Monday, February 09, 2009

Tempest in a Teapot

After almost a year of anticipation, it’s a small world (iasw) has reopened amidst another storm of heated rants and raves from the online community. This time though, there is a large counter-wave from those guests who have actually been on the attraction; the supposed desecration “leaked” by armchair Disney enthusiast Al Lutz last year has not turned out as reported.

Originating at the 1964/65 New York World‘s Fair, small world came to fruition when Pepsi (yes, a corporate sponsor—oh no! those actually existed back then?) and Joan Crawford approached Walt Disney about doing an exhibit for their company that would be a tribute and benefit to UNICEF. Disney had to fit the attraction to the NY World’s Fair building, as it was constructed before the ride had been created. Pepsi was not happy with small world; sponsorship for the attraction at Disneyland was picked up by Bank of America (another “evil” corporate sponsor—how did Walt let this happen?!?) and the show was expanded to fit the new larger building in Anaheim. Please note the logo prominently shown on the marquee in this 1968 photo, with not a mention of UNICEF:

One of the things that has really rankled me about this iasw debate is that Mary Blair has been trotted out like a sacred cow, given sole credit for this attraction, while people bemoan that her memory is being trampled on because of these changes. MANY others deserve just as much credit for this attraction as Blair; Rolly Crump, Marc Davis, Leota Toombs, Blaine Gibson, and Alice Davis, pictured below tending to the costumes that she created:

Below is a photo of Disneyland Ambassador, Connie Swanson, pointing to the construction of iasw:

These two photos show Walt himself on iasw on opening day, May 28, 1966:

Flash forward to present day, and iasw has been refurbished to look brand-spanking new. The light effects at night are incredible, making the exterior look even more magical:

Next up are a few shots from the interior, looking better than ever with new paint, lights, and an improved sound system:

Disney Expert & Blogger, Al Lutz, proudly headlines his MiceAge site with the statement “small world's makeover is awful, photos don't begin to capture what a misfire it is. The $75 character pin sets sold at the exit prove this was a merch[andise] move. AP has a video up with yours truly quoted at this link.” In another section of his site, an additional report on iasw states: “None of the new dolls installed feature blinking eyes and moving lips, in fact, most of the "Disney" characters do not look like the original Mary Blair dolls.” And yet, when I rode this attraction on Saturday, the eyes of the new characters blinked as can be witnessed by these photos:

Based upon this shoddy reporting, I can only conclude that Lutz has used the iasw refurb as a marketing ploy for his site to drive up the numbers. The Disney characters that have been sprinkled throughout amount to not much more than Hidden Mickeys; fun little surprises along the way that would increase the possibility of riding iasw more than once, giving the guest something else to notice. If these characters either hide or ruin the original message of a plea for peace by children of the world, then today’s world is a lot dumber than I thought. For those that say Walt would never have added Disney characters...folks, I hate to break the news to you, but Walt passed away not too long after iasw opened. We will NEVER know what Walt would have done, but we do know that he “plussed” almost every attraction in the park while he was alive and that the majority of attractions at Disneyland had their origins in Disney entertainment. While the current Disney-Detractors cry out in pain that Disneyland has become nothing but a marketing cash machine, they conveniently seem to forget that Walt was the one who signed off on Tomorrowland’s Bathroom of Tomorrow by Crane, Frontierland’s Casa de Fritos (complete with gigantic Frito-Lay vending machine), and practically had to sell his soul to ABC-TV just to get the park opened. Walt knew his way around the marketing machine as well.

Lutz also reported that the rainforest scene was to be removed: “That eclectic collection of furry animals in shimmying plastic rain showers and a small quartet of masked musicians and dancers representing Papua New Guinea are now set to be replaced by an entirely new scene representing the good old United States of America.” And yet, here it is. Yes, it has been moved to a different location, but still there nonetheless:

I can see Lutz now, patting his back with one hand while savoring his cupcakes and mocha with the other, taking the credit for the rainforest scene still being in the attraction because of his ace reporting last year.

