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Disneyland Remodeling "It's a Small World"

I know, I know, the song is an infectious earwig and you're going to spend the rest of the day cursing me for even bringing it into your realm of thought. But bear with me.

photo by Stacy Conradt

The ride is currently under major renovations at Disneyland, and while I admit it's not one of my favorite rides, I was disappointed that my sister-in-law didn't get to experience it on her first-ever Disney trip last month. And now, she may never get to experience the original World's Fair version that has resided in Fantasyland for the past 40 years. Disney says that the main change is a change of boats, but according to insiders in the know, it's actually going to be much more. We'll get to that in a second. The original IASW is based on the idea of world peace. No, really. Walt Disney attended a conference held by President Eisenhower in 1956 about promoting world peace and cultural understanding through world travel. Inspired, Disney recruited Mary Blair to design the attraction, Marc and Alice Davis to design the scenes and the doll outfits respectively, and Joyce Carlson to design the dolls. At first, the ride included the national anthems of all of the different nations represented, but Disney decided he needed one uniting song. Robert and Richard Sherman wrote the now-famous tune and that was that.

photo from feministJulie on Flickr

A couple of quick facts:

• The attraction debuted at the 1964-65 World's Fair in New York.

• Major themes of the boat ride include Europe, Asia, Africa, Central/South America, South Pacific Islands, the Finale and the Good-bye Scene.

• Throughout your 10.5 minute boat ride, you'll hear the repetitive song in Spanish, French, and Japanese, to name a few.

And now the changes: The changes are going to see the rainforest scene – a really detailed, colorful and innovative representation of Mary Blair's artwork – replaced with a massive "Hooray for the U.S.A." scene. Right now, the only American characters represented are a cowboy and an Eskimo. This might seem like the U.S. isn't very well represented, but when you consider that the point of the ride is to explore other cultures, it makes sense. Another big change is that Disney is going to stick its characters in scenes where they "belong". So you might see the Hunchback of Notre Dame in the France section, Simba and Rafiki in the African section and Ariel with the gurgling mermaids at the beginning of the ride (at Disneyland, not Disneyworld). Commercialism at its worst, I guess. I get that it's Disney and its bread and butter is its characters, but the original IASW was not designed to sell Disney product. Walt himself commissioned it with the idea of promoting global understanding, not global marketing.

photo from Re-Imagineering

I guess I'm torn – I can understand the need to update and improve the ride, but maybe not to the lengths they are going. Can't they up the America factor by adding a few more characters instead of destroying an entire classic scene? And what about subtly putting Disney character references into the ride instead of the actual characters themselves, which won't match the dolls in the rest of the ride? For instance, make one of the French dolls wear the simplistic blue-and-white Belle dress and carry a book. Give one of the mermaids red hair. I think it can be done in a way that doesn't rip the integrity of the original design away.

What do you guys think? Horrible updates, or is Small World long overdue for some modernization?

Updating the ride is not a bad idea (although I'm sure I'll be afflicted with "good ol' days" syndrome the second I step foot onto the new and improved ride). The more interesting issue on the ride update is the reason WHY Disneyland is updating the boats: today's visitors are just too dang fat. Here's a good article on the story:

The article points out that a Disney spokesman is denying that the reason for the boat update is obesity. Of course they're going to deny it...why offend the majority of the American people?
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It's A Small World is annoying, tacky and patronising. I can't see the harm in making it yet more annoying, tacky, and patronising. I mean, it's not as if it really has any integrity to maintain, is it?
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Sorry to disagree, but that ride is a prime piece of Disney real estate and should be stellar. The puppets and the sets look tired and certainly need help.

The grandeur and honor of the United States is all over the park. I, for one, do not begrudge the rest of the world their 10.5 minutes of fame.

The modern Disney characters are being placed where they belong as visual clues for youngsters who grew up with those films. Reverse commercialism actually: using a well known character to help educated.

I personally think that the boats are being redesigned to move faster and the finished ride will take about 6 minutes to complete.
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this completely undermines Walt's vision and lifelong passion. if they're going to do updates anyway (eg make the boats larger for fat americans) the updates should at least be in-line with the intended experience. The whole point of the ride is that it's supposed to take you *away* from jingoism and corporate consumerism not closer to it. BOO. This is the type of thing that i'm sure is making Walt turn over in his grave/cryofreezer.
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I believe modifying outside of the mechanical aspect to its original design would be a mistake. I could understand adding themed animatronics to represent other cultures... even US characters if they are in equal or lesser amount to avoid changing the layout. Placing the cartoon features into the ride would just be gaudy and unappealing. I think most of its charm is the nostalgic factor and vintage vision of peace.
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My 5 year old absolutely loved it when we visited about 10 years ago -So I rode the damned thing 5 times in a row.
I started noticing the the heads where out of sync with the bodies, and would eventually face backwards.

