While there are many attractions throughout Walt Disney World® which can be considered iconic, there is one which perfectly embodies the spirit of WDW and enchants guests of all ages. “it’s a small world”® allows guests to travel around the world while sending a message of unity and togetherness sung in many different languages. While the attraction itself is enjoyable, the message portrayed is undeniably the most beautiful part.
“it’s a small world”® was originally created for the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair and was sponsored by the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF. It featured hundreds of audio-animatronic children serenading guests with an original song bearing the same name written by the Sherman Brothers. When guests first approached the pavilion, they were greeted by the kinetic Tower of the Four Winds created by Imagineer Rolly Crump. Once the World’s Fair came to a close, the decision was made to move the immensely popular attraction to Disneyland® where it opened May 28, 1966.
The façade at Disneyland® was designed by legendary Imagineer Mary Blair. Blair was a celebrated animator and had previously worked on projects including Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and The Three Caballeros. Her whimsical design mainly utilizes the color white and includes a moving clock that celebrates every fifteen minutes. “it’s a small world”® became such an instant hit in the park that it was built as an opening day attraction in Walt Disney World® on October 1, 1971.
WDW’s version features 533 audio-animatronics, 289 of which are the iconic singing dolls (that is nearly half of the 1100 animatronics found in all of the Magic Kingdom® Park!). Those dolls were designed and costumed by Imagineer Joyce Carlson. Carlson actually created the dolls for every version of the attraction throughout the world as well as the World’s Fair. She later went on to monitor the upkeep and installation of other versions of the ride in international Disney Parks. In honor of Carlson’s hard work, she was honored with a window on Main Street in 1998 which reads “Miss Joyce – Dollmaker for the World.” A doll of her likeness can also be found hanging from underneath the Eiffel Tower on the attraction itself. Her doll was added in WDW after one honoring Mary Blair was installed scaling the Eiffel Tower in the Disneyland version.
The WDW version of “it’s a small world”® was refurbished in 2005 where the original orchestral 1964 recording of the attraction’s song was reintroduced. This wonderful addition came from the happy occurrence of Imagineer Glenn Barker happening upon the recording in a Glendale archive. In addition to the musical update, the entrance was reconfigured to more closely resemble Disneyland®’s version which was designed by Jason Grandt. As you enter the queue, be sure to look around and take in all the great details provided by the Imagineers including Mary Blair’s whimsical white designs and clock.
Once you board your boat for the happiest cruise there ever was, look up to your right for a glimpse into Pinocchio’s Village Haus. The quick-service dining location offers a great view into the loading area of the attraction which makes it a wonderful spot to enjoy a meal or just sit down and relax for a few minutes. Your boat then enters into the true attraction where you are immediately met with singing dolls representing six continents and singing in five languages. Virtually every corner of the world is represented through a showcase of culture, landscapes, language, and song. Some of my favorite scenes include the umbrella holding tiger in the rain forest area and the hula girls.
As you progress through the attraction, be on the lookout for several Hidden Mickeys. A classic Hidden Mickey can be found on a purple vine in the African room, one made of fruit can be found in the South American room, and another classic one is formed by the back of a little dancing koala’s head. See if you can find them all! When you reach the final room of the attraction, all of the cultures and nationalities of the world come together in a sparkling white room depicting unity and a celebration. In this room, you will find the only two representatives of America- an Indian and cowboy. They can be found on the final archway into my favorite attraction ending, what I like to call The Goodbye Room. This room offers farewells in dozens of languages and is always fun to interpret while waiting to disembark.
“it’s a small world”® has long been considered the iconic Disney attraction thanks to its amazing design, music, and message. No trip to the Magic Kingdom is complete without it, and it will surely continue to be loved by generations to come. Personally, it will always hold a special place for me as it was my dad’s favorite attraction in all of WDW. While I love it as is, sometimes I wonder whether I would enjoy the Christmas overlay, which is installed temporarily every year in Disneyland®, if it came to WDW. While I think it would be fun and festive, there is definitely something to be said about keeping the attraction in its original state. I would love to hear your thoughts on the overlay though!
So get out there and visit the attraction or at least watch it on YouTube, and be sure to let me know what makes it so special to you. You never know, some of your favorite parts may be the same as someone else’s…it’s a small world, after all.
(Photos are from the author’s personal collection.)
What is your favorite part of “it’s a small world”® ? Thoughts on Disneyland®’s holiday overlay? Have a favorite room or doll? Be sure to let me know by leaving a comment below, I would love to hear from you!
Caitlin Corsello was born and raised in New York. She graduated from Adelphi University with a Masters in Mental Health Counseling in 2012. Her love for Disney started as an infant and has continued to grow with family vacations to Disney parks almost every year since. She holds a particular interest in WDW’s parks and attractions, never passing up an opportunity to visit. She looks forward to continuing to explore and learn about all things Disney and to share that passion with readers.