The new “Spirit of America” scene can be viewed in the following photos; Disney has stated that original concepts by Blair herself were used to create this room. Yet, the same negative online bloggers/writers have crucified the Disney reps, saying it is an underhanded ploy to justify this new scene.

This particular scene contains my one gripe; the Woody and Jessie characters in this scene are pretty bad. They do not have the same look as the other Blair-inspired characters. In short, they look like 2 stuffed dolls who have lost their way to the toy store. That is my only negative comment about this refurb. And now before I finish up this post, I’ll leave you with three more present-day images:

I am really puzzled as to why so many are quick to villify the Disney Corporation for the “new” iasw. One blogger went so far as to say that the rain on opening day was a sign from the Gods that they were not pleased with the changes. Instead of slinging the mud at Disney for ruining this and other attractions, why not turn your attention to the guest. Compare the guest from 1955 with the guest of 2009—talk about change! But so as not to bore you, I think that topic will have to wait for another column. Please: check out this attraction for yourself and give it a fair shake; don’t let the mud-slinging on the web and the crappy-quality YouTube videos deter you.

See more Disneyland it’s a small world photos at my website.


Ryan P. Wilson said...


I'll admit that I was rather concerned when all the news starting swirling about last year. Though I had only ever been to Disneyland once, the thought of cannabalizing iasw, regardless of the number of legends involved in its construction, really tugged at my heart.

After seeing the opening pictures across the various sites, I can say that at least my personal fears were unwarranted. The new figures blend in almost seamlessly, particularly Cinderella, and definitely do not detract from the unity message that has for so long been a part of iasw.

To be honest, at least one good thing came out of the scare of "commercializing" iasw, I rediscovered my love for the Florida version of the attraction. And now I can't wait to see the new version at Disneyland, complete with its light effects, although that may take a few years.

The Viewliner Limited said...

Nice job of reporting Dave. Very Nice! Great Job!

From what I can gather from most of the "Disney Wannabe Know-It All's and Negative Generators", is that their limit of imagination goes about as far as tying a string around their finger, to remind them to take a crap.

Just on a quick funny side note: the letters for the word verification I had to input to leave this comment were "BULLYZ". How ironic.

Vintage Disneyland Tickets said...

WOW Dave, this is the best post on the IASW update anywhere on the Web or in print! I had a feeling it would turn out as you found it. At first it sounded bad (like the Woody & Jessie came out) but as time marched on (and I saw the Holiday version) it was clear it would come out just fine. Alice looks great!

I picked up on your reference to sponsors and I agree, Walt himself built the whole park with sponsors. The PeopleMover is Goodyear, Rocket - TWA, Etc. There's nothing wrong with a good sponsor.

Thanks Dave!

Major Pepperidge said...

Great post on the updated IASW! I have always been one of those people who has loved this attraction (it does drive many people crazy!), so I was very apprehensive about the news I had heard.

I agree with you, the characters do not detract the way I had feared. And I am glad that there is still a rain forest, since I always loved that scene! Al Lutz has been famous for his hyperbole... part of me appreciates his passion I guess, but it is SO negative that it becomes grating. I try to do as little griping on my own blog as possible to avoid that problem.

That being said, I am still underwhelmed with the "Spirit of America" scenes... it's not terrible, but feels out of place. Something about the artwork feels kind of "DCA" to me... like somebody trying to emulate Mary Blair limited success. Mary Blair may have done some concepts, but Walt decided to not include the good old USA for a reason (although I don't know what that reason is exactly!).

I will be curious to see it for myself, for sure. Thanks again!

Learning Spanish at 41 said...

I've always loved IASW, always wil. The countless hours of work and creative efforts that went into creating the original, the refurb, and the holiday version are worthy of my respect as an artist. As far as the corporate sponsorship at DL...I think it's actually more subtle today than it ever was in the past. The sponsor id signs, etc, are integrated as part of the theme of the attractions now much better than the "HI, WE'RE THE SPONSOR OF THIS" signs in the old days. Perfect example: when AT&T was sponsoring the Indiana Jones attraction. The cryptic messages in the exit tunnel were the only obvious (and clever, and now painted over) indication of the sponsor at that time.

