Disney’s Highway to Hell

This scarifying nine-minute peek into an auto-enslaved Disney world of the future, as seen from 1958, is as amazing for what it gets right (like urban sprawl) as much as what is laughably off the mark (like urban sprawl = Utopia).

Notice how skinny everyone is, though no one ever walks (except dad, from his car elevator to his desk). And dig that Sun-Powered Electro-Suspension Car — still right around the corner!

Addendum: Here’s another look at what the future might have looked like as this cartoon was being produced. 

Video from YouTube via Polls Boutique

  • momos

    Wow, amazing.

    Not a single mention of the environment. Even the “Sun-Powered Electro-Suspension Car” is sun powered in order to get the American to the shopping mall and workplace faster.

    PS. Love how the Great Sphinx and the Taj Mahal can be improved with an adjascent six-lane highway, all in the name of bringing the countries of the world together in worship of the American way of life.

  • BicyclesOnly

    Truly amazing. Nice score, though.

  • Charlie D.

    So much of that is just so wrong…

    Where’s the part where the bulldozers are tearing down entire neighborhoods to erect giant highways?

    Where is all the traffic? Even all sprawled out, there must be more than just a handful of cars on those roads?

    Where are people walking and socializing outside?

    This looks like a future of absolute hell. Living isolated from others, being totally dependent on cars, having nature absolutely ruined with giant highways everywhere. Because this is an animated film, all of the negatives can be completely brushed over. And besides being people-unfriendly, this reality would cost more money than we could ever come up with.

    Where’s the giant parking lot around the Sphinx?

  • Sam

    The reason everyone’s so skinny is all the corn in the world is being used as fuel for the air-conditioned wasteland routes and the heating to dry the highways. That’s the only way I can explain that their world isn’t choked by smog.

  • Boogiedown

    In all of human history, this is the ultimate “bait and switch”. It is remarkably similar to GM’s Futurama from the World’s Fair ten years before, and really brings to mind Brasilia, started at around this time. Want to be scared, read the comments over at Youtube.

  • Boogiedown

    Sorry, meant to say “around twenty years before.” My bad.

  • Rich Wilson

    Notice it’s ‘he’ who is driving? ‘Father’ who is selecting the route?

    I guess the future is Saudi Arabia…

  • Mark

    Reminds me of James Howard Kunstler’s phrase: “yesterday’s tomorrow.”

  • Jose

    Boogiedown, some of this is also remarkably similar to Le Corbusier. The “city” looks like the Voisin Plan of three decades earlier and that house looks a lot like Villa Savoye.

  • steely

    the film ends with:

    “[the highway] will be our magic carpet to new hopes, new dreams, and a better way of life.”

    so, streetsbloggers, what is your alternative story? how would you make livable streets as enticing as a magic carpet?

  • Boogiedown

    You’re right, Jose…I was thinking more of propaganda to the masses, but bingo!

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    so, streetsbloggers, what is your alternative story? how would you make livable streets as enticing as a magic carpet?

    Good point, Paul, but how can reality ever compete with fantasy? Creating a new fantay to replace the old one is problematic: if people believe the fantasy, they can get carried away in the other direction, and if things don’t turn out like the enticing fantasy you spin, there can be a backlash.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    In fact, you can argue that the suburban magic carpet fantasy was created in response to the Industrial Revolution-era fantasy of urban living through efficient machines. The limits of those efficient machines were shown by dystopias from H.G. Wells, Fritz Lang and Charlie Chaplin. The fantasies created in response were the beginnings of the Fantasy genre: George Macdonald, Frank Baum, J.R.R. Tolkien.

    In the 1950s and 1960s you had a resurgence of the machine-age urban fantasy in the science fiction of Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke: cities that covered of planets! You also had movies that glorified cities: On the Town, Roman Holiday, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, for example. In response you had more pastoral stuff: Led Zeppelin, Piers Anthony, etc. and all the Sixties back-to-the-land hippies – people might not like to see Heinlein characterized as a hippie, but he had back-to-the-land fantasies.

