Celebrating the Magic: Disneyland’s ‘It’s a Small World’ Turns 57

It’s a Small World ride at Disneyland 2018 | Jennifer Hall

For over five decades, the enchanting “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland has captured the hearts and imagination of millions of visitors, both young and old alike. The captivating attraction, which first opened its doors in Disneyland on May 28, 1966, is a true testament to Disney’s magical and timeless storytelling. As the ride celebrates its 57th anniversary, it is the perfect time to take a retrospective journey through its history, iconic scenes, and the enduring legacy it has created.

From its humble beginnings as a World’s Fair exhibit to its transformation into a cherished Disney attraction, “It’s a Small World” has evolved over the years while staying true to its original intent – to promote peace, unity, and understanding among cultures. This article will take you on a nostalgic journey through the various aspects of this beloved ride, exploring its rich history, memorable music, and the cultural impact it has made over the years.

The History of ‘It’s a Small World’

The origins of “It’s a Small World” date back to the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Walt Disney was approached by Pepsi-Cola and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to create an attraction for the fair that would showcase the world’s children and promote global peace and unity. Disney, along with his talented team of Imagineers, including Mary Blair, Rolly Crump, and Marc Davis, conceived the idea of a whimsical boat ride that would take guests on a journey through various countries represented by singing, dancing, and interacting animatronic dolls.

The attraction was an instant hit at the World’s Fair, captivating millions of visitors with its charming scenes, vibrant colors, and catchy soundtrack. After the fair concluded, Walt Disney decided to bring the ride to Disneyland, where it officially opened on May 28, 1966. Located in the newly created Fantasyland area, “It’s a Small World” quickly became one of the park’s most beloved attractions, enchanting guests from all walks of life with its message of peace and harmony.

Today, the ride continues to be a fan favorite at Disneyland and has been replicated in various forms at other Disney parks worldwide, spreading its message of unity and hope to millions of guests each year.

A Look Inside the Ride: Iconic Scenes and Characters

It’s a Small World ride at Disneyland 2018 | Jennifer Hall

Upon boarding the ride’s iconic boats, guests are transported into a vivid and colorful world populated by over 300 animatronic dolls dressed in traditional attire from countries across the globe. The journey begins with a grand, white and gold façade, adorned with familiar landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the Taj Mahal.

As the boat glides gently through the water, visitors are taken on a magical journey through various regions of the world, including Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Each scene is meticulously crafted with intricate details, showcasing the unique architecture, landscapes, and cultural traditions of each country. The dolls, which are designed by legendary Disney artist Mary Blair, are brought to life through the magic of Disney’s Audio-Animatronics technology, dancing and singing in perfect harmony to the iconic “It’s a Small World (After All)” tune.

Throughout the ride, several well-known Disney characters make cameo appearances in their respective countries, further enhancing the sense of wonder and delight that has come to be associated with this timeless attraction. From Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland in England to Aladdin and Jasmine in the Middle East, these beloved characters add a familiar touch to the fantastical world of “It’s a Small World.”

The Cultural Impact of ‘It’s a Small World’

Since its debut, “It’s a Small World” has made a significant cultural impact, not only within the realm of Disney but also on a broader scale. The ride’s message of unity, love, and understanding has resonated with countless individuals across generations and has served as a reminder of the importance of embracing diversity and celebrating our shared humanity.

In a world that is often plagued by conflict and division, “It’s a Small World” serves as a beacon of hope, reminding us that it is indeed possible to come together as one global family. This powerful message has been recognized and celebrated in various forms over the years, from educational programs to charity initiatives, further solidifying the ride’s status as a cultural icon.

Moreover, the attraction has inspired numerous spin-offs and adaptations, including a popular television series and a line of merchandise featuring the ride’s signature designs and characters. These various iterations of “It’s a Small World” have helped to further spread its message of unity and compassion, ensuring that its legacy will continue to endure for years to come.