I can't wait to experience the "new" IASW on my next visit...I hope it is soon. Thanks for all the glorious photos to tide me over in the meantime!

Unknown said...

Kudos, Dave; I, too, was piqued by the Jessie and Woody shots (saw them via LA Times) and wondered if these were 'placeholders' to be replaced later.

More important to me is the fact that Crump, Davis, and Gibson are somehow ignored for their contributions.

Brian said...

Dave, great post.

I have not seen the new version of the ride in person, but going by photos and videos the ride is pretty close to what it was before the changes with a few Disney characters thrown in. The American scene is the one area that seems to need a little more work to me.

The right side of the American scene looks pretty good, but I agree with folks who think that they could have had two of the children characters dressed like Woody and Jessie instead. The left side with the farm looks a bit more stiff to me, like there is not enough levels of depth the cutouts.

I won't make a final judgment till I get down to see it in person this summer.

TokyoMagic! said...

I have to agree with everyone else about the character additions....they do blend in pretty well. However, I have to agree with the Major when he said that something about the artwork in the America scenes feels kind of "DCA" to him. The first thing I thought of when I saw this room was SUPER STAR LIMO....especially the farm side and the palm trees and klieg lights over the doorway to the finale room. These just don't seem to fit in with the other artwork throughout the attraction. In the L.A. Times article last week, they said that they discovered Mary Blair's original sketch AFTER they were pretty far along with their design, but that it was "so close" to what their design was. I would like to see what that original design looked like and I'm curious as to why it wasn't included in the original attraction.

Yellows said...

Thanks for the top-quality photos! You can sure see all the details.

What's just as clear from following the discussion of the Small World issue is that there are two strongly demarcated sides to this story. I disagree with the side that seems to be represented in the majority of comments here thus far, but, of course, you are free to like the new additions. I admit that I have not seen them in person.

I think, though, that Dave misses a point that I find well-stated by most of those on the "angry god" side. If all you can say about the views of folks who quite obviously care deeply about what Disneyland means is that they're mud slung by corporation haters, then, respectfully, you might not really be listening.

In my view, there was no sound reason beyond marketing to force Disney properties into the attraction. I would prefer to experience the Small World story free of cross-promotion, whether that promotion is executed with blinking eyes or not.

I don't think that corporate sponsorship is at all the issue; nobody who wants the PeopleMover back complains about Goodyear, for example. I'm puzzled by the opinions favoring Disney's move, which seem to offer little more than a "change for change's sake is great, trust the company to do the right thing" argument.

How do those who like the new additions think that they advance the story? Maybe we can't know what Walt would have done, but we can be pretty sure that's what he would have asked.

Daveland said...

Yellows - Although I appreciate that you keep your comments on the non-irrational side, you (like the others who don't like the changes) don't seem to be able to deviate one iota from your stance and stubbornly ignore the written word, only choosing to read what you want to read. Corporate sponsorship is only one of the reasons I used above for why the "angry god" side is complaining; I also list the "Mary Blair has been tarnished" rant and the claim that Disney went on the cheap (lack of moving parts on the dolls). One of the most lame excuses for why people hate the new additions is that it "hides" or "waters down" the message. Just how stupid is the world today? By seeing a Blair-style doll dressed as Alice a guest is going to forget or miss the message of World Peace? You obviously have not been on the attraction yet, so to say that you prefer the attraction without cross-promotion is a little premature. To say you've seen the video or photos and that you already know what it's like based upon reports only confirms that your mind (like so many of the others) was made up and that there's no changing it. I went on this attraction with an open mind; other than a few misfires (the previously mentioned Woody/Jessie dolls and the unmentioned Stitch on a surfboard), the ride still has the look and integrity of Mary Blair's original vision...nothing is lost. How do these additions advance the story? Well, you've got me there...not one iota. So what? Did adding more mechanical animals on the Jungle Cruise advance the story? Nope...just gave you something else to look at. Did adding more audio-animatronic animals on Nature's Wonderland add to the story? Heck no...just gave the guest a reason to ride the same ol' attraction again. What about “Snow White's Scary Adventures?” When Snow White was added to that attraction, she didn't add to the story one bit either...just helped shut the guest up who wanted to know where she was. What's with all this "advancing the story" crap anyway? "small world" already has a story, and as far as advancing it goes...get off the dead horse already—it doesn't need to be advanced. It’s about world peace and how children can get along. End of story.

