“it’s a small world” is boat-based attraction in Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom. The boats take guests through different parts of the world where animatronic children, created to look like dolls, represent a multitude of countries. The attraction is then pulled together by the iconic song “it’s a small world”. The whole idea behind the attraction is unity and the attraction is intended to offer a view of the world through children’s eyes.
The idea of the boat ride was first conceived by Walt Disney as a project for the UNICEF pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Years before the fair was to occur, Walt went to his Imagineers (at that time they were known as W.E.D.), and discussed how the World’s Fair would be a great time for them to create new rides for companies who were sponsoring pavilions. Walt looked at this fair as an opportunity for another company to pay for W.E.D. to experiment and learn how to build new attractions. Walt’s intended, from the very beginning, that after the conclusion of the World’s Fair the attractions would be brought back to California and would be used in Disneyland.
When Disney was building the attraction for the Worlds Fair, Walt was going to have the children sing the national anthem for each country they were representing. Shortly after conceiving of this plan, he found that the result was too chaotic and there needed to be one melody for all the children to sing to. Walt knew he needed a song that was original, memorable, and simple. To accomplish this, Walt went to brothers, Richard and Robert Sherman, who in turn created the song we all know today. Walt was actually the inspiration for the song, while talking to the Sherman brothers about the attraction and song he said to them “it’s a small world after all”, and the Sherman brothers took this phrase from Walt and designed the whole song on it. Although some may find the song a little annoying…the song really is beautiful, and I recommend finding a video online of Richard Sherman singing the song the way it was originally written.
While in Fantasyland, you will notice that a lot of the show buildings are covered with colorful yet simple tent facades and draped with banners to give the illusion you have entered a medieval fair. Take a moment to stop and observe the façade of the show building. To keep with the medieval theme of Fantasyland, the attraction is brilliantly decorated to resemble a castle with bright and colorful tent facades surrounding the openings of the show building. If you take a close look, you will notice that the columns in front are shaped to resemble jousting lances! The design of the attraction and artwork was done by one of Disney’s greatest Imagineers, Mary Blair. Blair’s work in the attraction gives it the distinct appearance it is has today, and she choose to bring the story of the children of the world together by using a whimsical design and a violent coloring contrast.
After proceeding through the queue, guests load into boats that lead them on a tour of the children of our world. As your boat starts to depart, look up and to your right and you will see windows with people looking out over the attraction. These windows are part of the restaurant, Pinocchio’s Village Haus, and if you are a fan of “it’s a small world”, this is a great place to sit and enjoy a meal while overlooking the beginning of the attraction. On your journey you will encounter a variety of cultures represented including Scandinavia, The British Isles, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, The Middle East, Asia Antarctica, South America, Australia, and the South Pacific Islands. Each culture is represented very distinctly and they each put their own spin on the classic song singing it in their native tongue.
While traveling through the Seven Seas Waterway, pay close attention to the amount of detail that is put into each character and the surrounding props to bring the scene to life. Each country you travel through adds a distinct flavor to the scene that is almost sure to leave your remembering specific details. Some of my favorite scenes include the striking colors and dancers singing the phrase “ooh la la” in the South Pacific Islands show scene and the array of animals causing havoc in the Africa scene.
When going to Walt Disney World, making a trip on the waterways of “it’s a small world” is a must. The attraction has a direct connection to Walt and the colors, artwork and yes, even the song, make it a true classic.
- Imagineers originally were not going to theme Fantasyland after a medieval fair but Disneyland was almost open in 1955, the facades were not yet complete so they used tents and banners to cover the unfinished parts!
- The original title of the attraction was named “Children of the World” but once Walt Disney heard the song the Sherman brothers created for the attraction, he liked it so much he had to change the name of the attraction.
- During a 16 hour day at the Magic Kingdom, the song for the attraction is played on average 1200 times.
Alex Larson is currently a college student at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin, he has loved Disney since he was born. Making annual trips to Walt Disney World since the age of three, the parks have become a very special place to him. His love for the parks is due to the memories he has had, attractions, the endless things to explore, the food and the sense of happiness every Disney fan feels while there. You can follow him on twitter at @a_larson22