I, um, I kinda love it.
I finally had my chance to experience the new, enhanced it’s a small world three weeks ago, during a crowded spring break visit that saw the line for the venerable boat ride swell to nearly 40 minutes. Every set has been repainted, redressed and re-lit, the audio has been sweetened — and in a controversial move, Disney has added doll versions of some of its characters to the mix. Yes, that’s Lilo and Stitch riding that wild surf. The dolls are created in the Mary Blair style (and in the case of older characters like Alice and Cinderella, some are created directly from Blair’s character sketches), and to my eyes, they belong. I’m learning that I’m alone in feeling this way, but whatevs.
Funniest thing. Almost halfway through IASW’s 13 minute running time I was stricken with an unfamiliar feeling, which I recognized after a few moments of reflection as delight. I haven’t felt anything but polite respect for IASW for years now, but in monkeying with the ride, Imagineering has found and pushed the buttons I’d forgotten I ever had to begin with. Even my father, who rode the original IASW at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and has had literally decades to grow tired of it, was impressed by the refurb and favororably compared this most recent ride to his first.
The thing about it’s a small world that most people, even some hardcore Disney freaks, don’t seem to get is that IASW stands completely alone among Disney attractions. There are no thrills, and there is no real story. But there is a magic to it that other Disney attractions don’t have: We love it, or love to hate it, because of its otherness. We identify it as one of Disney’s finest accomplishments because only Disney could have created it. It’s not a ride; it’s a float-through art gallery. Looking at it through that lens, it’s little wonder that that it’s a small world is so polarizing, and no wonder at all that I should be so happy to see it restored. Now, when I experience Disneyland’s it’s a small world, as if I’m seeing it created before my eyes.