Yellows said...

Dave, I admitted not having been on the attraction and expressed principles that I think apply whether or not I've seen it in person.

I also noted that it's immaterial whether the characters move well because the point is that they don't belong. I'm sure that you know how Walt cut scenes from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs even though animators had spent a good deal of time and energy on them because they didn't advance the story. As you've said, the character additions don't really add anything to the theme. Maybe that's just harmless fun, but maybe not.

I think when you allow such things, you undo the meaning in small ways that add up to serious problems. The new Tomorrowland might be an example. And I think it takes away from the world peace message to tie it in to commercial properties. Even though B of A sponsored IASW, the dolls weren't holding little Versateller cards.

If you want to debate more about your other points (adulation of Mary Blair, etc.), why not post your views over on Re-Imagineering? I apologize if you've already done so.

My comments were intended only to encourage consideration of the other side's point of view. I think that generally you've got a super blog, and I really enjoy it. Thanks.

Daveland said...

I did read the comments at Reimagineering, and bit my tongue. Again...I will do my best not to be snide, but in your recent comment, you state, "the point is that they don't belong." Well, that's your point. It's not necessarily a point I believe is worth arguing over...instead of saying "the point is.." it would be much more accurate to say "my opinion is..." That's my biggest beef with this whole debate. We should all be able to have our opinions, but to try to give credence to what's being said by saying "Walt did this 40 years ago, therefore..." or "the point is..." or to even call Kim Irvine a bimbo....that really doesn't make for an intelligent debate in my book. Even so...I sincerely appreciate that you like the blog and hope you will continue to check it out, even if we might disagree on this one! Thanks for sharing your opinions.

Anonymous said...

No one doubts that Walt Disney saw Disneyland as an organic enterprise, one that would grow and change through the years. He certainly did not hesitate to add, subtract, "plus," refine, and tweak his park in order to add to the experience of his guests. The question of the recent alterations to "it's a small world" is really not about changes made to an attraction, but about the spirit of those changes. Though it is not a museum, Disneyland is somewhat moored to the past, and asking the question, "Is this change, or any potential change, in the spirit of what Walt wanted for the park," is appropriate.

The "plussing" that Walt undertook(and that you reference above) added new layers of depth to particular rides. Adding new animals to "Nature's Wonderland" or the "Jungle" cruise was in keeping with the spirit of those rides and Walt's vision regarding them. Again, they add a layer of depth to the attractions that takes the viewer into a deeper and more meaningful themed experience. The same can surely be said for adding Snow White to her scary adventures ride, a plus that not only added depth but also clarified the experience for guests.

The question of the "it's a small world" additions is really two fold: is this in the spirit of what Walt wanted for the park and does it add rather than detract from the theme, style, and experience of the ride. Humans are hard-wired to see the world in terms of narrative, and so story, no matter how simple, is bound to the experience of riding most of Walt Disney's attractions. The story of 'it's a small world" is a simple and classic one: the children of the world have gathered in a spirit of equality to show us all that we are connected to each other (It's a small world, after all!").

Given that, it does seem that the recent additions distract from the "story" (perhaps theme would be more literarily correct). The Disney characters do stand out in the new ride, and they are clearly not equal to the children of the world in the minds of many riders. They stand apart, at best "first among equals," and that surely detracts from the intended experience of the ride, which was to foster feelings of harmony and equality. Plussing a ride should take the guest deeper into the experience (witness the outstanding plussing of WDW's Haunted Mansion), not distract his or her attention from it. In this regard, despite its stylistic integrity with regard to Mary Blair and however else it might possibly work, the addition of popular Disney characters takes one further from Walt's intended destination. The popular kids have entered the cafeteria, and now all eyes are on them.

