It's A Small World 1966by Jim Korkis, contributing writer
The New York World's Fair of 1964-1965 was an opportunity for Walt Disney to show that his approach to theme park entertainment was not just a California accident, but something that appealed even to the more supposedly sophisticated audiences of the East Coast.
"it's a small world" opened April 22, 1964, and during its two years of operation, it was determined that more than 10 million people rode it, which meant it had a higher attendance than any of the other highly-rated Disney shows at the fair.
More amazingly, this was even though there was a special admission ticket (with funds going to UNICEF: United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund) required for this "happiest cruise" that was not charged at any of the other Disney shows.
While the entrance to the pavilion itself and the other exhibits were free, the "little boat ride" cost a $1 for adults and 60 cents for children as a donation to UNICEF. According to the official guidebook for the fair, "Inside, visitors glide by such scenes as France's Eiffel Tower, a Dutch windmill and India's Taj Mahal. Animated figures of children dance, play with droll animals and sing, 'it's a small world.' The 12-minute ride is conceived as a 'salute to UNICEF'."
It was listed as one of the "top five" attractions visitors needed to see and when attendance at the fair decreased significantly by 29 percent the second year, attendance at "it's a small world" increased 11 percent from the previous year, especially with the addition of a 15-minute color film narrated by Walt Disney about the attraction for guests waiting to board the "Happiest Cruise on Earth."
That catch phrase was created by Imagineer Marty Sklar.
The attraction was sponsored by the Pepsi-Cola Company that was working with the United Nations agency devoted to children's welfare to have a pavilion that would provide a "salute to UNICEF and the world's children." Even though Pepsi was already a sponsor of the Golden Horseshoe Revue at Disneyland, it chose not to continue sponsoring "it's a small world" when it moved to Anaheim because the executives of the Pepsi Company hated the final attraction.
In the 1980 book called The Pavilion which was published to publicize the Pepsi exhibit for EXPO '70 in Japan, the company describes the "small world" show as an "embarrassment." In general, they felt that Walt's attraction did not showcase Pepsi the product very well and seemed to be too "kiddie-oriented" with one executive derogatorily exclaiming, "What is this Mickey Mouse thing?"
The Pepsi Company had trouble coming up with a concept that they liked and finally at almost the last moment, they approached the Walt Disney Company. One of the Pepsi board members, film actress Joan Crawford who was also the widow of the past company president, had heard exciting things about the other three pavilions Disney was doing for the fair and suggested that with the Disney connection with children that Walt could come up with something amazing.
Pepsi executives went to California in February 1963 and met with Disneyland's construction boss, Admiral Joe "Can Do" Fowler who had to sadly inform the executives that Disney "couldn't do" the project since it was less than a year before the fair opening and that Disney was experiencing challenges with all the innovative things they were working on for the other three pavilions and needed to focus all their resources on those projects.
When Walt found out, he was incensed. According to one Disney executive, Walt said, "I'll make those decisions. Tell Pepsi I'll do it!" So on February 15, 1963, Walt agreed to do a "Planning Design Feasibility Study" for the pavilion.
It was Walt himself who came up with the concept of a little boat ride. Arrow Manufacturing, responsible for innovations like Disneyland's Matterhorn, was already working on a boat ride system based on some ideas by Imagineer Bob Gurr. It was an innovative vehicle that would allow boarding and disembarking at the same time and was later incorporated into Pirates of the Caribbean attraction.
Walt came up with the name for the attraction: "The Children of the World." Walt wanted it to be a pleasant experience for "children of all ages" showcasing a "wonderland where all the world's children live and play" where the boats would travel on the "FantaSea" although it would later be called the "Seven Seaways".
There were several meetings with the show designers and Imagineer Marc Davis who was the chief art director for the project came up with a sketch that really stood out. However, Walt wasn't satisfied and decided to get artist Mary Blair involved.
Blair had left the Disney Studios after contributing as an art supervisor or color stylist to many Disney animated films including Song of the South, Cinderella and Melody Time. In particular, Walt enjoyed the "Los Posada" segment in the film The Three Caballeros designed by Blair where Mexican children in a small village celebrate Christmas.
In addition, since leaving Disney, Blair had gained prominence for her work illustrating on children's books as well as drawing children on Hallmark greeting cards. Blair started work on the show in June 1963. The first piece she did was the Siamese Dancing Girl and Walt loved it. He gave her the approval to continue doing all the children in that style.
While it has been popular to think of Small World as all Blair's creation, many other talented Disney artists contributed significantly to the final version. Besides the basic design of the children, Blair's major contribution was the color styling helping to create instant mood changes as guests sailed around the world. All the colors showcased in the previous scenes combine into an all-white finale.
The Audio-Animatronic doll figures were known as "rubber heads," based on a notation that appeared on Marc Davis' drawings. Davis was supplying gags for the scenes and the flow of action of the figures including the dancing. Once, he had to improvise a can-can dance in the Imagineering machine shop to demonstrate how he wanted a particular movement.
The dolls were sculpted by Blaine Gibson and costumed by Alice Davis, Marc Davis' talented wife.