The Memorable Music: “It’s a Small World (After All)”

One of the most defining aspects of “It’s a Small World” is its unforgettable theme song, “It’s a Small World (After All).” Composed by the legendary Sherman Brothers, Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, the song was originally written as a simple ballad meant to serve as a unifying anthem for the children of the world. However, at Walt Disney’s suggestion, the song was sped up and given a cheerful, upbeat tempo, transforming it into the catchy and infectious tune that we know today.

The song’s lyrics, which emphasize the interconnectedness of all people and the importance of love and understanding, have become synonymous with the ride itself and have made a lasting impression on countless Disney fans. Sung in various languages throughout the ride, the song serves as a constant reminder of the attraction’s message of unity and peace.

Over the years, “It’s a Small World (After All)” has become a cultural phenomenon in its own right, being covered by various artists, featured in films and television shows, and even used as the basis for a popular line of Disney merchandise. The song’s enduring appeal is a testament to the power of music to transcend barriers and bring people together, much like the ride itself.

Refurbishments and Changes Over the Years

Since its opening, “It’s a Small World” has undergone several refurbishments and updates to maintain its timeless charm and appeal. These changes have typically involved the addition of new characters, scenes, or technological enhancements, while still preserving the ride’s overall theme and message.

One notable change occurred in 2008 when several Disney characters were added to the ride, each dressed in attire representative of their respective countries. This update was met with mixed reactions from fans, with some appreciating the addition of familiar faces, while others felt that it detracted from the ride’s original focus on the world’s children.

Another significant refurbishment took place in 2014, which saw the installation of an updated boat system, improved lighting and audio, and the addition of new scenes and characters from countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and the Middle East.

Despite these changes, “It’s a Small World” has managed to retain its essence and continues to enchant guests with its delightful scenes and uplifting message.

It’s a Small World ride at Disneyland 2018 | Jennifer Hall

‘It’s a Small World’ in Other Disney Parks

Following the success of “It’s a Small World” at Disneyland, the attraction has been replicated in various forms at other Disney parks around the world. Each version of the ride features unique elements that cater to the local culture and audience, while still staying true to the original concept and message.

Some of these adaptations include “It’s a Small World” at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, which opened in 1971, and “Le Pays des Contes de Fées” at Disneyland Paris, which debuted in 1992. Other iterations can be found at Tokyo Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland, further showcasing the global appeal of this beloved attraction.

Through these various incarnations, “It’s a Small World” continues to spread its message of love, unity, and understanding to millions of guests each year, solidifying its status as a true Disney classic.

Fun Facts and Trivia About the Ride

As one of Disney’s most iconic attractions, “It’s a Small World” is filled with fascinating facts and trivia that add to its rich history and allure. Here are just a few of the many interesting tidbits surrounding this beloved ride:

  • The original façade of “It’s a Small World” at the 1964 New York World’s Fair was designed by artist Rolly Crump, who later went on to design the famous façade for the Disneyland version of the ride.
  • The ride’s famous clock tower,which features a parade of dolls, was added to the Disneyland version of the ride but was not part of the original World’s Fair exhibit.
  • Each doll on the ride is designed to be within 1% of the same height, to maintain a sense of continuity and harmony throughout the attraction.
  • The ride’s boats were originally designed to be propelled by water jets, but this was later changed to a more traditional boat ride system for safety reasons.
  • In 2009, a man named Kent Twitchell painted a mural of the “It’s a Small World” façade on a building in Los Angeles as part of a public art project. The mural was later removed, but it serves as a testament to the ride’s enduring legacy and cultural impact.

The Enduring Legacy of ‘It’s a Small World’ at Disneyland

As we come to the end of our retrospective journey through “It’s a Small World,” it’s clear that this beloved attraction has left a mark on Disney and the world at large. With its timeless message of unity, love, and understanding, the ride has captured the hearts and imaginations of countless individuals across generations, inspiring us to be better, kinder, and more compassionate.

As we look to the future, it’s certain that “It’s a Small World” will continue to serve as a beacon of hope, reminding us that no matter where we come from, we are all part of the same global family. So the next time you find yourself in Disneyland, take a moment to step aboard this enchanting ride and experience the magic of “It’s a Small World” for yourself.