52 years since “it’s a small world” premiered at the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair and 50 years since opening at Disneyland, the attraction with the song that stays with you long after leaving the park, continues to entertain millions around the world.
I recently came across the April 1965 National Geographic magazine which celebrated the reopening of the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York and I was fascinated as I read through and saw many images of Disney built attractions that would change the Disney Parks for years to come.
The state of Illinois, Kodak, Ford, and General Electric had asked Walt to design and build attractions for them like Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Magic Skyway, and The Carousel of Progress. When Pepsi-Cola approached Walt about a sponsored pavilion for UNICEF, the fair was less than a year away. The dancing dolls and the song that would become well known around the world was an afterthought.
Ready for opening day in April of 1964, the pavilion was located at the corner of Avenue of Progress and Avenue of Commerce. Quickly built, “it’s a small world” would become one of the most popular attractions on the fair grounds.
Guests who boarded the boats and plunged into the slow moving dark ride were greeted with animated children from 26 lands singing the same song in their native languages. Originally, the dolls from each country would sing their respective national anthem, but the mixture of noise from the different songs didn’t blend well. During a walk through in the production stage with the musical superhero Sherman brothers, Walt Disney asked them for a song that would convey peace and unity. The rest is history.
World’s Fair visitors journeyed through lands designed by legendary Imagineers like Mary Blair, Rolly Crump, and Alice and Marc Davis. A child’s ticket cost 60 cents while adults paid 95. By the end of the fair ten million adult and child tickets would be sold making “it’s a small world” incredibly successful.
In the 1965 National Geographic the reopening of the fair was celebrated showing scenes of what new fair goers could enjoy should they wish to visit. Images of the Magic Skyway are evident, as well as the Uniroyal Giant Tire Ferris Wheel. Walt’s dancing dolls got a two page spread highlighting the fun that visitors would have at the Pepsi-sponsored UNICEF Pavilion.
After the fair, “it’s a small world” would reopen in Disneyland on May 28th, 1966. A version of the very popular attraction would find a home in future Disney Parks like Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, and Hong Kong Disneyland.
I had always thought “it’s a small world” was too slow, and the song was annoying. It wasn’t until I had kids that I developed an appreciation of the simplicity and the power of the message that this attraction brings – it is a must ride attraction for me now. In less than 15 minutes you can take a trip around the world and with the music of the Sherman brothers singing in your ear, a rider can see that we aren’t so different after all.
Happy Birthday to the afterthought attraction, and keep on singing.