Disney's classic ride, "It's A Small World," turned 50 this week! Here are a few facts to celebrate.
1. When Walt Disney first conceived the ride, it was called "Children of the World."
2. As many people know, the ride was originally an attraction at the 1964 New York World’s Fair before finding a permanent home at Disneyland. Here’s Walt showing off his creation on The Wonderful World of Color “Disneyland Goes to the World’s Fair” episode (fast forward to the 32-minute mark):
3. When the ride first opened at Disneyland on May 28, 1966, Walt invited kids from around the world to come help dedicate it. They each brought a container of water from rivers and seas of their native lands and added it to the flume of the ride in Anaheim.
4. That earworm of a song is really the lesser of two evils. The first prototype of the idea included a cacophony of national anthems all running together as you sailed from nation to nation in your ride boats. The effect was more melting eardrums than melting pot, and Walt Disney knew it. He asked the Sherman Brothers (the geniuses behind other Disney classics like “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “The Wonderful Thing about Tiggers”) to come up with a single song that would unite his population of animatronic dolls. What they created, of course, was that song.
5. That song may very well be the most performed song of all time. Michael Eisner made the claim back in 1985, and many people were quick to doubt. But when the case is made that not many songs are played for 16 hours a day on a continuous loop in five different theme parks—well, that makes a difference, doesn’t it? Robert Sherman Jr. says, “Since 1983, there has not been a moment when 'It’s A Small World' wasn’t playing in at least two locations on the globe. Who else can claim that?”
6. More than 256 million people have experienced the ride.
7. Rumor has it that the turrets and gold ornaments on the exterior of the Disneyland building (the World’s Fair version) are real 22K gold. Although the original plan was to simply paint it gold, it didn’t take long to see that the paint would fade and oxidize so quickly that the cost to upkeep it would be more expensive than using real gold.
8. "It’s a Small World" in Disneyland was revamped a few years ago, leaving many fans crying foul. It wasn’t a simple maintenance update, you see—part of it was to include Disney characters in appropriate sections of the ride, for example, Alice in Wonderland in the U.K. Nearly 30 other characters were added, including Cinderella, Aladdin, Lilo, Pinocchio and Mulan. Many people saw it as a corporate twist on what was originally supposed to be a very innocent, non-branded affair. They also added an American scene which was lacking from the World’s Fair version—since the U.S. was the host country, no American scenes were used in 1964.
9. If you’re one of those people who is a bit creeped out by dolls, this ride may not be for you—there are about 300 of the eternally-smiling children that sing the song in each ride.
10. There are a few little surprises in each room if you have sharp eyes. For instance, every room has a moon and a sun somewhere within, paying tribute to the lyrics “There is just one moon and one golden sun.” In the room that represents Africa, a string of purple leaves resembles the classic tri-circle Mickey head silhouette. And my favorite, if it’s true, is that one doll in each “It’s a Small World” ride is made to look like Mary Blair, the artist behind the distinct look of the ride.
This piece originally appeared in 2011.