Daveland said...

Anonymous: You're telling me that a few guys stuck up a tree with a Rhino perpetually thumping their butts adds a layer of depth? This is Disneyland, not the Shakespeare or The Louvre. And I definitely do not agree that adding the character of Snow White to her own attraction gave it depth; the reason she was added was because the general public was too stupid to figure out that the attraction was supposed to be a point of view ride where they became the character. Any depth that came from that addition was purely a coincidental bonus.

You are using quite a few generalities...not all eyes are on the Disney characters, and in my opinion (one more time for the cheap seats), other than 3 of the new characters, they definitely blend in.

There is a hardcore group of pseudo-fans out there who seem to get off on pointing out every error that the Imagineers and current Disney staff make. They wring their hands over how Walt's memory is being tarnished and his wishes are not followed. Personally, I think it's a lot of hogwash. Flying carpets, mermaids, belly dancers, and other fantasy-based characters do more to distract from the theme of world peace than a few Disney characters. IT'S A DISNEY ATTRACTION IN THE FIRST PLACE! Sheesh...

The Viewliner Limited said...

Lets put all of this IASW stuff in perspective folks.

The death toll in Iraq and Afganistan has reached 4890.


P.S. Great post Dave! :-)

Daveland said...

Well said Richard - Amen to that!

Anonymous said...


I am a long-time reader of your several blogs, but your tone with regard to the "it's a Small World" debate has become shrill and a bit unbecoming. You are too quick to dismiss the opinions of those who disagree with you with what appears, at least in print, to be rather emotional responses.

Your work as an amateur photographer of the Disney parks is a valuable contribution that many of us enjoy, so it seems especially unfortunate that you have adopted such a tone. People can disagree with you and provide an alternative analysis without garnering such intense, and quite frankly childish, responses from you. Do you want honest and thoughtful debate, or do you just want everyone to automatically agree with your every scrap of analysis? You're damaging your own reputation, which is a shame.

The anonymous post above, which I, by the way, did not write, seems to me to be a thoughtful comment by someone who clearly knows something of the park's and Walt's history. So, even if you disagree with it, why be so dismissive? It would be one thing if the post was inflammatory, but it is clearly not; it is calm and reasoned, unlike your response. I, for one, enjoy reading the arguments on both sides of the issue and feel like you would benefit, yourself, from a more dispassionate and less volatile attitude.

A long-time Disney historian (from before you were even born, Dave)

Daveland said...

Anonymous #2: Whether you were born before or after me is truly irrelevant. However, if you actually worked at Disney/Disneyland, that would be a very relevant point to bring up, and not quite as "emotional" (as you mentioned in regards to my writing). Yes...I am guilty as charged for being much stronger in my tone and even a little flip on this topic, and for this, I apologize to anyone who takes offense to my sarcasm, which (love it or leave it) is part of my personality (I grew up on Mad Magazine and Archie Bunker, so I'll blame them for now).

My blog and my comments/rebuttals on here have plenty of reason and facts to back them up, even if they are written in somewhat of a snarky tone. As Viewliner has written, in light of what is going on in the world today, it seems very disheartening that people are focusing on a few Disney character dolls and crying about the loss of a theme of world peace because of them. Calling Kim Irvine, Marty Sklar, and Tony Baxter insulting names doesn’t scream for world peace either, nor does it help prove a point. The online "fans" of iasw have been extremely emotional, rude, and somewhat convoluted in attempting to make their points. After reading the hundredth plus tirade, I snapped. Yup...again, guilty as charged. Here's to my hope for peace with the online Disney community!

HEADKAES said...

Here! Here! Dave! I totally agree with you on this one. I tried to make some similar points over at the other site, but received a few very bitter and somewhat irrational responses to my honest opinions.

There are two sides to this coin... I completely understand the passion with which defenders of the original version stand by their convictions, but at the same time, they need to be willing to accept that there is also a large portion of the population that feels differently... and it's okay to disagree. It doesn't us enemies... it simply makes us people who enjoy a ride for what it is... a ride.

