“The Highway to Play a Vital Role in the Progress of Civilization”

Disney’s Magic Highway USA is one of the more extraordinary examples of the myopic devotion to automobility and its infrastructure I’ve ever seen. It’s probably also required viewing at the Reason Foundation and among Senator James Inhofe’s staff in Washington DC.

"As in the past, the highway will continue to play a vital role in the
progress of civilization," the narrator tells us. "It will be our magic carpet to new hopes, new
dreams, and a better way of life for the future."

If you don’t have nine minutes to watch, I can tell you it proffers some choice gender-role limitations characteristic of the era and it predicts some of the more deleterious development patterns that would result from the completion of the Interstate Highway system, which had begun only two years before the film aired in 1958. Rather than the Le Corbusier-inspired decentralized urban centers depicted lovingly in the film, we’ve got Atlanta and Phoenix.

Magic Highway USA also predicts that highways of the future will automatically light up the roads at night and radiant heat in the asphalt will keep the surfaces dry through ice and snow. "When visibility is poor, our windshields become a radar screen," says the narrator. "Fog may be eliminated by ‘dispelling devises’ along the right-of-way."

And how about "preserving the beauty and candor of mountain travel"
with the cantilevered roadways stapled to the side of Monument Valley
sandstone monoliths?

The only mention of walking in this unfortunately familiar dystopia is a snide joke, when the narrator quips: "From his private parking space, Father will probably have to walk to his desk."

The animated film was directed by Ward Kimble, the Academy-Award Winning Disney animator who gave us Jiminy Cricket and many of the characters in Peter Pan and who worked on numerous Disney classics.  Ironically, Kimble was a collector of train ephemera and owned a 3-acre train track circuit on his property in San Gabriel, California, nicknamed the Grizzly Flats Railroad. He is even credited for inspiring the Disneyland Railroad at Disneyland.

Of course, with no walking or any other unnecessary physical activity, the characters in
the film turn out to be far too hale and trim. The people of this future should probably look more like those from this recent Disney animated film:

WALL_E_fat_chair.jpg

H/T Matt Baume

  • For a completely different animated view of cars from 1958 check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9u7_rQnGNc (for part 1) and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cxe5FKKZefI&NR=1 (for part 2, the more interesting part). Not as compelling as the Disney version but the music is by Art Blakey!!! and it even states things like “Driving is a privilege, not a right”.

  • It does seem odd that the ultimate vision of human luxury is to never have to move our bodies with our own effort ever. I give credit to Disney for portraying the logical outcome of this in “Wall-E, but though the cartoon was popular, it doesn’t seem to have made the slightest ping of a dent on our culture. Americans are as bent on obesity and atrophy as ever. Ironically, Disneyland is a prime viewing place to witness this phenomenon.

  • jon

    This old clip was amazingly precient.
    http://www.ebaumsworld.com/video/watch/80653422/

  • Michael Smith

    My, my, my. Art Blakey must be rolling over in his grave. If only he was able to be part of the true visionary World of the Future video!

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