How realistic is the basic premise of Futurama, specifically that someone could freeze himself or herself now and emerge alive and intact in the far future?
It’s been a popular idea in fiction since the late nineteenth century, and it is true that frozen bodies tend to be preserved quite well. There haven’t been any cases, however, of a frozen animal coming back to life. Some body parts have been successfully frozen and revived, and it is known that the brain can essentially pick up where it left off after a period of inactivity, so some people hope that this can be used to keep human bodies alive indefinitely. The preservation of bodies at low temperatures is often mistakenly called cryogenics, but that’s actually the study of elements exposed to incredibly cold conditions. The proper term is cryonics, and its usage dates back to 1967. While fiction presents cryonics as making a person basically immortal barring serious power outages, submitting to the process is really a hope-and-a-prayer kind of deal with current technology. The hope is that people in the future will have come up with the technology to successfully revive those who are frozen today. Cryonic preservation is also only allowed on humans who are already considered legally dead. And no, Walt Disney is not frozen. We don’t know exactly how the urban legend got started, but the best speculation is that it was begun by his employees. He died in 1966, about a month before the first known cryonic preservation of a human. I’m kind of surprised this was never the subject of a joke on Futurama, but maybe the writers thought it had been overdone.
An interesting thing about the portrayal of cryonics on Futurama is that Applied Cryogenics is a small business in 1999 when Fry is frozen, but takes up an entire building and employs a full-time staff in the thirty-first century. I suppose a lot of people wanted to be unfrozen then, which makes a certain amount of sense because 1000 years is a nice round number. I remember a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode that involved cryonics indicated that it was a twentieth-century fad that didn’t continue long after that, but we’re never really told much about what happens with it in between the twenty-first and thirty-first centuries in the Futurama world. All of the defrostees who feature in the show are from around our time, just as all but very few heads in jars are those of modern celebrities. Obviously this was done for the sake of keeping the humor current, but it does make me wonder. Incidentally, we learn in the episode “The Cryonic Woman” that Weird Al was frozen at Applied Cryogenics, and that Fry apparently wasn’t a fan of his. I was hoping this was setting up a later episode in which he would guest star, but no such luck.