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it's a small world

At Disney parks in California, Florida, Tokyo, Paris, and Hong Kong

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating
User Rating 5 Star Rating (1 Review)


it's a small world
©Arthur Levine, 2005. Licensed to About.com.
"Small" is a relative term. It may indeed be a small world after all, but since it debuted at the 1964 New York World's Fair, about a gazillion denizens of our diminutive planet have boarded it's a small world's boats--and subsequently tried in vain to get the cloying theme song out of their brains.

If you love it's a small world, check out About.com's picks for the Best Disney World Rides for Kids. You can also see an exclusive About.com video, The Five Best Rides for Kids at Disney World.

Up-Front Info

Annoyingly Captivating Tune

Transported to California's Disneyland in 1966, it's a small world (sic) instantly became a park highlight. Originally designed as the fair's UNICEF pavilion to help promote a message of international harmony, the charming, classic attraction, which Disney cloned for its Florida, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Paris parks, now spreads its goodwill, and its annoyingly captivating tune, to a worldwide audience.

The iconic clock tower facade, featured at all but the Florida version of it's a small world, sets the tone for the whimsical ride. (Walt Disney World rehabbed the ride in 2005 and introduced some scaled-down clock tower elements inside its loading area.) The fanciful, kinetic motion of the animated facade, which goes into overdrive to mark each hour, draws guests to the attraction.

Passengers load into the ride's boats outside, and the gentle current carries them inside and through the attraction. The never-ending tune becomes audible as soon as guests enter the show building. The ride features a series of rooms and tableaus, each depicting dolls from different countries and cultures singing along (in English, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, and Swedish) and bopping to the song.

Brash 60s Go-Go Look--with a Warm, Reassuring Feel

Unlike the more realistic animatronic characters in Pirates of the Caribbean (which cribs it's a small world's boat conveyance system) or Haunted Mansion, there's no attempt to make the animated dolls lifelike. Their repetitive movements and limited articulation help convey a simple, childlike ambiance. The eye-popping sets, with their Day-Glo colors, also reinforce the light, sweet theme.

Walt Disney assembled a talented team and oversaw the development of the original it's a small world and its Disneyland incarnation. Illustrator and color stylist Mary Blair, whose work melded a brash 60s go-go look with a warm, reassuring feel, helped give the ride its quirky design. The composing team of Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman, who wrote the songs for "Mary Poppins" and other films, penned the mind-altering tune. Among the attraction's Imagineers was Marc Davis, a legendary animator who was one of Walt's elite gang of "Nine Old Men."

Disneyland Dolls Up small world

In 2009, Disneyland gave some much-needed TLC to the original version of the ride and ignited a bit of controversy by introducing Disney and Pixar animated characters into scenes with the original dolls as part of the makeover. Yes, characters such as Pinocchio, Aladdin, and The Lion King's Timon and Pumbaa now croon the insufferable it's a small world tune along with the children of all nations, but they are fashioned in the same look of the ride's original design. In most of the scenes, the new characters blend in so well, it's difficult to spot them unless you look carefully.

What is immediately apparent, however, is the lustrous new sheen that permeates the ride. "We re-feathered, re-glittered, re-colored, and relit the scenes," says Kim Irvine, art director at Walt Disney Imagineering and overseer of the attraction's makeover. The Imagineer says that technologies such as advanced lighting gels and LEDs gave her team new tools to dress up it's a small world. "The colors are really vibrant and help convey the childish, innocent look of the ride."

There's no mistaking the vibrant red hair of Ariel, The Little Mermaid character who replaces a generic mermaid doll in one of the scenes. Perched alongside her pal Flounder, Ariel is perhaps the most blatant departure from the signature it's a small world look. A new America tableau, with toy-like renditions of Woody, Jessie, and Bullseye, also draws a sharp distinction from the original ride. But not so sharp that it diminishes the experience.

Animated Disney characters such as Pinocchio were introduced into the original Disneyland version of it's a small world.

©Arthur Levine, 2009. Licensed to About.com.

If anything, it's fun to ride (and re-ride) the spiffed-up attraction to pick out the new characters. Some things never change, however. It's too bad Irvine and her team wasn't able to devise a way to stop the infernal it's a small world theme song from playing on an endless loop inside the heads of guests for hours (days? weeks?) after they disembark the ride.

Simple Message of Hope and Connectedness

Some adults may cringe at the thought of subjecting themselves yet again to the overarching song and the overly cute dolls. But the sway that the ride continues to hold over children is irrefutable. Caught up in the magic of the timeless attraction, kids are wide-eyed and mesmerized by its embrace. And, let's face it, once immersed in the small world ambiance, adults get swept up in its simple message of hope and connectedness as well. Then they spend the rest of the day (year? eternity?) uncontrollably humming the dang song.
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