It's about time we all put down the broken bottles and the pitchforks and shook hands...

After all...

It's a small world. (couldn't be helped, sorry)

Vintage Disneyland Tickets said...

Just a quick note & my 2¢; Yesterday I rode It's a Small World at Disneyland and Dave's report is spot on accurate.

The lighting is vastly improved throughout. The sound too is top notch, its timed well and sounds marvelous over some high-end speakers that are fairly well hidden. All the dolls and sets are clean as a whistle and sharp looking as can be. The flumes and the boats are super clean and inviting. The ride mechanisms have been updated as well and the whole load/unload process is smoother than ever. The whole attraction really shines “Like New”.

For the first time in a long time it was truly an enjoyable experience for me (I'm not a huge IASW fan). There is so much to see and hear when everything is highlighted perfectly and sounds turn up in the right places. My guess is Walt would be pleased.

Oh, and there's a few new dolls that unless you’re 6 years old or a Disneyland fanatic, you'll barely notice. All this controversy really over nothing.....

Anonymous said...

I rode it on tuesday this week for my sons 4th birthday. First time since the re opening and loved it. My kids love it and we had fun looking for the new dolls. What I want to know is , who has the old boats and when will they be on ebay? I want to buy my own fleet !Not really loving the new plastic boats. We all have our opinions no matter how trivial they are.

Anonymous said...

Just on a quick funny side note: the letters for the word verification I had to input to leave this comment were "BULLYZ". How ironic.

Well, most of those Disney know-it-all wannabes are bullies anyway. :D

Anonymous said...

I Myself a fan of the ride for many years shall say the ride is a whole lot better now and that fighting over the disney charcters and the spirit of america scene is really one of the biggest things that is so horrible. Esspecially Mr.Lutz. He's just a man that In my opinion is someone that won't accept change and his post is so poorly written and he him self like you said is acctually the one who is in it for the marketing ploy for his website and using it so people would pay attention to him while he was probably happy with the results.Lutz is such an sensitive disney fan like all the others.I think all disney fans who can't accept change at all.they are'nt true fans of the attraction or the park because of how they just want things to remain than to be relevent to the guests of today.

I also think calling Kim irvine,tony baxter, and marty names like,Tony Backstabber,Kim Irvlier and Marty Sklier from what i saw at reimageneering is so dumb.There is no need to show hatred and anger over the 3 beause of them ust doing their job to make attractions look fresh and new and such.I'm also sick of people saying it will ruin world peace.Well to all, the world peace of the ride is still there.

I rode the ride and to me it's all the same as before just more better with improved sound and lighting.Like you Dave,I really did'nt like the toy story dolls as much.the america room is a nice addition but the only problems i have with it is the toy story characters and the lack of some famous landmarks in america.

Overall everything in the ride is really great as before and This whole fuss and complaints really is just a big nothing.

Anonymous said...

I must be one of the few people who love the theme song and hate the ride! Any five year old can see the "message" of world peace, which is admirable and all, but in comparison to attractions like Pirates of the Carribean and the Haunted Mansion, iasw is just, well, boring! There, I said it! It's boring! Where's the Disney magic? Why am I not transported to another place and time, or even into a fairy tale? I mean, it's DOLLS! Fine when you're very little, just dumb when you're grown. I don't understand all the debate over this one. Snappy song, though......

Anonymous said...

You said it, Dave! The people getting bent out of shape over the Small World enhancements certainly need to knock it off, including Al Lutz and his MiceAge minions, the columnists at the just-as-one-sided Re-Imagineering blog, Kevin Kidney (despite his brilliant work, I hate his negative attitude towards Disney's newer endeavors), etc.

However, I'm going to have to disagree with your opinion the Woody, Jessie and Stitch toys in the ride. I think they blend in just as well as the others. Stitch, IMO, looks even more Mary Blair-ish than Woody and Jessie, but still...

Those who are still grousing and whining and crying over these changes need to get over themselves and learn to enjoy things for what they are and quit picking on the poor Imagineers!