So there’s a good bit o’ hoopla on the internet (at least among those of us who follow this sort of thing) about Disney’s changes to the “it’s a small world” ride at Disneyland. In brief: characters from popular Disney and Pixar movies have been inserted into their “home” countries, bits of Disney theme songs have been inserted into the soundtrack, and a new “America” section has been added.
First, back up a step, for something disclaimerish: Pretty much every genre of thing you can imagine has its own brand of obsessive fandom, but Disney’s in its own weird territory. There are people right this moment in the darkened comic book corners of the web, going into nerdrage over the developments of Final Crisis or whatever, but comic books are always going to be a relatively tiny subset of the population. Not so with Disney: they’re making stuff that has to appeal to millions of people, from the people who drop in for a weekend for the first time in 30 years, to the people who go to every ride and take obsessive pictures of peeling paint in the ride queues to post on their “What Would Walt Think?” blogs.
I’m definitely on the nerdy Disney fan end of the spectrum, but not quite enough to go into a sputtering rage over anything the company does. Except for the Tiki Room renovation in Florida. Whoever was in charge of that pissed on my childhood and should suffer for it.
So back to the “it’s a small world” (note my use of the preferred capitalization, a reminder of my Disney nerd status). A tribute to UNICEF, created for the World’s Fair, and Disney marketing suits are coming in and trashing it with crass merchandising possibilities. What a horrible insult to Disney and Mary Blair’s art and character design!
That’s the story you’re being told, anyway. If you look at pictures of the actual characters, though, it’s a little different. I’d had an image of Disney suits sweeping through the windows of the stores on Main Street and taking the character models out, then cramming them clumsily into a classic ride. (For an example: see the Tiki Room renovation in Florida). But the characters in those photos are done in exactly the same style of the “it’s a small world” characters that have been there for decades. If it hadn’t been picked up by the AP and spread throughout the internet by indignant Disney fans, I might’ve assumed that Alice & the White Rabbit had always been there, and I just never noticed.
So to make it clear: this is in fact a terrible, terrible idea. The people complaining have a point: the ride wasn’t intended to be about Disney characters, it had its own “world” and its own theme. Over the years, the company has managed to chip away at every “original IP” attraction that’s unique to the parks — the Swiss Family Treehouse, the Country Bears, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean — and insert Disney characters, turning the parks into a big homogenized — but synergistic! — mess. The quotes from Disney reps about how “Walt always wanted the park to never be finished” seem like a total cop-out in this instance. They could’ve revamped the ride, added a section that was true to its theme, anything to refresh it and make it feel new. There would’ve been complaints (because everything DIsney does gets complaints), but they would’ve been unjustified. Adding existing characters isn’t new or fresh or imaginative, however. It’s the opposite of new.
But. If they had to do it, it looks like the best job they could’ve possibly done. Based on the photos, it seems much less intrusive than the addition of movie characters to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, and that ride suffered from the changes but wasn’t ruined by them.
So the question is: did they have to do it? Probably not. It’s not going to add riders, since they people who ride “it’s a small world” are going to ride it no matter whether Aladdin’s in there or not. Are they going to buy Aladdin or any of its direct-to-DVD sequels after seeing him in the ride? Probably not.
But consider this: so many people have complained about the theme song, and complained about hating the ride, and how grown-ups don’t enjoy going on it, that an eighteen-year-old attraction in Disney parks have parodied “it’s a small world.” If the ride now has an activity that parents can do with their kids, pointing out the characters they already recognize, is that the death of Disneyland as we know it?