I found a wet napkin floating in the water on the bottom of the boat and amused my self by chucking little wads at the charachers. Some stuck to their heads....I wonder if they're still there?

It was a sad ride back then, I assume it's been falling apart more and more since?
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how did you forget to mention that the boat improvements are because how fat americans have gotten? a family of five "american sized" people were sinking the boats!
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"The changes are going to see the destruction of the rainforest scene – a really detailed, colorful and innovative representation of Mary Blair’s artwork – with a massive “Hooray for the U.S.A.” scene."

Uhh... I don't think that came out sounding quite right. Unless the U.S.A. is really proud of destroying rainforests.
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It's a Small World is the most heinous, lamest, most cringe-worthy ride at Disneyland. That said, updating it will make it heinouser, lamer, and cringier than it already is. That said, leave it alone.
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I love It's a Small World. I ride it every time I go to Disneyland which is about twice a year. And I am 28 years old. I think changing it would be a tragedy. It is one of the few rides left in the park with Walt and Mary Blair's original ideas. I find the ride as it is now delightful in an old school kind of way. I think changing it would be "lame", "sad", and "tacky".
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A true update for our times really ought to include IEDs, collapsing twin towers, bombs on the track, Predator drones, etc. It's a small world indeed.

But I guess increasing the commercialism and jingoism is a good start.
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The song is excruciatingly annoying, yes, but anyone who has a drop of artistic blood in their veins can see that the ride is a visual masterpiece. I went on the Disneyworld one a few years ago for the first time since I was 10, and was blown away with how gorgeous everything was. The colors, textures, shapes.. everything was amazing, so much so that I even forgot about the stupid song. It's a seriously sad day when the genius design of Mary Blair is marred by the addition of garish, color-saturated Disney characters against her lush, clean, and sophisticated palatte.

The attraction was also about celebrating differences and seeing the world outside your backyard. I don't think putting a big fat "USA" scene right near the end of the ride (Hey everyone! We saved the best for last, hyuk hyuk!) is even the least bit in line with what it was originally supposed to be about.
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What Disney should've done is commission the greatest artists and sculptors around the world to come together and update the ride. Make it an event of global artistic vision. It would be in the spirit of the original ride, while taking it to the next level and providing some good publicity.

As for whether there should be a bigger American scene, sure, why not? For one thing, the park attracts lots of non-American visitors. Why shouldn't they get to enjoy the presentation of a foreign culture as only Disney can do it? However, destroying the rainforest bit to do it is just groan-inducing.

As for shoehorning Disney characters in parts of the ride, that seems excessive. It's a Disney theme park, the whole place is chock full of Disney characters already. The ride should stick to its own theme and not dilute it.
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It's the most boring ride in the park. I think the only reason people ride it at all is because the line is usually short. You can't get across the message of world peace if nobody will watch the thing. Make it a little more visually stimulating and show the same message...what's wrong with that? By all means, mix in a few Disney characters and make it like a picture hunt. It would at least be entertaining to try and find them all.
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Update the ride, yes. It's been around since before my father was born, but making it more "Go America", what the hell? We don't need to be told we're great, we just know.

And as for adding in other disney characters, that's just appalling.
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I have not been to either Disney World or Disney Land, but I have been to Disney Land Paris (I grew up in Europe). The Small World ride there is a wonderful statement (?) for world unity and while I can understand upgrades of the ride for safety sake, I cannot understand the need to update with current Disney characters. The ride is probably the most famous (yes,yes...teacups, too)....why mess with a classic?
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Disneyland just needs to open a section of the park and call it "Disneyland-land" - where all the old rides in their original format are duplicated in slightly smaller scale. Then they can keep tearing down all the cool stuff all over the park -- as long as they keep Disneyland-land alone.
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yeah, the irony of destorying the rainforest to put up a "GO USA" section in a ride about cultural awareness... well it's pretty amusing, in a bleak way.

I'm all for them 'repolishing' the ride, fixing stuff, shiny new animatronics, etc, but, man, some of that stuff is wacko.

