Beyond the Vacation Kingdom of the World: Walt Disney and the 1964 World's Fair Part IIby Tom Richards, contributing writer
Two weeks ago, we visited the 1964-65 World's Fair in New York to take in two of the exhibits designed by Walt Disney and his Imagineers: The Carousel of Progress and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. This week, we'll look at the other two exhibits represented on the 5-disc Walt Disney at the World's Fair compact disc collection released in 2009. This April marks the 50th anniversary of the fair, and the fact that the World's Fair attractions created by Walt Disney are still relevant speaks volumes for the Imagineering miracle of creating timeless experiences.
Disc 3: "it's a small world"
Anyone who's ever visited a Disneyland style Disney park knows this classic attraction which premiered at the World's Fair. Originally designed for the Pepsi-Cola Company as a tribute to UNICEF, the United Nations Children Fund. Disney Imagineers had only 10 months to design and build this attraction, and the final result—inspired by the styling and color design of Mary Blair as well as the musical genius of Richard and Robert Sherman—continues to delight guests around the globe.
The tracks on this CD set, of course, chronicle that beloved—or impossible-to-get-out-of-your-heard—song in its numerous forms. There's the original "Queue/Entrance" music, which captures the optimism and excitement that visitors must have felt as they boarded the "happiest cruise that ever sailed" for the very first time. There are also several curiosities, including the first demo recording as well as Walt Disney's original welcome speech. Various versions of the "Small World" music follow, including isolated vocals, exit music, the Disneyland Paris versions, and the "Ultimate Megamix" that strives to recreate the actual experience of riding through this attraction. For Magic Kingdom fans, this is a must. If "It's a Small World" is not one of your favorite attractions, proceed with caution.
Disc 4: Magic Skyway
The 14 tracks from this World's Fair attraction are taken from Magic Skyway, the Ford Motor exhibit designed to take fair-goers on a ride through time (aboard a new Ford automobile, naturally). This 12-minute journey took guests from the past to the future. Guests boarded their vehicles, in this case Ford automobiles, and then travelled through show scenes while listening to narration and music.
The tracks included in this set are among my favorite. There's Walt Disney's original narration which guests would have heard as they road the Magic Skyway. (A fun bonus includes outtakes from the Dialogue Recording Sessions.) It's impossible to listen to the original narration and not think of Walter Cronkite's original Spaceship Earth narration, the humorously incongruent narration from The World of Motion, or the futuristic promises of Horizons.
The musical selections, many of which were featured in the attraction itself and/or the International Gardens area of the World's Fair, are wonderful and pure Disney, and with good reason. The underscore for "Magic Highway" was composed by longtime Disney musician George Bruns. Titles such as "The South American Way," "Moonlight Time in Old Hawaii," and "Join the Swing" colorfully describe in words the musical wonders that awaited visitors to the fair. One piece, "Serengeti Serenade," is especially familiar to longtime fans of Walt Disney films as it was eventually used as part of the lush underscore for The Jungle Book.
Other clever tracks including "Nation on Wheels," "Flyin' Ford," and "Auto Parts Harmonic" sound just "right" in the same way that current soundtracks for attractions like Test Track and Star Tours sound right. The humorous "Flubber Waltz" recalls the zaniness of the 1961 comedy The Absent-Minded Professor and foreshadows the tone of the Imagination Pavilion at EPCOT. Several of the tracks, "Get the Feel of the Wheel (Ford March)," "Disneyland '61," and "La Gaviota" capture that boundless optimism for a bright future that permeated the World's Fair as well as much of the output of the Walt Disney Studios and Imagineering.
In many ways, "Magic Skyway" became a template from which several classic EPCOT attractions would draw inspiration: Spaceship Earth, Horizons, and World of Motion. For this reason alone, fans of Walt Disney World will relish the opportunity to visit a key moment in the evolution of Walt Disney Imagineering and Walt Disney's hopes and visions for a brighter tomorrow.
One of the highlights of this set is a delightful booklet, written by Disney historian Stacia Martin, that chronicles Walt Disney's history with the World's Fair. Stunning concept art, engaging stories, and a decidedly memorable writing style make this a must-read for students of Walt Disney or of theme park evolution.
If the World's Fair dedication to "Man's Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe" sounds familiar to visitors to the Vacation Kingdom of the World, it should. Much of the fair's popularity and lasting reputation can be traced to the contributions of one man: Walt Disney. Disney's philosophy and hopes for the future were taken to their logical conclusion with the opening of ECPCOT Center in 1982. The themes that Walt and his Imagineers explored at the World's Fair came to wonderful fruition at EPCOT: Future World was dedicated to the "expanding universe" of mankind, and World Showcase highlighted the ideas of a "shrinking globe" thorough its artfully designed pavilions that encouraged international interactions. Come to think of it, even the iconic Spaceship Earth recalls the Unisphere, a 12-story stainless-steel model of the earth that dominated the World's Fair landscape.
As a Disney fan who knew precious little about the New York World's Fair, this collection of CDs was an eye opener that truly enhanced my understanding, my appreciation, and my enjoyment of the theme park marvels known as the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT Center. I highly recommend this collection.