A casual reference in NPR’s Morning Edition this morning piqued my curiosity about a 1956 Disney film called Our Friend the Atom. It was shown at Disneyland and in many classrooms – I hear all Baby Boomers are very familiar with this little piece of Disneyana, but it was new to me.
It is an optimistic propaganda piece in support of nuclear energy, but it also clearly explains a lot of science and the history of science, and I’d prefer to focus on that aspect. I had high hopes about how the story telling geniuses at Disney could communicate science in an engaging way, but I was largely disappointed. I suppose it was naive to think that a 1953 mainstream film would be a gem of science communication, since that is the origin of many of the stereotypes we are saddled with today. Well, see for yourself:
Suggestions for Disney after the break
Isn’t it disappointing that it wasn’t all animated and told like their famous and popular princess stories? Using the Aladdin story as a running metaphor gave Disney a foothold, but when it came time to deliver the science all we got was a lecture-style, not what I hoped. Of course, the science is a bit outdated, but at least there are some nice animations to illustrate points (like phase transitions around 17:30), and I enjoyed animations of scientists at work.
With decades more experience on how to engage (and manipulate) our attention under its mouse-breeches, I would love to see Disney take on science topics (minus the propaganda) now. Here are two suggestions:
The Little Primatologist – a princess-style film based on Jane Goodall’s encounters with chimps
Scientasia – animations of science and math set to classical music. I envision dancing ribosomes making proteins, cells dividing through mitosis, nautilus shells growing, and stars moving through their life cycles. FSM, I would love to see that!
Or how about an animated adventure tale of Darwin’s Beagle voyage?
I’m not sure that science topics can be as engaging as magical stories, but think it should be possible. Who wants to try?