And walt disney is not frozen. that's a big ol' lie.

"did you know that walt disney eats an average of 8 spiders per year in his frozen sleep, and for each spider he eats, bill gates will donate 1 dollar to a dying little girl?!"
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The things that Disney does these days often makes me want to throw up. The whole putting the Disney characters where they belong crap is just that, crap. When did whimsy and simple pleasure become passe? What, have they now decided that the jungle ride isn't "Disneyfied" enough and they feel the need to replace the real looking animals with characters from the Lion King? More isn't always better, just more.
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I have a suspicion this ride will share the same fate as Disneyworld's "Enchanted Tiki Room". Disney kept most of the original decor/color scheme but recently unnaturally "updated" the room with random graphics of modern disney characters/motifs. I think at the end of the audio-animatronic voodoo lady's(?) performance Iago the parrot makes an appearance and busts a Hawaiian rap. It's hideous. The "update" make the remains of the 60's decor look tired and sad. Relative to the charm of it's former life, the newly added Iago crew looks so tacky--trashy, actually. Please Disney, all or nothing. I vote for a perfect renovation of the ride as it is or just remove it completely. Mary Blair had such style and talent, please leave her vision intact.
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I don't see the problem with getting rid of the rainforest section.

...It matches reality...

And : StacyBee, thanks for one full day of Disney tune ;p

it's a world of laughter, a world or tears
its a world of hopes, its a world of fear
theres so much that we share
that its time we're aware
its a small world after all

its a small world after all
its a small world after all
its a small world after all
its a small, small world

There is just one moon and one golden sun
And a smile means friendship to everyone.
Though the mountains divide
And the oceans are wide
It's a small small world
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I can understand cleaning it up and maybe adding a few more American characters, but it's sad that they're taking away the jungle scene, that one was fun.

And adding Disney characters? I think that's rather ridiculous, unless they're going to keep to the original style.

I know a lot of people find that song annoying, but I think it's rather nice, and the style is very cute.
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The rain forest was one of the coolest parts. Replace it with "hooray for the U.S.A.?" Yechh!. Load up the ride with Disney characters "where they belong!?" Why don't they throw in a McDonald's in each country while they're at it?
Oh for the days when the tackiest part of the ride was the departing message:
Where ever you go
Around the world
You're never far
From Bank of America!
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After a few minutes bobbing along in the boat in It's A Small World, I recall wishing for the song to end and looking longingly at the emergency exits. lol.

Puppets are just creepy...
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Hey, just for my own peace of mind, when I said putting the characters "Where they belong" I didn't mean that I personally feel they belong there... I just meant that they will be putting them in the countries that they are from according to their respective stories.

I also think putting Disney characters in the ride is reprehensible.
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Some more changes are in store for Disneyland, including a new ride "20,000 Pounds Under the Sea" and "Honey, I Shrunk My Butt":
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When I worked at Disneyworld I was told that ride operators could move from attraction to attraction, but if they found one they really liked, they could stick with that one for as long as they worked there. Except for Small World. Ride operators on Small World were rotated out after three months lest they go insane from the music.

I know it sounds like an urban legend, but I was told this by more than one cast member at different times. I was a performer, so I didn't work for that division, and they may have been goofing on me, but I only rode it once and I was already losing my mind before I even got through the line and on to a boat. I have no reason to doubt that it's true.
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Wow! Maybe the most extreme example of how to teach and show your child of how money talks. I rode the ride for the first time about five years ago, was moved. Now I have a 18 month girl(first kid) and was looking so forward to giving her this piece of history. So Sad
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I miss many of the old classic Disney movies (The Black Hole still scares the bejeebus out of me!) but I never had any ambition to see Disneyland...and I care even less for the franchise as time goes on. It's reaching its nadir, and there's nothing of Walt's vision left in it anymore. So sad...

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yea i went when i was 13 (10 years ago) and wasn't truly impressed. the only thing i remember well was the guitar-shaped pool at my hotel and the arguing family of little people (no, they did not work for Disney...) who were making a scene in the middle of the blizzard water park thing. never went on the IASW ride, BUT i've heard good things. it's sad that Disney doesn't take into consideration the feelings of their millions of patrons. i mean, the park wouldn't exist without its patrons (duh) and they should consider making an online survey of what their patrons want.. updated equipment with a brighter touch of tender loving care? or just another representation of perpetuated corporate america at it's inflated finest (and i use "inflated" to take on several meanings here).
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Small World is a timeless classic and is one of the many that are from Walt's own heart. Even though they may be changing some parts, I don't think it is a significant change enough to say that the ride will never be the same again. I am usually a very conservative promoter of keeping Walt's spirit in all that is Disney. As for this, I think it could be worse.

