A Clash of Civilizations Over Disney’s ‘It’s a Small World’

Travel Blog  •  Jim Benning  •  04.11.08 | 3:06 PM ET

imageDisneyland fans are abuzz—and many are up in arms—over news that changes are coming to the classic boat ride “It’s a Small World.” The attraction was inspired by a conference Walt Disney attended in 1956, at the invitation of President Eisenhower, aimed at promoting “world peace through international civilian travel,” according to Wikipedia. Slow-moving boats pass scenes depicting various countries and cultures, all set to music. (See this YouTube video.)


The ride closed for work earlier this year, and since then, Web chatter and speculation about changes have become so heated that a Disney exec responded on Mouse Planet, saying: “Now the rumors are swirling that we are ‘ruining Walt’s creation.’ I’ve heard that we are planning to remove the rainforest, add Mickey and Minnie Mouse, create an ‘Up with America’ tribute, to effectively ‘marginalize’ the Mary Blair style and Walt’s classic (all not true).”

So what is true?

According to the exec, the company plans to “seamlessly integrate Disney characters into appropriate thematic scenes in the attraction.”

As the Los Angeles Times has pointed out, relatives of the ride’s creator and designer have called plans for changes “idiotic,” and the Times’ Daily Travel & Deal Blog notes that a number of Disney and Pixar professionals are also up in arms.

Of course, whenever changes are proposed on a Disneyland ride that many associate with their childhoods, nostalgia comes into play and long-time fans get upset.

Virginia Postrel has an interesting take. She writes on TheAtlantic.com (yes, even the venerable Atlantic is in on the “It’s a Small World” action):

Like the Miss Universe pageant’s opening ceremony and the International House of Pancakes, “Small World” portrays a happy, colorful internationalism. But, like the Star Trek universe, where intraspecies mating is more common than interracial marriage, it also assumes segregation and stasis.

“Small World” was designed for an audience that would rarely, if ever, encounter foreign cultures. Now it’s a time machine back to a world in which international travel was rare and large-scale trade and immigration unknown.

Saying large-scale immigration and trade were “unknown” seems a bit of an overstatement, but I get her point. She goes on to contend that the appeal of Disney characters around the globe is evidence that disparate cultures really do have a lot in common—the implication being, one assumes, that she has no objection to Disney characters on the ride.

I’m not sure I’d go that far, but I think she’s onto something. On the one hand, even World Hum’s tag line, “Dispatches from a Shrinking Planet,” evokes something of the “It’s a Small World” notion. But the most interesting aspect of today’s shrinking planet, in my mind, at least, is the mixing of peoples and cultures and the ways the world is changing and evolving as a result; the fact that within a few miles of Disneyland you can find people born in almost every nation on the planet—all basically getting along. Or that the emo craze has caught on in Mexico City. Or that, from a purely selfish standpoint, not far from my San Diego home I can order Mexican sushi, or go surfing with biotech engineers born in Mumbai.

That’s the real-life, globalized small world we now inhabit, and that’s the sort of world I’d like to see reflected on an “It’s a Small World” ride.

Related on World Hum:
* Disney’s Tom Sawyer Island: Too Old Media
* Disneyland’s ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ Ride to Close for, uh, Synergy
* What Would Mark Twain Make of Disneyland’s Tom Sawyer’s Island?

Related on Travel Channel:
* Travel Channel’s Family Guide to Walt Disney World
* Explore: Disneyland Paris
* Explore: Disney Cruise Line (slide show)





6 Comments for A Clash of Civilizations Over Disney’s ‘It’s a Small World’

SciFiDrive 04.12.08 | 12:23 AM ET

Do they need to improve on it by adding disney characters there’s enough of that around the park.

they should try to show how the world could be in harmony (it’s the real thing)

Derek G. Freeman 04.13.08 | 12:22 PM ET

Leave SmallWorld just as it is.Nothing taken away,nothing added.It is just as Walt intended it to be.The world in harmony.

amanda 04.14.08 | 3:39 PM ET

I love the small world ride and have been a big fan since I was a small child. It is like a work of art and should not be changed.  Too many things have been edited to be politiacaly corrects and I hope this is not an issue here.  the ride is fun and entertaining and should not be taken seriously.  Thats why we go to disney, to have fun and escape the mundane life at least just for the day.

Sophie 04.14.08 | 4:53 PM ET

Dagnabbit. Every time this post pops up on my Google Reader, I’m stuck with the dadblame song for another day. It’s the earworm to end all earworms.

Ken Clark 07.05.08 | 12:18 AM ET

My feeling is ” If it ain’t broke
don’t fix it . And it isn’t broke !

Clara 07.30.08 | 5:15 AM ET

Since my childhood and even till now it’s like a warm tradition in my family to be in love with Walt. He created masterpieces for a great amount of small hearts and to ruin their small world, which they adore and at the same time to disillusion them we just have no so right.

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