Disneyland debuts changes to 'It's a Small World' [with video]
By Robert NilesThere is no theme park attraction more fondly despised than Disney's "It's a Small World."
Published: February 5, 2009 at 3:20 PM
Hate it. Love it. Love it. Hate it. Riders' reactions to this musical boat ride swing back and forth like Faye Dunaway getting slapped around by Jack Nicholson at the end of "Chinatown."
For many, "It' a Small World" exemplifies the cliche "too much of a good thing." The first time you hear it, the Shermans Brothers' cheery musical theme delights, full of sunshine and optimism. Mary Blair's vibrant design smartly encases early 20th-century Americana within a context of 1960's mod style, with hundreds of same-sized, same-shaped dolls performing the Shermans' tune.
A few moments into your first ride, the music and setting refresh your spirit with a deep breath of good cheer and optimism. But by the end of the 10-minute ride, the constant repetition - of dolls and of music - has reduced the experience to theme park minimalism. It's Philip Glass, if he'd been commissioned by your local kindergarten.
Of course, some people cherish "It's a Small World," and wouldn't change a thing. (And some people adore "Einstein on the Beach," too, but no one's building a theme park for them. At least, not if there is a God.) Unfortunately for those the first folks, the wardens of "Small World," Disney's Imagineers have made changes. And those are debuting to the public tomorrow (not today, as many local media reported).
Today, I got an advance look, taking a couple ride-throughs the new "It's a Small World," one with with Kim Irvine, who is Director, Concept Design at Walt Disney Imagineering.
And here it is:
Didya notice anything different? If you've not been reading any theme park-related websites for the past year or so, here are a few clues:
Yep, they've put Disney toons in "It's a Small World."
But what about the ride's theme of children from around the world coming together, in goodness and song and purity and light?
Get a grip, people. If there's anything that unifies the children of the world today, watching Disney characters may very well be it. Disney's taken care to weave the characters within the context of the ride, gently slipping a few notes from various movie themes into the dominate melody, as welcomed counterpoints to the main theme. For the most part, the characters fit, though I would have preferred a more stylized Flounder (from "The Little Mermaid") and smaller Woody and Jessie dolls in the new American West scene, to better fit within Blair's original look.
Here's Irvine's response when I asked her about how the changes have affected the ride:
The addition of the Disney characters adds a competitive element to riding: How many characters did you see? There are many: Alice in Wonderland, the White Rabbit, Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket, Aladdin, Jasmine, Abu, Mulan, Mushu, Ariel, Flounder, Lilo, Stitch, Nemo, Dory, Woody, Jessie.... some obvious, others well camouflaged.
But doesn't competition undermine the thematic ideal of children coming together? I can hear the wardens nag. Have you ever watched an Olympics? Or seen a mob of third-grade boys crowded around a Wii?
Disney's changes to Small World might just do the impossible. No, not bring about world peace. These changes might just make people getting off "It's a Small World"... want to turn right around and ride it again.
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