Walt Disney was the name on everyone’s tongue at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. He created pavilions that were immediately successful. “it’s a small world” was created for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in the Pepsi Pavilion, and was originally called “Children of the World”. It was built at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, by WED Enterprises, then disassembled, shipped, and rebuilt in New York. In 1963 dozens of artisans, Imagineers, musicians, consume designers, sculptors, model makers, architects, lighting, etc., set out to bring Walt’s vision to life in just under 11 months.
This attraction celebrates the children of the world and was a great delight to fairgoers and after being added to Fantasyland a park favorite as well. The ride is called “the happiest cruise that ever sailed”. Following the close of the Fair the attraction was disassembled and shipped back to California where it opened in Disneyland. Of special note to the attraction at Walt Disney World, the 3-D display seen outside at all the other park versions of “it’s a small world”, is seen inside in Florida. Another element that sets it apart is that the WDW version does no Holiday overlay as every other Disney Park has. If you are dining at Pinocchio Village Haus in Magic Kingdom you are also able to sit by a limited number of windows that overlook the queue and boarding area of the ride and wave to folks in their boats.
It’s all in the Details:
One of those responsible for a creating a ride with large appeal to children is Mary Blair. Imagineer Mary Blair was also an animator and it has been reported that she was Walt’s favorite artist. She is also responsible for the large mosaic inside the lobby of The Contemporary resort, and rendered backgrounds for the Disney film Cinderella (1950) and Alice in Wonderland (1951). She also contributed to Peter Pan and The Three Caballeros (1944). Mary Blair has a unique style from the other Disney artists and was made Art Director for the project It is her artistic style and study of color that Walt Disney wanted for this attraction. Although Mary had left Disney studios in 1953, Walt asked her to come back to design this attraction. She designed the set, which is whimsical, and very colorful.
She, along with Alice Davis, costumer and wife of Disney Imagineer Marc Davis, and Joyce Carlson, also designed each doll’s costume. There are so many details one can enjoy a different focus on each ride through. The first few times just take it all in as an overview experience. Another time look specifically at details, such as the hats, showing every hat style you can imagine. The same could be said for the shoes. Maybe another time focus on the toys or the aprons, etc. The costume designers used a wide range of materials such as lace, satin, ribbons, feathers, embroidery work, etc. to create the costumes. Authentic materials were used for each culture. Alice Davis collected the materials and sewed over 300 outfits to dress the dolls. The details are amazing! I love this ride and find it truly beautiful in its details and also enjoy the humor built into it. Some of the humor is contributed by Imagineer Marc Davis who created the animal Audio-Animatronics. You know him from many Disney attractions and also the animation of Tinker Bell.
Repeat after me:
“It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears; it’s a world of hopes and a world of fears.” You know this right? Even people who have never been to Disney know about this ride and can often sing this much of the song. “It’s time we’re aware there’s so much that we share…” is the theme of the ride. Even though we are different we have so much more in common is the message. The world was in a dangerous time and the message of unity and peace was embraced as what we could all enjoy if we focused on the good in each of us. The song was written and composed by the Sherman Brothers (famous Disney composers, most famous for the music of Mary Poppins and this tune on the ride) and is reportedly the song that has been most-performed all over the world, also the most-translated song.
The song for “Children of the World” was too slow for Walt’s taste and he asked the brothers to make it more cheery. He loved it so much that he renamed the attraction “it’s a small world” after their song. This is a sweet, childlike, innocent view of the world. When you are riding it again and again to pick up all the details of the costumes, set, animals, to keep your sanity you can listen to how the song sounds in different languages. Just a suggestion. (I tire of the song by the end of the ride too.) In truth, the song is not always being sung, it is often the instrumental only playing. It is sung in English, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, and Japanese. The song has been a bit of humor in itself over the years from the Jungle Cruise spiel joking about finding your children glued to the floor over there if you forget to take them with you, to a scene in The Lion King when Zazu sings it to annoy Scar who is heard to say “No, no, no! Anything but that!”
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So Much That We Share
289 of the 553 Audio Animatronic figures in the attraction are those of children. The dolls wear costumes that are different for each country, but their faces are mostly the same design. Costumes reflect traditional/historic clothing and their skin tone reflects the culture, but the faces are otherwise almost identical. Designer Mary Blair called her design the “Mary Blair kid”. Their heads are larger than their body scale. They all bear the same smile. (If one of those dolls reminds you of Dutch Boy Paint, you are right. Mary Blair created him too.) Imagineer Joyce Carlson has also been responsible for creating dolls and costumes for every park version, starting with the World’s Fair version, along with Mary Blair and Alice Davis. As a testimony to Joyce’s importance to this work she was given a window on Main Street U.S.A. that reads “Miss Joyce-Dollmaker for the World”.
