It's a Small World is a musical boat ride located in the Fantasyland area at Disneyland Park in California.The ride features over 300 brightly costumed audio-animatronic dolls in the style of children of the world, frolicking in a spirit of international unity and singing the attraction's title song, which has a theme of global peace.
Fabricated in the Burbank studios of Walt Disney Pictures as Children of the World, it was created by WED Enterprises then shipped to the 1964 New York World's Fair's UNICEF pavilion sponsored by Pepsi where it featured at its entrance a kinetic sculpture, The Tower of the Four Winds, a 120-foot perpetually spinning mobile created by WED designer Rolly Crump, It was added to four attractions (Magic Skyway [Ford], Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln [Illinois], The Carousel of Progress [GE], and CircleVision 360 [Kodak]) already under development which were used by Disney to sponsor, fund and test concepts and develop ride systems and innovative entertainment intended to be moved and re-built at Disneyland after the World's Fair closed in 1966. Legend has it that the Pepsi Board of Directors took so long to agree on what type of attraction to sponsor, that then-board member and widow of past company president Alfred Steele, actress Joan Crawford, prevailed upon her longtime Hollywood friend Walt Disney to design such an attraction as would be suitable for Pepsi. Because of the short lead-time to design, create and construct such an attraction she insisted that the Board of Directors accept his proposal seeing as he was already designing attractions for the state of Illinois, Ford, General Electric and Kodak and knew Walt was the only one who could accomplish such a feat in the short time left until the fair was scheduled to open. The WED Enterprises company was given only 11 months time to create and build the pavilion.
Mary Blair was responsible for the attraction's whimsical design and color styling. Blair had been an art director on several Disney animated features (including Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland, and Peter Pan). Like many Disneyland attractions, scenes and characters were designed by Marc Davis, while his wife, Alice Davis, designed the costumes for the dolls. Rolly Crump designed the toys and other supplemental figures on display. The animated dolls were designed and sculpted by Blaine Gibson. Walt was personally involved with Gibson's development of the dolls' facial design (each animated doll face is completely identical in shape, hence the name "it's a small world").
Arrow Development was deeply involved in the design of the passenger carrying boats and propulsion system of the attraction. Two patents that were filed by Arrow Development staff and assigned to The Walt Disney Company illustrate passenger boats and vehicle guidance systems with features very similar to those later utilized on the Disneyland installation of the attraction. The firm is credited with manufacturing the Disneyland installation.
"Children of the World" was the working title of the attraction. Its tentative soundtrack, which can be heard on the album, featured the national anthems of each countries represented throughout the ride all playing all at once, which resulted in disharmonic cacophony. Walt conducted a walkthrough of the attraction scale model with his staff songwriters Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman, saying, "I need one song that can be easily translated into many languages and be played as a round."The Sherman Brothers then wrote "It's a Small World (after all)" in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which influenced the song's message of peace and brotherhood. When they first presented it to Walt, they played it as a slow ballad. Walt requested something more cheerful, so they sped up the tempo and sang in counterpoint. Walt was so delighted with the final result that he renamed the attraction "It's a Small World" after the Sherman Brothers' song.
The original song (but not orchestrations by others) remains the only Disney product since Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to remain without Disney Corp. copyright "…as a gift to the children of the world" by the request of UNICEF and can be heard worldwide on musical devices ranging from keyboard demos & music boxes to ice cream trucks. It is argued that this song is the single most performed and most translated piece of music on Earth.
A third verse celebrating the attraction's 45th Anniversary was written and popularized but not incorporated into the ride. In 1965, an album of folk songs from around the world that included the title track, was recorded by the St. Charles Boys Choir under the direction of Paul Salamunovich called, "It's A Small World" and using the name, "The Disneyland Boys Choir". It remains for sale in the theme park to this day.