As you may know, Disney recently reopened It’s a Small World at Disneyland. Among the changes to attraction were an updated boat canal (to accommodate passengers that are larger than the ones who were around when the ride was designed in the early 1960’s) and spruced up costumes and decor. But the “rehab” also is causing buzz in the internet thanks to a couple supposedly “controversial” changes. Despite quotes like “disastrous” and “damaging the attraction’s core message of world peace,”Â the changes are much ado about nothing
Let’s start first with the inclusion of a new American scene, replacing the old rainforest scene that was merged with the tiki-themed room. This new scene features a few characters from a farm, along with the requisite representation of America worldwide: cowboys and indians. Disney purists bemoan the removal of the rainforest scene, even starting a protest site called Save the Rainforest. But, if the ride is supposed to celebrate the children of the world, shouldn’t the children of America be represented as well?Â As for the rainforest scene, I think that’s kind of a bummer but let’s face it, the original version of the attraction had a lot of emphasis on the Hawaiian and Polynesian culture that was en vogue in the early 60s. That’s a genre I love, but I can see that scaling it back is more aligned with current tastes.
The major change that is causing uproar is the inclusion of Disney characters, in country-specific locations throughout the ride.Â For example, in the aforementioned Hawaiian section you see Lilo and Stitch. In the United Kingdom you see Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan and Tinkerbell. Mulan appears in the China scene, and so on. There are now 29 characters in the attraction, according to Disney.Â
Purists bemoan this change, as it supposedly a crass and opportunist change meant to sell more Disney merchandise. See MiceAge.com’s Al Lutz says “Adding the Disney characters into the ride is something that only the marketing people could love, because it sure doesn’t do any favors to the show itself.”
My take is that for the most part these characters are well integrated. There was already a scene with mermaids, so why not include Ariel? There are already flying carpets, so does it really matter if Aladdin and Jasmine are sitting on one of them?Â With a few exceptions, the integration is seamless and reasonably subtle and in my opinion makes the ride a bit more fun.Â
Another gripe about the characters is that this will cause families to play “spot the character” instead of looking at the dolls of the children around the world, as if this activity doesn’t already happen when families try to identify landmarks and specific countries in the displays. “See kids, there is Big Ben, so that’s the United Kingdom. And look, there are some shamrocks from Ireland!” Plus, one could argue the recent revisions at Pirates of the Caribbean have the same sort of effect, as people play the “spot the Pirates movie references” game. Where were the Disney purists when those changes happened?
The changes aren’t perfect. A few of the displays are little too obvious, such as Cinderella who sits straight ahead from your boat and close to the water so you can’t miss her. The American scene features Woody and Jesse “toys” from Toy Story; the toys are far too large and obvious and really don’t fit in the same way an actual character representation might have. For example, Davy Crocket is a character Disney could have used to maintain the “Disney-ness” without having to replace a human with a toy. Of course, that would assume kids today know who Davy Crocket is…
Taken as a whole, the changes did not bother me in the least It’s true that It’s a Small World isn’t my favorite Disney attraction, but being a big Walt Disney fan I’m certainly cautious when something he personally touched is changed (can you say “Enchanted Tiki Room Under New Management?”). I’m temped to pull out William Shatner’s “get a life” video from SNL but will show restraint about the Disney purists.
But at least for my family and me, the changes to It’s a Small World are no big deal.