Looking Back: It's a Small World

Some people love it and for others it is the bane of their Disney existence. We are talking It's a Small World today, exploring the origins and history of this Disney hallmark.

For those of you who have never ridden It's a Small World, the attraction is an interior boat cruise that features over 300 brightly costumed audio-animatronic dolls in the style of children of the world. There is an It's a Small World attraction at each of the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts worldwide, and Walt ever only referred to it as "the happiest cruise that ever sailed."

Beginnings at the 1964 New York World's Fair

Many people know that It's a Small World was originally designed for the 1964 New York World's Fair but what you may not know is that it was almost didn't happen. Ford and GE had both asked Disney to create their pavilions for the World's Fair, the state of Illinois had approached Walt to create the Illinois Pavilion, and a CircleVision 360deg exhibit was also in the works when Pepsi approached Disney about creating a tribute to UNICEF. Apparently Walt liked the challenge of working on many projects at once.

Disney and his team at WED enterprises were using the World's Fair as a testing ground for new attraction concepts at Disneyland and It's a Small World was one of the attraction concepts tested. In fact the original Pirates of the Caribbean was supposed to be a walk through attraction but once Disney say how successful It's a Small World was at moving large volumes of people through they redesigned Pirates to be a boat ride.

After the World's Fair closed in 1966 the attraction was disassembled and re-built at Disneyland.

Imagineers behind It's a Small World

Mary Blair is responsible for the design and whimsicality we see throughout It's a Small World. Her experience as an art director for some of Disney's most iconic films, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan, made her an obvious choice to design what would become one of the most famous Disney attractions.

Marc Davis was responsible for the characters and scene design in It's a Small World. His wife Alice Davis designed the costumes for the dolls. And Gregory S. Marinello was responsible for designing and creating the famous "Glockenspiel."

The Sherman Brothers were recruited to compose "It's a Small World" for the attraction. The tune was recorded in many different languages and in many different studios around the world. A fun fact for you Disney lovers is that the tune and lyrics are the only Disney creations to never be copyrighted. This was done at the request of UNICEF so that the tune could remain a "gift to the children of the world."

At the Magic Kingdom

It's a Small World was opened at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World on October 1, 1971. One of the differences from the Disneyland version is that The Goodbye Room shows parting phrases from around the world on flowers instead of postcards. Guests can also dine at the Pinocchio Village House Restaurant that overlooks the queue area.

Despite the fact that I have ridden It's a Small World more times than I can count it still remains one of my favorites things to do at Magic Kingdom. Is it still one of your favorites?

Nick Dakuginow wrote on Wed, 07/27/2011 - 16:41:

Nick Dakuginow's picture

Have to say, after riding it many times in my life, I skip it every time now. Even when I walk by it most times (usually start a day out at MK and walk past Fantasyland after starting out in Tomorrowland, it's basically a walk on... but can't do it anymore. Classic ride for sure, but once too many rides for me!

JeffC wrote on Thu, 07/28/2011 - 00:52:

I'm still in the Must Ride Every Time camp. I just really enjoy it, regardless of not being able to get that song out of my head for weeks afterwards.

And in true confession form....I admit I quietly sing along during the whole thing.

And I wave at the CM operator as we set sail.

jeanne wrote on Thu, 07/28/2011 - 01:35:

jeanne's picture

I love it!!!!!!!! and do it over again and again and again.

Charles Ramsey wrote on Sat, 08/20/2011 - 17:43:

Charles Ramsey's picture

Oh yes, it is a ride I have to ride at least once a trip. Besides being cool inside, it is one ride that brings me closer to my memories of Walt Disney. And yes, when I ride and days afterward I have that song in my head and sing it in my head!

crazycatperson wrote on Fri, 09/23/2011 - 17:04:

crazycatperson's picture

One of my most beloved memories of touring the New York World's Fair as a child was It's a Small World. So no, I NEVER miss it - much to the chagrin of hubby and our usual traveling companions, who don't have the same sentimental attachment to the ride that I have. So this year, when I tour Disney World alone, I'll probably ride it several times!

Daniel wrote on Wed, 09/28/2011 - 13:21:

Daniel's picture

Mary Blair was a genius and "Small World" is something only Disney could pull off.

Daryl D. wrote on Tue, 12/06/2011 - 18:31:

Daryl D.'s picture

My last time on "I.A.S.W." was 1980, when I was 13. I have been back to Disneyworld 4 times since then, and really am still haunted by that last time on back in 1980....either you love it or hate it. My wife and daughter got stuck on it a few years ago....my heart goes out to them!!!!

finngirl wrote on Sun, 04/22/2012 - 00:40:

finngirl's picture

Hate this ride! The first time my husband and I took our son to DW, they were both tired and cranky, and being annoying. Neither had ever been on I.A.S.W. before, but I had, and hated it then too! But I gritted my teeth, and got them to go on the ride. They couldn't wait to get off the thing, and I just told them that if they acted up again, I would be forced to make them ride it every day! Needless to say, they were the pictures of cheerfulness and cooperation for the rest of the trip, and we laugh about this all the time now. My son is now thinking of taking his girlfriend to DW (he's 30 now), and he says he will use the same tactic if it's necessary.

senseicj wrote on Mon, 08/20/2012 - 01:04:

senseicj's picture

We lose Mr. Toad, 20,000 leagues, and the Sky ride, none of them with a song that bores a hole into your head like a drill by the way, but yet we still have this ride!

Melissa Powers wrote on Wed, 01/29/2014 - 00:21:

Melissa Powers's picture

"It's a Small World" is my favorite Disney ride. It is the first ride I go to on my first day to Magic Kingdom. Love it, love it, love it. It's part of me.

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