Behind the Attraction: It’s a Small World
The second half of season one of Behind the Attraction just debuted. With it, we have an opportunity to learn about other facets of the Disney empire.
Recent episodes discuss the castles, a legendary show, various forms of transportation, and even Disneyland Hotel.
However, we have one last ride to discuss before we get to those topics.
Let’s recap Behind the Attraction: It’s a Small World, the ride that features the most played song in human history.
The narration starts with the inevitable mention of the song, which one Imagineer claims everyone loves. However, another woman’s tone indicates that she…disagrees.
Oddly, the story won’t focus exclusively on Disneyland, though. As theme park historians know, It’s a Small World didn’t debut in California.
Instead, this attraction debuted at “The Wonder of the Modern World.” That’s the phrase a reporter coined for the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
This subject comes up a surprising amount on MickeyBlog because several different beloved theme park attractions owe their origins to the exhibition.
As the episode details, Walt Disney needed money to fund some of his Disneyland projects. Others like Haunted Mansion remained stuck in neutral.
So, Disney turned his attention East to the World’s Fair and the problems of Robert Moses, whom Wikipedia describes as “the master builder of mid-20th New York City.”
Sure, the dude could construct the United Nations Building. What he discovered he couldn’t/shouldn’t do was charge other nations to host pavilions.
Many countries dropped out of the 1964 New York World’s Fair. However, history favored The Walt Disney Company here, as corporations filled the void.
These corporate entities asked WED Enterprises – Walt Disney’s Imagineers – to create showstopper attractions for their World’s Fair pavilions.
You likely know at least some of the rest. Disney introduced the Carousel of Progress, Great Moments with President Lincoln, the Magic Skyway, and…It’s a Small World.
Disney made a LOT of money thanks to Moses’ decision to charge for pavilions.
If other countries had hosted more of them, It’s a Small World wouldn’t exist. That’s a statement of fact, not a theoretical one.
In fact, Disney got the money from these corporations AND got to keep three of those attractions! They have remained park fixtures since the 1960s!
The Final Project
Disney started three of its World Fair pavilions well ahead of time.
Ford Motor Company and General Electric had deep pockets, which meant Disney had more money.
Disney’s work on Carousel of Progress and Magic Skyway proved quite lucrative.
Also, Robert Moses and the World’s Fair had footed most of the tab for the Illinois pavilion.
This union meant that Disney made more from Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln than the state could have afforded on its own.
Importantly, Imagineers used this cash influx to construct the world’s first audio-animatronics. Disney needed more money, though.
As such, Uncle Walt finally said yes when Pepsi asked (multiple times) for him to build an attraction.
Actually, that’s only part of the story. Imagineers turned down Pepsi when they asked.
Then, one member of Pepsi’s Board of Directors, Academy Award-winning actress Joan Crawford, met her friend, Walt, and expressed her disappointment.
The head of Disney knew nothing about this potential fourth project and quickly agreed. It was another way to earn money, after all!
Also, Pepsi’s work with UNICEF, the famous charity, mattered to Walt. So, he wanted to do something for Pepsi to show his appreciation.
That fourth project turned into It’s a Small World. Remarkably, Disney kickstarted this project with only 10 months* left before the start of the World’s Fair.
*= At multiple points, the episode indicates that Imagineers had ten months to build the ride. At least once, it indicated 11 months and then later nine months, though.
FWIW, I have always heard 11 months, but we’re only talking about a few weeks’ difference anyway.
Even Can Do Said No
As you might imagine, the Imagineers acted less than thrilled at the prospect of building an entire attraction in 10 months.
Even Admiral Joe Fowler, the man famous for the phrase “Can do!” said it would prove impossible.
Folks, Fowler earned that nickname because anytime anyone at Disney asked him to do anything, he’d reply, “Can do!”
Even HE thought building a pavilion in months was impossible!
However, Uncle Walt had already made up his mind. He even knew what the attraction would be: a boat ride where the children of the world sing songs.
Hilariously, Walt made Fowler meet with Pepsi’s Board of Directors to hammer out the details.
According to Fowler, Crawford shut down the other members of the Board when they tried to derail the meeting. Ten minutes later, It’s a Small World was a go.
Thinking out loud, we’re kinda lucky that Disney sells Coke instead of Pepsi. Historically, the latter union makes more sense. But I digress.
The creation of It’s a Small World relied on its illustrations. So, Uncle Walt brought in his top Imagineer, Marc Davis, to sketch the would-be puppets.
According to Davis, his boss took one look at his work and asked, “What’s Mary Blair doing?” Oof.
Blair famously drew pictures of innocent-looking children and fit the profile for the project. Alas, she had…retired.
Yes, Walt Disney begged her to come out of retirement to work on the project. Then, Blair had to draw hundreds of different children from around the world.
The episode takes this opportunity to point out that the 240 puppets mean that Blair drew 480 eyeballs, 960 limbs, and 240 “authentically dressed figures.”
Boats and a Song
Did you know that forecasts suggested that 70 million people would visit the World’s Fair? That’s almost incomprehensible now, isn’t it?
Well, Disney had to construct a boat ride that could host millions of boats. That required a massive amount of planning.
Somehow, that wasn’t the worst part, though. Here, let’s approach it from this perspective.
Do you like the song, It’s a Small World? How many times can you listen to it before your love turns to hate?
If your answer is more than 50, you’re made of sterner stuff than me. But that’s beside the point. It’s a Small World started with MUCH worse music.
Disney tested several national anthems playing at once, which created a cacophony of horror.
Everyone who heard it walked away permanently changed for the worse. It was that bad.
Thankfully, Walt called the Sherman Brothers, and they created a little ditty that came together quickly.
Just like that, the attraction had more than its theme song. Disney liked the tune so much that he named the ride after it!
Until then, everyone had called it the Happiest Cruise That Ever Sailed.
After the Sherman Brothers performed their magic, everyone knew that It’s a Small World was more than just a theme song.
Just like that, all the harmonious elements had come together, leading to the creation of It’s a Small World.
I don’t even need to tell you that it was an instant blockbuster, do I?
Ten million people rode It’s a Small World at the World’s Fair. Best of all, the profits went to UNICEF! How great is that?