    You also had suburban home/car-of-the-future stuff like this Disney film and Jane Jetson’s Driving Lesson. It’s essentially a compromise between the city and country fantasies: Gregory Peck commuting from his home in the Shire to his job on Trantor.

  • Corbusier and Niemeyer (Brasilia’s chief architect) were contemporaries and worked together on several projects including the UN Headquarters; hence the resemblance.

  • ddartley

    Speaking of architecture, did anyone notice that London’s Millenium Dome appeared at 6:18?

  • steely

    Angus, that is why progressive movements fail. People don’t want “reality” (whatever that is). what a bummer! They want a compelling aspirational narrative with a little magic and spectacle thrown in.

    the existentialists have this notion of “auto projecting” (double entendre!) — how people are constantly moving forward toward a better future. the act of shopping and the act of driving are similar in this way. probably somethign to do with our eons of hunter/gathering and nomadic living.

    if cars and consumption are not it, then what is the new american dream?

  • Charlie D.

    I think the new American dream is living in a place where people walk, bike, and take transit, and need cars very infrequently; communities that are of a human scale, where public places are dominated by people and trees and not parking lots, expressways, and cars.

    There are places like this in America, thankfully. Most of them developed before people starting worshiping the automobile as the solution to all problems. I think we’re slowly moving back towards this way of living, but we’ve got a long way to go.

  • steely


    yes, but how do you sell that? “walking, biking and transit” and “human scale communities” needs to be packaged in a gold box with a big red silk bow and handed to america with a vanna white smile.

    here are some touchstones that such a dream might tap: a venice piazza, san francisco trolley, sesame street, block party, a european bicycle vacation, a street like Cheers “where everybody knows your name”. have you seen that Kingsford charcoal commercial where everyone is in a traffic jam and then everyone just gives up and starts grilling and chilling? http://www.methodstudios.com/project/960.html

  • Charlie D.

    That’s a great question steely. It’s an uphill battle because car companies spend millions marketing their vision happiness behind that wheel that is not at all like reality. However, there is nothing mainstream out there marketing a vision of happy people walking, bicycling, and taking transit.

  • zombie

    I want to live in that world.

  • I think the fantasy should also include more free time. Live in a walkable neighborhood instead of a sprawl suburb, and the money you save is enough to let you work one or two days less per week. We need to show people the Venice Plaza and people who have plenty of free time to spend in the plaza.

    That was also part of the 1950s vision of the future: everyone expected that automation would continue to shorten work hours and increase free time.

    In reality, Americans work longer hours now than they did in the 1950s. This is another failing of the consumer economy: we spend so much on more stuff that we have to overwork.

  • JW

    This would give Le Corbusier a bigger hard on than an unclad George Washington Bridge.

    Here’s another retro futuristic cartoon about the automobile…
    YouTube: Car of Tomorrow

  • ironic

    How’s this for irony: Disney put out the movie “Cars” a couple of years back, which is all about how a small town dies when the old, winding highway that goes through the town is replaced with a modern, new, straight expressway that is miles away from the town. I’m sure Disney would be none too pleased to see this new take on expressways.

  • Adam Piontek

    OK, most of that is terrifying, but I kinda liked the cantilevered skyways in the mountains … doesn’t need to be for cars, you know, could be nice for rail service…

  • Wow, people are extraordinarily lazy. Computer Automation can only go so far to make the highway’s capacity higher. Just look at RER A in Paris. In about a year though the highway will be clogged. However if you build a train line, it will be clogged but probably cheaper.

    But nice tunneling. Maybe that machine can get the Second Avenue Subway Built.

  • Jack

    Really too funny…now we know where DOT employees received their education! Safe driving speed 85 mph (versus 25 mph in reality), radiant eyes, infrared windshields, elevator highways, and our magic carpet to a perfect future! I guess obesity wasn’t a public problem back in 1958.

  • wow. we all know that much of this was misguided, but you have to admire the ambition and optimism of the planners.


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