The 45th Anniversary of "it's a small world' at Disneyland

by Jeff Kober, contributing writer

This May marks the 45th anniversary of "it's a small world" at Disneyland Park in Anaheim, Calif. Of course, the original opened at the New York World's Fair in 1964, and four other Magic Kingdoms around the world have since joined "the happiest cruise that ever sailed." So in keeping with this anniversary I wanted to personally celebrate the beloved attraction that is a pop culture phenomenon in its own right.

Walt posing with the dolls during construction of "it's a small world" more than 40 years ago.

"A tribute to all nations, but mostly Mary Blair"

This attraction looks amazing because of the genius of Mary Blair's design. And Rolly Crump. And Joyce Carlson. And Alice Davis. And others. But mostly Mary Blair, and rightfully so. She brings a look and feel that is unmistakeable. Color. Styling. It is a unique American art form that takes its cues from the eyes of a child. If "the world is a carousel of color," as Richard and Robert Sherman once penned, then Blair holds the crayons.

Models for the Disneyland exterior of "it's a small world" as designed by Mary Blair, as seen on display at Disney's Hollywood Studios. You can see a shot of Mary with Walt in the background. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Tower of Four Winds or the Clock Tower?

Rolly Crump tells a story about the decision whether to bring the Tower of the Four Winds, which served as the focal point for the attraction in New York, back to Anaheim. You can see it on YouTube. The reality of it is, if the tower had been brought back, Crump would have never designed the clock tower, which today stands as such a huge symbol of the attraction. Personally, I love both, but I'm glad we have the clock tower.

A model of the Tower of the Four Winds, as shown on display at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Seems like Tower of the Four Winds would be a really great centerpiece for the newly refurbished retro version of the Disneyland Hotel. Indeed, a smaller version could be recreated with water elements in it. That would be really cool.

"I can't get this song out of my mind."

That's perhaps the most common thought people have of the Sherman brothers' tune after they've spent time on "it's a small world." Perhaps it would help if you had more verses. Though translated in different languages, the attractions only carry two verses, but at least three additional verses were at one point penned for the Disney On Parade touring show that was held in the late 1960s and early 1970s. All five verses are listed below:

It's a world of laughter, a world of tears.
It's a world of hope and a world of fears.
There's so much that we share,
That it's time we're aware,
It's a small world after all.

There is just one moon and one golden sun.
And a smile means friendship to everyone.
Though the mountains are wide,
And the oceans divide,
It's a small world after all.

For three of its four seasons, each Disney on Parade show ended with a Small World finale.

It's a world of star light of sky and sea
It's a world of wonder for you and me
Like a world without end,
But come closer my friend,
It's a small world after all.

In a world where people are still apart,
Build a bridge or handshake a hopeful start
If we hold out our hands,
We will soon understand,
It's a small world after all.

If we just lock hands clear around the earth,
We will know how much brotherhood is worth.
It's a chain strong as steel,
In it's strength we can feel,
It's a small world after all.

In the season that ran when Mary Poppins opened, the Disney on Parade show ended with an "it's a small world" finale in a Pearly Band style.

By the way, the lyrics for the Cantonese version of this song, now used at Disneyland Hong Kong, was first penned by local song writer, James Wong for the Disney on Parade show when it first came to that corner of the world in 1975. By the time "it's a small world" opened in Hong Kong, generations already knew the lyrics of the song.

Japanese Copy

When Tokyo Disneyland was put together, they took the best of both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. For instance, the castle is Cinderella's from the Magic Kingdom Park in Florida. Pirates of the Caribbean is from Disneyland in California. The exterior is based on the California version. But did they use the California or Florida version for the interior? Watch it on YouTube to see if you can figure it out.

Favorite Jungle Cruise joke:

"Please take your children with you as you exit the boat. Those remaining will be sent to "it's a small world," where they will be costumed, bolted to the floor, and taught to sing in several languages."

Send Your Doll to Alligator Alley

Speaking of jungle-type experiences, Alligator Alley is the location at the Walt Disney World where they repair the dolls. In case you didn't know it, seldom are the dolls all seen at one time in the attraction. They are usually in a rotation where a handful are taken out at any given time to be repaired. That's the beauty of having so many dolls and toys: You can continually refurbish the attraction without closing it as often.

Many people think this display is about the guards at Buckingham Palace, but it's actually a tribute to Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, an early inspiration for Walt Disney in creating Disneyland. The soldiers represent the Tivoli Boy's Guard. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Favorite Forgotten Vinyl

I am not ashamed to say that I have dozens of versions of this song on my iPod. It outdoes "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow," which I would say comes in second in terms of the number of versions. But my favorites are the original record albums themselves.