Letters were sent out to the consulate offices of the 26 countries depicted in the attraction to get information on the costumes. In addition, Alice went through copies of National Geographic magazine in the Disney Studio library as well as spending hours in museums and other libraries.
Not only did Alice make sure the designs were accurate but that the materials used to make the costumes were authentic to the specific country. That commitment often caused challenges because the costumes had to survive constant movement. During one of the early tests, the can-can dancers popped their pantaloons within the first two hours. Alice claimed that one of the most challenging design issues was the costume for the African children dancing "The Twist" because while their hips pivoted one way, their upper torso was moving in the opposite direction creating unsightly bulges.
The Imagineers depleted the costume jewelry stores of Southern California, using more than 8,000 crystals, beads and sequins. Nearly 200 pounds of glitter was used on the sets. To keep all of this together along with the braids, feathers and tassels, five gallons of glue was required each week work was being done.
The "rubber head" children were not actually made out of rubber, but a special hot-melt vinyl and Duraflex for durability, because it was estimated that a singing child would open and close its mouth about a million times a month.
There were boy and girl dolls but the basic shape had to work for every culture. Blaine Gibson and Orlando Ferrante went to doll stores to get really large doll eyes. The ones they ended up getting were the ones that would shut when the doll went to sleep.
"So it was easy for the machine shop to come up with an air actuator that made them blink. That was important because blinking is the key part of keeping something alive," stated Gibson.
The dolls were broken up into three general categories: singers, dancers and instrument players. The dolls were all the same size, although there had been discussions about varying the sizes to create a greater sense of perspective.
Walt was personally involved with Gibson's and Greg S. Marinello development of the dolls' facial design with each animated doll's face completely identical in shape to emphasize that everyone despite skin color or costume is alike.
Imagineer Claude Coats laid out the pattern for the river that wound through the attraction. Imagineers Rolly Crump and Jack Ferges created all the "toys," the term that referred to everything that wasn't an animated children doll from props in the scene to skating penguins. Working with approximately thirty people, Crump used styrofoam and paper-mache, often gluing on Chem Wipes for additional support, to build more than 250 "toys."
Crump studied Blair's children's books for ideas and to help understand her style. The idea for the ice skating penguins came from a toy on Imagineer Yale Gracey's desk where a little ice skater would skate thanks to a hidden magnet underneath.
One day, Walt visited Crump and gave him a gift that Walt had picked up in Europe: a little bicycle rider on a thin wire. Crump built a larger version and in the mock up had a bucket of sand holding the cable tight. Moving the bucket would cause the cable to loosen and the rider would go back and forth. Crump still remembers fearfully Walt coming over and picking up the bucket and shaking it violently to make sure the toy wouldn't come off the cable and hit a guest.
Originally, Walt had wanted the children to each sing their national anthems. However, when it was attempted, it was a cacophony that was insufferable when the songs overlapped as they frequently did.
Walt called in songwriters the Sherman Brothers who were hard at work on Mary Poppins. He told them he wanted "a simple little roundelay… like Row, Row, Row Your Boat" that would be melodious and was simple enough that it could be repeated over and over in different languages.
Richard Sherman suggested a counterpoint song – one containing two melodies which could be used both singly and simultaneously. The Sherman Brothers scrutinized all the different translations to make sure they communicated the same message. Other than a few translation adjustments (because they felt it sounded too "communistic" on the French version), there were no major problems.
Imagineer Harriet Burns remembered Walt talking to the Sherman Brothers at WED and using the phrase "it's a small world after all" to describe the feeling he wanted. Walt never meant the phrase to be a title or even a lyric but was just making a casual remark to try and capture the spirit of song that talked about the children of the world.
The voices of children from several countries recorded the song: A London church choir, television performers in Mexico, a school chorus in Rome, a group of kids in Burbank, California as well as a choir of adult singers for the grand finale.
To install the attraction, crews worked seven days a week to make the deadline. Walt constantly monitored the attraction and the only request he made was to add more balloons in the air in one section.
No one comments that the route is geographically inaccurate. Holland is located next to Spain, Thailand is across the water from Japan, and Hawaii borders Australia.
Walt always knew that he wanted to transplant either the attractions or parts of the attractions to Disneyland. In June 1965, as the New York World's Fair was preparing to close, construction had begun on the Small World show building at Disneyland for the attraction. Construction ran from June 9, 1965 to May 28, 1966.
Imagineer Roger Broggie remembered that there was so much work involved in moving and restoring the show that a new subsidiary company known as MAPO (named after the film Mary Poppins) had to be created.
When the attraction moved to Disneyland, it changed significantly from the New York presentation since the show building was one-third larger.
Crump said, "The New York sets were placed in the same order at Disneyland (although some were different, right or left side) but we added quite a lot. The European section was built at least a third larger than the World's Fair, so I had to 'piece' the sets to fill the space.
"We never had a North Pole area at the Fair, which I designed for Disneyland along with the Islands of the Pacific. We had to completely rebuild every set that was at the Fair…re-canvas them, re-paint them, re-flitter them, and then add another third to the ride."
