March 18, 2014

NASA Hubble Image

Hubble Space Telescope mosaic featuring a small portion of the Monkey Head Nebula. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

What do Walt Disney and Seth MacFarlane have in common?

The name “Disney” conjures images of castles, princesses, and fairy tale endings. Throw in a couple musical numbers and you have the plot for most Disney films.

However, despite being considered a purveyor of nostalgia, Walt Disney had a serious interest in science. He even had a hand in developing America’s early space program.

Neal Gabler, author of “Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination” says, "It's been said of Walt Disney, there were only two entities that could make the animate out of the inanimate.  One was God and the other was Walt Disney."

Disney created a series of space-themed TV shows, including 1955's "Man in Space," which combined live action and animation.

That desire to make science accessible can also be seen in  a more contemporary animator, more known for fart jokes than fairy tales.

Seth MacFarlane, creator of the long-running animated comedy series Family Guy, played a vital role in launching the reboot of the new Cosmos series.

The original Cosmos, which aired in 1980, featured astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan.  The wildly popular show won an Emmy, was seen by people around the world and still gets viewed on YouTube.

MacFarlane is one of the executive producers of the new Cosmos, which stars contemporary astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.  The new series is intended as a follow up to Sagan's series. 

And he, like Walt Disney, sees a lot of parallels between cartoons and science.

“To fans of the show, I don’t think it’s that surprising, animation and science, there’s always been some sort of crossover in those two worlds of nerddom," MacFarlane said in a recent L.A. Times interview. And as for the program that Disney had championed all those years ago? “The space program has decayed to a point that is incredibly depressing," MacFarlane adds.

Though they aired decades apart, Disney's other-wordly efforts mirror MacFarlane's attempts today. So will “Cosmos” inspire a renewed interest in science and technology?

If not, let’s hope animators everywhere keep trying.

Education, NASA, Family Guy, Sci and Tech, Seth MacFarlane, Cosmos, Disney, Culture, Walt Disney

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