains five shows with an introduction to the proposed EPCOT center. There is plenty of bonus material including a great interview with Ray Bradbury and some behind the scenes looks at the productions of these evergreen documentaries. The only problem I had with these discs is they insisted that the subtitles were standard, and I had to stop and turn them off every time I watched a show; other than that I really enjoyed my trip back to the future.