Ray Bradbury is a self-professed “Disney nut” and, in 1965, found himself dismayed by an article in the Nation decrying Disneyland as vulgar entertainment. In response, he penned a love letter to Disneyland, defending Walt Disney as a man on the cutting edge of making robots seem human.
Bradbury wrote this piece, “The Machine-Tooled Happyland,” for the October 1965 issue of Holiday magazine. It’s a defense of Disneyland, which Bradbury admits he hesitated to visit because it struck him as anti-intellectual. He recalls a fond trip with his good friend, actor Charles Laughton, but the real magic Bradbury gravitates to in Disneyland is its robots, which display to him an emotional warmth absent from the machines that increasingly surround us:
Snobbery now could cripple our intellectual development. After I had heard too many people sneer at Disney and his audio-animatronic Abraham Lincoln in the Illinois exhibit at the New York World’s Fair, I went to the Disney robot factory in Glendale. I watched the finishing touches being put on a second computerized, electric- and air-pressure-driven humanoid that will “live” at Disneyland from this summer on. I saw this new effigy of Mr. Lincoln sit, stand, shift his arms, turn his wrists, twitch his fingers, put his hands behind his back, turn his head, look at me, blink and prepare to speak. In those few moments I was filled with an awe I have rarely felt in my life.
Only a few hundred years ago all this would have been considered blasphemous, I thought. To create man is not man’s business, but God’s, it would have been said. Disney and every technician with him would have been bundled and burned at the stake in 1600.
And again, I thought, all of this was dreamed before. From the fantastic geometric robot drawings of Bracelli in 1624 to the mechanical people in Capek’s R.U.R. in 1925, others have conceived and drawn metallic extensions of man and his senses, or played at it in theater.
But the fact remains that Disney is the first to make a robot that is convincingly real, that looks, speaks and acts like a man. Disney has set the history of humanized robots on its way toward wider, more fantastic excursions into the needs of civilization.
It’s no coincidence that Bradbury befriended Walt Disney, and even wrote the forward for Disney’s biography Remembering Walt. It seems that Bradbury has always viewed Disney as a fellow futurist, and saw the park’s animatronics as a tribute to Disney’s vision.
“The Machine-Tooled Happyland” By Ray Bradbury – October 1965 [Holiday via MetaFilter]