There were several record albums specifically created for "it's a small world" back in the day when people knew what the acronym LP and RPM stood for. One was a walkthrough of the attraction with the different tracks brought in. It was narrated by Winston Hibler of the True-Life Adventure Series fame.

This Disneyland LP of "it's a small world" provides pages of photos showcasing the attraction.

Another was an album created by what was known as the Disneyland Boy's Choir. This was actually the St. Charles Boys Choir under the direction of Paul Salamunovich. Most of the album was international melodies like Frere Jacques, but their take on the title song was a very soulful, almost worshipful version of the song.

One of the original pieces of merchandise sold at Disneyland when the attraction first opened.

My favorite was a 45 RPM, or a smaller size record, that was a 24-page readalong. It's of the variety where Tinkerbell would tell you it's time to turn the pages with the sound of her wand. Here the story was about Bobby, a red-haired orphan who did not know who his parents were or where he came from. The experience of riding the attraction teaches Bobby that there's a little part of him in every corner of the globe.

Bobby, an orphan finding his place in the world.

All of these albums were under the Disneyland label, but there was one that was released under the Buena Vista label that's the grooviest version of them all. Performed by the Mike Curb Congregation, these are hip kids singing a variety of Disney classics. The album was titled "it's a small world" and the cover featured the group posed in front of the Anaheim attraction in "far out" white polyester. Let me say, it doesn't get better than this.

See…you can like this song and still be cool!

Favorite Doll

OK, I don't do dolls. That's not my style. But if I could be any one in the attraction I would want to be the King Kamehameha on the outrigger canoe.

I also love the kid laughing with the hyenas, the Hawaiian islander on the surfboard, and the dutch boy clicking his shoes.

Surf's up for this small world doll. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Been There. Done That. Bought the T-Shirt.

But did you buy the stylized children clothing at Nordstrom? In conjunction with the anniversary, the department store collaborated with Disney to create a line of children's wear. The designs are very true to the Mary Blair look and feel. You can see more at Nordstrom's website.

Favorite Park Version of the Attraction

I love living near Walt Disney World. I have only one complaint: their version of "it's a small world" is the lamest. The exterior design is a complete miss. The interior queue has greatly improved, but still is lacking. It's shorter than the Disneyland version and the overhead rafters always seem to have their lights on. Still, I love the fact that this version sits in a flooded plain rather than in a trough.

Disneyland Paris has the most colorful version of the attraction.

The clock tower comes alive even on an overcast day in Paris. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

It's simply eye-catching. And the score is better than any other attraction score. It is a much bigger orchestral sound. Curiously though, the attraction runs faster than any other. They hustle those boats through that ride in a speed comparable to Splash Mountain. I'm thinking that the French can only take so many minutes inside the ride.

The Disneyland Paris version is the first to feature the United States as part of the attraction. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

One of the favorite moments in "it's a small world". Colors come alive here in the Disneyland Paris version. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

I haven't been to Tokyo Disneyland or Hong Kong Disneyland. So that leaves Disneyland Park in California. That's where I first went on the attraction, and probably in the first year of opening. I remember it like it was yesterday. The clock tower is amazing and you really hoped you were near the ride at 15, 30 and 45 past the hour when the tower chimed and the characters came out. The attraction is long, and full of the original charm that Mary Blair brought to it. I believe that style of art is an art form in and of itself.

Since 1997, the attraction has received a Christmas overlay that is sheer splendor. "it's a small world" Holiday brings in seasonal songs like Deck the Halls and Jingle Bells as the dolls celebrate Christmas (or winter holidays) around the world.

Few attractions bring on the spirit of the Christmas season than this beautiful "it's a small world" makeover. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

There's so much that we share…

I won't tell you "it's a small world" is my favorite Disney attraction. But I will tell you, it's the most joyous one. In some ways, it's the most profound one. As Richard Sherman says, "People think it's a little novelty. It's a prayer for peace…We have to learn to live together, and respect each other, or we are going to blow each other up."

From the Cuban Missile Crisis of the 1960s to the Middle East conflicts of today, there is still just one moon and one golden sun. Shouldn't a smile mean friendship to everyone? After all, it's a small world.

What are your thoughts about "it's a small world"? How has it affected your life? What's your favorite version of the attraction? Of the song? Celebrate with your ideas about what makes "it's a small world" the experience it is.



  1. By jpg391

    It's hard to realize that "It's A Small World" turned 40 back in April. I remember it as if it were yesterday (I am 59). Mary Blair had so much to contribute to the attraction.

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