For many of us, Disney was the foundation of our childhood years: magic carpets, glass slippers, exclusively male heroes, and heteronormative relationships among attractive people. They’re the stuff dreams were made of — specifically, the dreams of Walt Disney, a super-conservative right-wing congregationalist Christian who was possibly also a Nazi. So what is Disney doing making a movie about Charles Darwin, archenemy to creationists everywhere?
Deadline reports that Disney’s acquired rights to a pitch about the father of evolutionary theory, and it will be written and directed by Stephen Gaghan. There aren’t many details available yet, but the movie will be an adventure film, no doubt drawing from Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle and his experiences in the Galapagos, which led him to develop his theory of natural selection and tear down the prevailing idea that humans were made in God’s image. It won’t be nearly as difficult to style Darwin as a swashbuckling scientific Indiana Jones as it will be to reconcile his views on evolution with Disney’s conservative fan base.
The last movie to be made about Darwin was 2009’s Creation, which focused on Darwin’s struggle to balance his revolutionary scientific ideas with his religious wife (in reality, Darwin himself was a devout Christian). The movie grossed less than $1 million worldwide.
To make sure this doesn’t completely flop at the box office, Disney’s going to have to avoid evolution entirely, making it yet another movie about a British guy sailing to a foreign land accompanied by lots of cute animals. They could also downplay the impact Darwin’s discovery had on the world, a perspective that, depending on who was watching, could be totally believable.
Disney’s choice of screenwriter-director is interesting: Gaghan is best known for his thoughtful work on Traffic, which explored the world of illegal drugs, and the geopolitical thriller Syriana, which focused on the global influence of the oil industry. He’s clearly not afraid to get gritty, so perhaps there’s a glimmer of hope here.