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It’s A Small World: A Long-lasting Ride With Good Intentions

Entertainment | October 18, 2021

PEPSI-COLA presents WALT DISNEY'S "it's a small world" a salute to UNICEF and all the world's children attraction at the 1964-5 New York World’s Fair. Source: (Wikipedia).

“It’s a small world” was not originally built for one of the Disney theme parks, although it did end up in both of them. Instead, it was created for Pepsi-Cola’s salute to UNICEF at the 1964-1965 World’s Fair.

Pepsi needed to sponsor an attraction for the New York World’s Fair and they couldn’t agree on what type. Joan Crawford, a Pepsi board member and the widow of Alfred Steele (the past Pepsi president), stepped in and asked her friend Walt Disney to create an attraction suitable for the beverage company. Since they were under the gun to get it finished (after all, they had been the ones to drag their feet), Crawford insisted that the board of directors accept his proposal since he was the only one who could complete the project in such a short amount of time. Disney was also already designing attractions for Ford, General Electric, Kodak, and the state of Illinois. Once WED Enterprises got started, they had only 11 months to create the pavilion.

Source: (Pinterest).

A Crew Of Designers Worked To Create The World

Disney asked Mary Blair, who had begun working with Walt Disney on feature films in 1943, including Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan, to work on the overall design for “It’s a small world.” The characters and scenes were designed by Marc Davis; his wife Alice designed the costumes for the figures. Rolly Crump designed the supplemental materials, including the toys, while Blaine Gibson designed and sculpted the animated dolls. Gibson and Greg S. Marinello developed the facial design for the dolls; Disney was personally involved, and each doll has an identical shape.

The ride itself was built at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank by WED Enterprises, and it was originally called Children of the World. To move people throughout the attraction, Arrow Development was involved in the design of the boats and the propulsion system; they filed two patents for their design, and these patents were assigned to the Walt Disney Company. The designs were later used on other Disney rides.

Source: (Tumblr).

The Name Of The Song Became The Name Of The Ride

Just as the name of the ride changed, so too did the soundtrack. It had the national anthems for each country included in the ride, and they played simultaneously. Disney did a walk-through of the attraction-scaled model and noticed the cacophony of sound. He then asked his staff songwriters, Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman, to write a single song that could be translated and played as a round. They came up with “It’s a Small World (After All)”. Since it was written in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis, it had a message of peace. The two brothers wrote it as a ballad, but Disney asked them to speed it up. Walt Disney then changed the name of the ride because he was so happy with the song.

When the ride opened at the World’s Fair, it was tremendously successful. Ten million tickets were sold at 60 cents for children and 95 cents for adults over the course of the two half-year seasons. The proceeds were then donated to UNICEF. Because it had a high rider per-hour capacity, and Disney recognized the value of the design. At the time, Pirates of the Caribbean was under construction at Disneyland, and it was being designed as an underground walk-through. Disney scrapped the design and used the boat design from “it’s a small world” instead.

The small world clock. Source: (Wikipedia).

The Design Influenced Other Rides

When the ride opened at the World’s Fair, it was tremendously successful. Ten million tickets were sold at 60 cents for children and 95 cents for adults over the course of the two half-year seasons. The proceeds were then donated to UNICEF. Because it had a high rider per-hour capacity, and Disney recognized the value of the design. At the time, Pirates of the Caribbean was under construction at Disneyland, and it was being designed as an underground walk-through. Disney scrapped the design and used the boat design from “it’s a small world” instead.

it's a small world in Disneyland. Source: (Wikipedia).

Changes Over The Years

At the end of the World’s Fair, Disney moved the ride to Disneyland, where it reopened with some changes on May 28, 1966. The original design included the Tower of the Four Winds, but this was replaced by the outdoor flume and boarding area which has a flat façade with turrets, towers, and minarets, all reminiscent of international landmarks. The central feature of the façade is a 30-foot clock with a smiling face that rocks back and forth. At the base of the clock, wooden dolls wearing native costumes dance out, similar to a European automaton clock and when the last doll makes its way back into the clock, the clock doors close and the central doors open to show two large toy blocks. Over the years, the Disneyland ride has changed colors as well. At first it was all-white with gold and silver trim, which was changed to shades of blued in 1977, followed by pink and white with pastel accents in 1992. In 2002 it was painted again to return it to its original colors. With the move to Disneyland, they added a scene for Oceania as well as the hello and goodbye rooms. Over the years, there have been other changes as well: the flowers which said hello and goodbye in the 1960s-70s were changed to rainbows and butterflies in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and later, to stylized boats with different greetings. The ride was closed from January to November 2008 to allow for refurbishment. During the work on the ride, the farewell sun and tapestry were restored; they had been removed after the World’s Fair. 

Source: (Pinterest).

It Has Spread Throughout This Small World

On October 1, 1971, Disney opened a version of the ride in the Magic Kingdom. Disney parks around the world also feature the ride, though they have some differences. In the original, the boats enter the building passing under the clock and they wind through the regions of the world. In other versions, the flume winds through one large room, and they also sometimes vary the order of the countries. In 1997, Disneyland started to create a holiday version of the ride, closing it down to decorate, and then restoring the original after the holiday season has ended.

Tags: Disney World | Pepsi-Cola | UNICEF | Walt Disney

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Linda Speckhals

Writer

When she’s not out walking her dog, or taking in a baseball game, Linda loves learning about history, science, and philosophy. She will travel wherever the wind may blow, and happily loses herself in a book, whenever she can. At heart, she is a music loving tree-hugger.