In March 1966, Buddy Baker conducted additional music for the Disneyland attraction and its new sections including the music for the clock tower.
It was Crump who designed the façade for the Disneyland attraction after Blair's initial design was rejected by Walt. Her intent was it to look like it was a little girl playing with blocks.
Crump worked with Blair to get her style in the final façade as well as include stylized cutout turrets, towers and minarets which are vaguely reminiscent of world landmarks like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Tower of Pisa, Eiffel Tower and more.
As he wrote in his autobiography,
"I would take her drawings, which were geometrical in a lot of ways and just trace them. I built these little block models directly from her drawings. During that whole two year period working with Mary on Small World, I'd been studying everything she'd been doing.
"When it came time to show it to Walt, I was trying to position where all the landscaping was going to go. There wasn't any space left on the table so I set the miniature trees on top of the building and just picked them off as I worked out a place for them.
"I was in the middle of this when Walt walking in and liked the ideas of trees on the roof. When they opened up Small World Disneyland, we did have trees all over the roof. But, in time, they became a nightmare for Maintenance to deal with so they disappeared."
Blair's original rendering for the façade was so colorful it would have been a maintenance nightmare as well requiring constant repainting as the colors faded in the California sun so Crump made it white with gold accents to help with maintenance.
The structure required so much gold leaf that it used everything available in the United States and Disney had to get some from Germany to finish the job. That gold leaf later tarnished and was replaced by American supply. On some early blueprints, the structure is listed as "Small World Palace"
It was Walt himself who came up with the idea of the clock like a European Clock Glockenspiel that he was familiar with from his travels. Blair drew a small black-and white sketch on a napkin while on an airplane flight and Crump transformed it into the final thirty-foot high version.
Originally Crump had only nine figures coming out of the clock but it was Walt who said to have 24 characters since there are 24 hours in the day. The doors on the clock open every quarter hour showcasing a parade of character figures and ending with the time being shown before all the doors close again.
It is a functioning clock. The "TIC-TOC-TIC-TOC" sound was made by two metal rods that would alternately lift and drop hitting wooden blocks next to speakers that amplified the TIC-TOC sound to the exterior area by various output speakers. It was replaced by a recording of that sound in the 1980s.
Crump was also the one to come up with the idea of having a doll representing Mary Blair placed on the Eiffel Tower in the attraction.
"it's a small world" opened at Disneyland on May 28, 1966, and was sponsored by Bank of America. Besides the Disney and Bank of America dignitaries, the press release declared there were 1,500 foreign consular officials, more than 800 members of the press, 500 youngsters in native costumes and the International Children's Choir of Long Beach. Walt Disney and Bank of America Chairman of the Board Louis Lundborg sat in the first boatload of children to inaugurate the journey.
In addition, a parade of local folk dancing groups and marching bands also participated. Ten thousand balloons, white peace doves and fireworks were part of the dedication ceremony. Walt Disney joined "children from 16 ethnic groups" to pour flasks filled with a liter of water from the "seven seas and nine major lagoons" into the waterway for the attraction.
Disneyland publicist Jack Lindquist in his autobiography In Service to The Mouse recalled:
"Before we opened 'it's a small world' at Disneyland in 1966, I asked the Disney representatives from all over the world to send me a bottle, jug or 'whatever you have' from all of the rivers and seas from around the globe. I got tremendous results.
"We received water from every ocean, every sea, and every river. In my office, I had containers of water from the Danube, the Volga, the Seine – even the Amazon for the opening of 'it's a small world'
"We brought in kids of various ethnic groups from all over Southern California, representing the different countries in the world. Walt and Louis Lundborg, president of Bank of America hosted the opening event. Then the kids dumped their water into the 'it's a small world' flume to signify the official opening. Mixing water from around the world, to me, epitomizes the ride.
"Today, nothing like gathering water from around the world could happen. Just flying water in bottles, jugs, urns or vats would drive the Homeland Security Inspectors into utter chaos. And even though the water in the attraction constantly re-circulates, I am sure there are many federal, state and local authorities who would be up in arms over the water quality."
The event was officially known as "Operation Water". Government and private representatives gathered the water and photographs were taken world-wide documenting that gathering for publicity purposes. To air freight a liter of water from Venezuela cost $21.86 according to a bill in the Disney files. Walt himself poured a liter of water from Frontierland's Rivers of America into the flume from a Davy Crockett-style rustic canteen.
China was not officially recognized by the United States so was not represented in the attraction until the 1970s when it was added to both the Disneyland and Walt Disney World version. There were 24 original Disneyland Park topiaries premiering in 1963. They included a waltzing hippo, a poodle, a pig, bears, elephants, seals, and giraffes. In 1966, they were permanently planted at "it's a small world."
As Rolly Crump told E Ticket magazine, "Walt's intended audience with 'it's a small world' was everybody. He was always saying that there should be something in Disneyland for everybody. I used to sit outside the ride and watch people come out of 'small world.' They'd be smiling, and they'd be laughing, and there really wasn't another attraction where people came out and were happy like that."