Thanks for sharing.
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It would be nice to hear that It's A Small World was simply receiving a facelift and a new coat of paint, as it is an old ride, but it's probably the only thing left at Disney World that my father can remember from his childhood in exactly the same way that I remember it from mine. Sure the song's annoying, but so are all the Christmas carols that pop up on the radio everywhere else every winter season, but we can appreciate those for their traditional value and what they meant to us when we were children, if nothing else. It's A Small World is the same type of thing. The bit about including new Disney characters is nothing short of appalling. Walt didn't see fit to throw Mickey in there, though he easily could've, so why profane the ride with the modern cash cows? It's sad.
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Why do they keep plowing over the amazing work of Mary Blair? Recently watched "Cinderella" and caught the special extra doc on Mary. What a wonderful, creative person. She set the tone, through her concept art, for not only "Cindereella", but "Peter Pan" and "Alice" and her version of IASW deserves to remain intact, as SHE designed it. First they desecrated the murals in Tomorrowland, now it's parts of this historic ride?
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I love the ride, and love love the song!
Every time I hear a change its made at the park.. it hurts.
I dont like the new tiki room (florida), and the new pirates (ca), and that they took away the bear jamboree (ca).
Is there a place where we can sign?
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I am only thiteen years old and I have gone to disney 11 times. everytime I wnt i rode IASW at least 3 times so that would mean I have ridden it more than thirty times...I love that ride and if Disney DARES to put an "horray for the USA" scene in the ride I swear the ride will lose a lot of its magic and uncle walt's charm...I mean the whole idea is sooooo CORNY and red necked! "yeeee haaaah hooray for the USA hyuk hyuk! doiii!" will that be the slogan in the commercials? personally I have disliked a lot of the supposed "improvemets" disney has made on rides. for example now they are adding so mmuch 3d shows and videos in rides that you feel like you are going to a tech-convention than disneyland. it sucks! and I believe they should forget the whole idea of new boats beacause americans are sinking them I mean its good that they sink them so that they find out how fat and stubborn and disgusting they are! as for the disney characters in the ride I an just curious to see how that will turn out but I am not in favor of it. (I really hope they dont dare to put videos of them like they did in the mexican IASW in epcot)I believe they should just let the ride like it it and maybe a new facade or so. They should leave one of the only rides in the park that walt desinged himself intact. and they should respect mary blair's vision.
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Since I got my major technology stollen by an illegal immigrant with no recoure in US courts it is NO surprize to me that Americans are subjected to the now globalist "Affirmative Action" lord high fellony.

Charles Michael Collins
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"Its a small world"-Can you really call it that anymore.
If Walt Disney was alive today, he would be utterly amazed. Disney World made a movie trilogy based on a pirate theme ride, they have creativly added new characters and stories, disney has influenced asians, and they have even built on to their park. But just like Hollywood, Disney World sits on a dangerous spot. I'm obviosly alive and I'm utterly amazed the best tourist attractions are located on the worst places on Earth.
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Even though I've lived on Long Island all my life, I've never visited the World's Fair site (Flushing Meadow Park) since attending it, until this evening. As I stood under the Unisphere, which was dedicated to world peace, I thought of the small world exhibit, which is also themed towards world peace. Perhaps the ride should be modernized as it's original rendition didn't get us towards the intended goal. Maybe version 2 will produce better results.
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I vaguely remember iasw.The thing that torques me is that every good thing in the original park has changed so much and some things deleted that as a former ride repair tech I didn,t recognise the place .It is indeed sad when an ICON such as the original DISNEYLAND has to be disfigured for "PROGRESS" and as for the boats in that ride-AMERICANS were a lot healthier and slimmer when it was built,BOO-HOO for the heavies!!
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I have never been to any Disney Parks because I live in Canada, and I'm 14, but I'm a huge Mary Blair fan. By all means, they can renovate the ride, make it safer, fix all the bugs. But PLEASE stick to the original Mary Blair artwork. Don't kill the ride by putting in "Horray for USA" and selling Disney characters through it. If there is only going to be one pure, non-commercially influenced, wholesome, multicultural aspect of the park, I think they can afford to keep It's a Small World as magical as it is.
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