5 Big Facts About “it’s a small world”

by | Apr 2, 2024 | Disneyland, Disneyland Parks, Magic Kingdom, WDW Blog

Think you know “it’s a small world?” Think again! We’re sharing several fun facts about the iconic Disney ride that you may not have known before.

It’s hard to make your way through Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom without getting a particular earworm in your head, the tune of “it’s a small world.” The iconic ride was originally created by Walt Disney and a team of Imagineers for the 1964 New York World’s Fair to promote international unity.

The boat ride features a cheerful tune while taking guests on a whimsical journey through scenes representing various cultures and regions of the world. From the famous music to the beloved designs of Mary Blair found throughout the attraction, the ride has become a rite of passage for kids and adults alike visiting the park. But, as famous as the ride may be, there are a few facts about the attraction you may not know!

Fun Facts About “it’s a small world”

Adding the Ride to World’s Fair Was a Challenge

Everyone knows “it’s a small world” came to Disney because of the 1964-1965 World’s Fair. But there are a few lesser-known details about the conception of the ride! Just eleven months before the fair opened, Disney was already set to showcase four pavilions—more than any other exhibitor at the event, who typically had only one.
But when Pepsi-Cola came to Walt and presented their idea for the “happiest cruise that ever sailed,” he couldn’t just say no. To some of the Imagineer’s chagrins, Walt added a fifth project that would eventually come to be known as “it’s a small world.” With a tight deadline of just eleven months, the team managed to create a groundbreaking ride, dedicated as a tribute to UNICEF and children worldwide. Impressively, all proceeds from the ride were donated to UNICEF.

Na’Vi River Journey and Pirates of the Caribbean Can Thank “it’s a small world”

Disney recognized that creating a ride like “it’s a small world” required innovative thinking, especially for a bustling event like the World’s Fair. The Imagineers needed a novel approach to efficiently manage large crowds through the attraction. The solution was a boat ride on tracks—a concept not yet implemented on such a scale. This design allowed the ride to maintain a steady, controlled pace, ensuring guests could fully appreciate the surrounding displays while being moved through smoothly and swiftly.

Today, this might seem commonplace, as many rides operate similarly, but “it’s a small world” set the precedent. Its pioneering design laid the groundwork for subsequent Disney attractions. Without “it’s a small world,” we wouldn’t have current rides like Pirates of the Caribbean or Na’Vi River Journey.

The Iconic Song Wasn’t In The First Ride Draft

Robert and Richard Sherman, widely known as The Sherman Brothers, composed many scores for Walt Disney attractions, and “it’s a small world” was one of them. Initially, they envisioned a ride where children from each represented country would sing their national anthems in their own languages.

Imagine taking a ride through the attraction under those conditions. Instead of the familiar, catchy tune, picture children singing vastly different national anthems. How would that sound? The Sherman Brothers described it as a “horrible cacophony”—in other words, it was far from harmonious. Due to the overlapping sounds and the ride’s pacing, listening to all the anthems simultaneously proved jarring. This challenging experience led to the creation of the now-iconic “it’s a small world” song, uniting the ride with a single, cohesive musical theme.

The Most Played Song of All Time?

And speaking of that song that gets stuck in your head so easily! The song “it’s a small world” is said to be the most-played song of all time—publicly played, that is. No wonder it’s stuck in your head so much! During a 16-hour operating day at Magic Kingdom, the song is played over 1,200 times. That’s quite a few plays.

boat ride its a small world

Photo by Judd Helms

And to top that off, since the opening of Disneyland Paris in 1992, up until the parks closed due to the pandemic, “It’s a Small World” was being played somewhere in the world, every second of every day. Oh, and in the interest of unity, “it’s a small world” is the only song (or entity at all, excluding Oswald) the Disney company has no copyright attached to. Disney earns no royalties when the song is played. The song is meant to be a gift to the children of the world and is totally free for anyone to use.

Just One Golden Sun (Or A Few…)

The central theme of the attraction is undoubtedly unity, emphasizing the idea that despite our diverse backgrounds, we share commonalities that bind us together. This message is particularly poignant for a children’s ride, offering a gentle yet powerful lesson in global togetherness.

Throughout the ride, this theme of unity is highlighted in several clever ways. Notably, every puppet features the same facial design, symbolizing our fundamental sameness. However, each puppet is distinctively dressed in its own traditional attire and represents different cultures and skin colors, reinforcing the idea that beneath our external differences, we are all alike.

Moreover, the ride’s design includes a recurring motif that aligns with the lyrics of its iconic song, which remind us, “There is just one moon and one golden sun.” In every scene of the ride, a golden sun is prominently displayed, illustrating that no matter where we are in the world, we all share the same sun overhead.

Posts by Morgan Flaherty

Morgan is the Staff Editor for WDW Magazine. A lifelong Disney fan, her dream day involves just about anything to do with Animal Kingdom. Along with several years of experience writing about Disney, Morgan has also written as a contributing writer for Well + Good, Scary Mommy, Brit + Co, and Baby Chick.

Authored by
Morgan Flaherty

Morgan is the Staff Editor for WDW Magazine. A lifelong Disney fan, her dream day involves just about anything to do with Animal Kingdom. Along with several years of experience writing about Disney, Morgan has also written as a contributing writer for Well + Good, Scary Mommy, Brit + Co, and Baby Chick.
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