Walt Disney’s innovation
Walt was such a dreamer, always pushing the envelope on new ideas, even when it meant he had to create something completely new to make his vision a reality. The same is true for “it’s a small world”. The Walt Disney Company holds patents for an entirely new ride system for this attraction that uses small water jets that push the free-floating boats along the flume path. The boats also needed to be open on top in order to see everything in the rooms. This ride, originally designed for the World’s Fair, was one of 50 pavilions there. Each pavilion charged an admission price, so you would choose which ones you wanted to visit and pay just for those you select rather than a flat rate for the whole Fair. “it’s a small world” brought in 20% of all admission prices collected at the Fair, which means it collected more admissions than any other attraction at the World’s Fair. One other reason they had so many visitors was because the attraction was developed to seat so many guests per hour, it made the line disappear more quickly than others at the Fair. What Disney learned with this concept has affected every attraction developed going forward. This concept was unique to Walt Disney. Also noted was how much time, and money, people were spending in the gift shop at the end of their voyage. It is hard to find any theme park rides that are not followed up with gift shops today.
Its Child’s Play
The children AA’s are participating in a variety of activities that adds to the charm and whimsy of the attraction. You will see them singing, a lot, but also dancing, cycling, on playground equipment, balancing on a surf board, riding on an animal, marching, riding on swings and air balloons, flying on carpets, flying kites, snake charming, and playing a variety of instruments. There is humor all over this attraction. Did you see the steering wheel on one of the flying carpets? The United States is portrayed by western cowboys, Hawaiian, and Native American dolls. Europe has cancan girls, a Bobby, a yodeler sporting an ax, and a bag pipe player. Look for a winking Cleopatra in Africa, and a cactus in Mexico playing a guitar.
Colors of the World
Mary Blair was working in Brazil in the early 1940’s and was intrigued with the use of color there. Her artwork created as a result incorporated many hues that somehow all went together. She was created unique artwork and inspired the colors in the film The Three Caballeros (1944). This color work is not to be missed in “it’s a small world” either. Each “land” has a different color focus and the room with all cultures mixed is done in white. If you are not a color theorist, you may not know that white is actually what you get when mixing all colors together. On your boat ride atop the Seven Seaway Waterway you will view the cultures of Scandinavia, The British Isles, Western and Eastern Europe, The Middle East, Asia, Africa, Antarctica, South America, Australia and the South Pacific Islands.
Creating over Re-Creating
Each time Disney re-creates an attraction in another park, they focus on creating some new element(s) for that new attraction location. “ It’s a small world” exists in Hong Kong Disneyland (first one to incorporate Disney characters in the attraction), and Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris. After a 2008 refurbishment, Disneyland has Jasmine, Aladdin, and Abu in the Middle East, Mulan and Mushu in China, and Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket in Italy, Alice, the White Rabbit, Peter Pan and Tinkerbell are featured in England. Cinderella, Jaq, and Gus are in France; Donald Duck, wearing his The Three Caballeros costume along with Jose Carioca and Panchito Pistoles in South America. Simba, Pumbaa and Timone are seen in Africa. Ariel, Flounder, Dory, Nemo, and Lilo and Stitch are seen in The South Seas room. North America has Woody, Jessie and Bullseye. The attraction ends with several large colorful flowers that have “Good bye” in different languages. Magic Kingdom’s “it’s a small world” does not yet have any Disney characters and nothing has been announced regarding that change.
· Ride is 11 minutes long-just long enough that you will never forget that song!
· Boats hold 20-comfortably seating four across on five rows
· ECV users must transfer to a wheelchair but there are a few boats that have access for wheelchairs
· 1963 Design began
· 1964-65 appeared at New York World’s Fair
· May 28, 1966 opened in Fantasyland, Disneyland
· 1971 debuted opening day at Magic Kingdom
· 1993-Mattel released a series of “it’s a small world” dolls
· August 18, 1994-the only incident reported for the attraction: a 6 year old girl fell out of a boat at the loading area and then struck by an incoming boat, causing her to suffer from a broken rib, broken arm, and collapsed lung. She was expected to have a normal recovery from her injuries. Following inspection, the ride was shown to be operating properly and was open the following day. This was reported in the Chicago Tribune on August 30, 1994.
· 2004-2005 refurb that included a state-of-the-art sound system, new lighting, changes to the queue paths
· 2006 renovated-including inserting the original 1964 stereo master recording, the entry was made to look more like the classic Disneyland façade with the white and gold sparkly shapes, including the clock.
· 2010-video game Epic Mickey has a game play where Mickey must defeat the famous “it’s a small world” clock tower that goes crazy after listening to the song all day.
· 2013-Dolls of Small World released by Disney, along with a line of plush versions of the attractions animal animatronics
· April 22, 2014-Disney announced that a feature film based on the ride is in the works, no release date given
· 2015-the Inside Out Pixar film expected to release in 2015 reportedly has unmistakable sound effects from it and “it’s a small world” design elements in it.
TIP: You don’t need to use a FastPass+ for this attraction. The longest wait times are typically mid-afternoon and are the shortest in the morning and after 5PM. For the best view, and more legroom, ask to sit in the front. Make sure that you look up as there are many elements you will miss if you don’t. Do not take flash pictures on this ride.