It’s A Small World

This is definitely the case with the much loved, and sometimes mocked, attraction called “it’s a small world”.  And yes, the Disney does format the title with all lower case letters.

The History Of it’s a small world

Like so many of the original attractions at Disney’s parks, this history of the attraction dates back to 1964 when Pepsi commissioned Walt Disney to build an attraction for their pavilion at the World’s Fair which took place in New York.  The attraction was originally called “Children of the World.”

After the World’s Fair closed, Disney moved the attraction to Disneyland in 1966.  The attraction has long been a top draw at Disneyland and is at the heart of the ‘classic’ original attractions at Disney World.

The People Behind The Attraction

Walt Disney selected three very special to work on the attraction – all three would later go on to become Disney Legends, the highest honor awarded to a cast member at The Walt Disney Company.  These include Mary Blair, Robert Sherman, and Richard Sherman.

The Timeless Design By Mary Blair

Mary Blair created the design for the attraction.  She purposefully made the face of each doll exactly the same to drive home the concept that it really is a small world.  Her unique and simplified style contrasts many of other attractions in the Magic Kingdom with are rich in detailing.  Everything is simple and clean in it’s a small world – very unlike the Pirates of the Caribbean where you can see actually see the hair on a man’s leg as he straddles a bridge and you pass beneath.

The design of it's a small world was created by Mary Blair.
The design of it’s a small world was created by Mary Blair.

Mary was named a Disney Legend in 1991.  She worked on many Disney projects, including the huge tile mosaics that dominate the lobby of the Contemporary Resort hotel.  While she was never widely known outside her work for Disney, her art has had a lasting and significant impact both at Disney and on a generation of artists who have studied her timeless works.

The Song You Can’t Forget By The Sherman Brothers

The famous – some would say infamous – theme song for “it’s a small world” was written by Robert and Richard Sherman – commonly known as the Sharman brothers.  The original plan for the attraction was to play the anthems of many nations.  However, the result was anything but harmonious.  Walt himself, who often referred to the Sherman Brothers as “the boys”,  asked them to write a single song to use throughout the attraction.  The song was written shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis, which may explain the strong theme of world unity.  According to Song, some claim that the theme song for the attraction is the most widely translated song on earth.

It is a little known fact the recording and mixing of the song for the attraction was a deliberate show of international unity and was recorded at studios around the world.  According to Wikipedia, recordings came from a church choir in London, a school choir in Rome, performers in Mexico, and children in California and Tokyo.  All these different recording were brought together to make the master soundtrack for the attraction.

The Sherman brothers went on to write many of Disney’s most memorable songs, including songs from Mary Poppens, Winnie The Pooh, and The Jungle Book.  They became Disney Legends in 1990 – a well deserved honor for creating the memorable soundtracks to so many attractions and movies.

While the color and make up differs, the face of each doll is exactly the same.
While the color and make up differs, the face of each doll is exactly the same.

You can see an “it’s a small world” attraction in California, Florida, Tokyo, Paris, and Hong Kong.  Each version of it’s a small world has a slightly unique flavor.  At the Disneyland attraction, for example, the loading area is outside – which makes good sense given the temperate southern California weather.  At The Walt Disney World Resort in Florida the loading area is enclosed to help provide some protection from the strong Florida sun and frequent summer rain showers.  In Florida you can enjoy a view of the loading area if you get a window seat in the Pinocchio Village Haus restaurant.  The restaurant actually provides a view into the attraction.

At Disneyland Paris, the theme song is sung in English, French, German, and Arabic.

At Hong Kong Disneyland, the song is sung in Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean and Tagalog.  The attraction is the largest indoor attraction in that park.

At Disneyland, the “it’s a small world” attraction closes in October for a make-over into “It’s a small world holiday.”   Disney Imagineers put up temporary Christmas decorations and swap out the traditional song for a rendition of “Jingle Bells” and “Deck The Halls.”

Interesting Facts About The Walt Disney World Attraction

  • The attraction hold half a million gallons of water.
  • Each boat that travels through it’s a small world can hold 24 people.
  • There are 289 audio-animatronic dolls that sing and dance
  • In addition to the dolls, there are 36 other animated props
  • The ride typically lasts about 10 minutes, but can actually take longer depending on what is going on in the loading area.  Some guests, such as those with disabilities, occasionally take longer to load into the boats.  This causes a back up in the “good bye” room.

The attraction “it’s a small world” is as fresh and creative today as it was when it was first developed decades ago.  The theme of unity and togetherness seems to ring true with generation after generation.