On this classic ID The Future, John West, author of Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s, talks about Walt Disney’s life-long fascination with evolution. By exploring various messages embedded in Disney’s theme parks and animated features, from the Magic Skyway created for the 1964 World’s Fair to the 1948 animated film Fantasia, we see Disney’s recurring contemplation of evolution. Fantasia, in particular, provides an extended depiction of evolutionary history along with imaginatively rendered reflections on rationalism, materialism, and animism. At first blush Fantasia’s “Rite of Spring” seems to promote Darwinian materialism, but as West explains, a closer look reveals considerable nuance and ambiguity. On the Magic Skyway, animatronics were used to tell stories of ages past, from the age of the dinosaurs to the arrival of man. Disney’s presentation there skirted the origins of humans but, as West argues, the narration suggests that humanity is something qualitatively different, a message at odds with Darwinian materialism.
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