10 Festive Facts About “it’s a small world”
For over half a century, Guests from around the world have been setting sail on the Happiest Cruise That Ever Sailed. There’s no doubt that “it’s a small world” is one of Disney’s most beloved attractions, but how well do you know this classic attraction? Let’s take a look at ten things you may not know about it.
1. The World’s Fair
The attraction was originally constructed for the 1964/65 World’s Fair in New York. A massive cultural event, the fair featured over 140 pavilions with 110 restaurants and 80 nations. The fair’s theme was “Peace Through Understanding” and it was dedicated to “Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe.” It seems a perfect theme and dedication to introduce “it’s a small world” to the world.
For more on the World’s Fair, here’s a piece by Tim Foster:
2. Joan Crawford
“it’s a small world” was part of the UNICEF pavilion at the World’s Fair, and it was sponsored by Pepsi. Apparently, the Pepsi Board of Directors was struggling to come up with an idea for the pavilion attraction and so actress Joan Crawford (widow of past company president Alfred Steele) asked Walt Disney to come up with something.
3. The Sherman Brothers
Everyone knows the theme song to “it’s a small world.’ It’s the ultimate ear worm. Listen to it for a few seconds and it’ll be stuck in your head for ages. You can thank the Sherman brothers for that catchy little ditty.
Richard and Robert Sherman are responsible for some of the most iconic and memorable songs in Disney canon. They wrote music for The Jungle Book, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Aristocats, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, The Carousel of Progress, The Enchanted Tiki Room and numerous others. Perhaps their most famous work came in the form of Mary Poppins, including the writing of Walt Disney’s favorite song, “Feed the Birds.”
Walt asked The Sherman’s to write one song that would cover all the countries represented, while maintaining a sense of unity. The result was “It’s a Small World (After All).”
“People think it’s a little novelty,” Richard Sherman later said. “It’s a prayer for peace. We have to learn to live together and respect each other, or we’re going to blow each other up.”
4. Row, Row, Row Your Boat
The lyrics to “It’s a small World (After All)” were written in a poetic form known as a roundelay. A roundelay is a “short poem with a refrain,” or more literally a “small circle.” The form was suggested by Walt Disney himself. He said, “”What we need here is a simple little roundelay… you know, like ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” In an interview, the Shermans recalled a conversation with Walt in which he said, “now what we need is a simple little song” and he looked at us “you see what I mean fellows? A little simple roundelay.” We said, “you mean a round? That would be terribly boring.” He says, “you know a roundelay.” I said, “what about a counterpoint, two little themes that can work together and separately at the same time?” He says, “that’s what I said, a roundelay.”
5. Five Languages
You’ll notice as you float through “it’s a small world” that the Sherman brothers’ catchy little ditty is sung in a variety of languages. There are five languages to be exact: English, Japanese, Swedish, Italian, and Spanish.
6. The Most Played Song
As if the lovely little theme song weren’t catchy enough, it’s said to be the most publicly played song in the world. Here are a few stats: during a 16 hour day in the park, the song plays 1,200 times. Given that the attraction can be found in Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Park in Paris, and Hong Kong Disneyland, there is not a second of the day when the song isn’t playing somewhere in the world.
7. Mary Blair
Next to the music, one of the most striking aspects of “it’s a small world” is its color scheme. The colors burst with energy and life. That is all thanks to the brilliance of artist Mary Blair. A Disney legend, Mary Blair also created concept art for films like Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Cinderella. You can also see her artwork on display in the giant Grand Canyon Concourse at Disney’s Contemporary Resort – she designed the colorful iconic mural (and you can even find her signature on a tile near the entrance to the Contempo Cafe!).
For More About Mary Blair, check out this Celebrations blog post:
8. How Many Dolls?
Speaking of the characters in “it’s a small world,” have you ever wondered just how many doll children there are in the attraction? Well, have no fear. We at Celebrations are here to provide you the answer! There are 289 dolls (as well as 36 animated props!).
9. The Same on the Inside
Despite the sheer quantity of dolls and the large number of countries represented, the dolls are all fundamentally the same. That is to say, they are EXACTLY the same. At least, they are the same in construction and shape. Their differences are purely cosmetic, the skin tone, facial features, and clothing added after construction. It’s a very literal way of demonstrating the message of unity at the heart of the attraction.
10. One Golden Sun
In the lyrics to “It’s A Small World (After All)” it state, “There is just one moon and one golden sun.” It’s another simple reminder that what we have in common far outweighs our differences. Those lyrics are demonstrated literally throughout the ride. Every room in the attraction has a depiction of the sun in it, always shining down happily on the singing figures down below.
This attraction holds a special place in our hearts, as it does for Disney fans the world over. And admit, you’re humming the tune right now!
For more about the attraction and for a video peak inside, check out our newest podcast, as well as our Magical Moments video: