A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that I'd spent Saturday at Disneyland. The occasion was an opportunity to preview the update of the classic ride, "It's a Small World," which reopened today after a renovation that took nearly a year.
Several folks (including writers and bloggers for family websites) were invited to check out the changes... and potentially appear in a Disney promotional video.
"We're going to have to go on the ride three or four times in a row," I warned my 12-year-old. "Are you OK with that?"
She nodded. She figured it was a small price to pay for a shot at fame and fortune on TV... and a day at the park.
"And you need to look like you're enjoying it!" I added.
"Will I be on Disney Channel?" she asked. I indicated it was possible (after all - ANYTHING is possible).
"It's a Small World" is the kind of Disneyland attraction you tend to either love or hate -- with no in-between. You can't argue with its message: that we are all family together on this earth and as such, we need to learn to understand one another and all get along. I know I got that message back in 1965, when I first saw this ride at the New York World's Fair (where it debuted the previous year -- it was transplanted to Disneyland in '66).
But by the time I was my daughter's age, I'd decided that enjoying "It's a Small World" simply wasn't cool. For one thing, there was that song: the mother of all earworms, written by the Sherman Brothers, who are masters of catchy tunes you can't get out of your head. (Listen to a number of 1960's era Disney soundtracks - like "Mary Poppins," "Jungle Book" and "Winnie the Pooh" and you'll know what I mean. If you have small children at home, you likely already do.)
And then there was my mom.
My mom LOVES "It's a Small World," and would have a fit if anyone suggested we skip it one trip. And when you're a teenager, anything your mom loves is AUTOMATICALLY uncool.
I carried those feelings well into adulthood... until I had a child of my own.
Megan was just 18 months old the first time I took her to Disneyland, on a Sunday after I'd finished a particularly grueling week at work. She was still in a stroller, and so young that she got in free... but she was also too little to get much out of any of the rides...
...except for "It's a Small World." I left her stroller outside the attraction, carried her into the little boat, and watched her eyes grow wide as we floated through the gentle ride with the happy music and doll-like figures. She was delighted by it -- and so was I. I was able to experience it with new appreciation.
As the years went by, I discovered something else about "It's a Small World," and this is one of those insider secrets that is the reason people read blogs like mine, so listen closely: The attraction is on the lengthy side, and it's got great air conditioning. So if you've been at the park for hours, and your feet are getting tired and it's a REALLY HOT summer day... "It's a Small World" will allow you to rest in cool, cool comfort for a full 12 minutes (or longer!)
Other rest-your-feet attractions are the Disneyland Railroad that will take you from one land to another around the park... "Honey, I Shrunk the Audience"... and Star Tours.
But I digress. The point of this post is to tell you about the ride.
One of the first things we noticed was that the old fiberglass boats have been replaced by ones of molded plastic (think of the Little Tikes line of backyard play equipment). While I miss the old boats, these are apparently sturdier and easier to maintain. (I saw a post online where someone speculated that the new boats are also bigger to accommodate the fact that Americans on average weigh more than they did in the 1960's. Disney denies that rumor -- but it would make sense.)
The next thing we noticed was that Disney characters now appear among the ride's children of the world: Peter Pan and Tinkerbell in London, Pinocchio in Italy, Lilo and Stich in the South Pacific, etc. Disney says the ride features a total of 29 Disney and Disney Pixar characters. I don't remember seeing nearly that number -- so I suppose that will be my challenge on my next visit to the park.
It is possible that some of the characters had not been placed yet when we saw our preview, as it was obvious that park employees were still putting finishing touches on it... there were cans of paint and brushes, ladders, bubble wrap and other debris scattered in corners around the ride (which I began noticing during the second go-round).
The other huge change is the addition of the United States as one of the countries of the world. In the original version of the ride, the US was represented at the end with (in 1964 vernacular) a little cowboy and Indian. Now, there is a nicely sized representation of a cornfield (I guess they chose the Midwest), as well as a depiction of Hollywood. You can get a feel for how it looks in the video below:
I know people who don't like it when you mess with the classics. Some are complaining that the new configuration negates the original "peace on earth/let's all understand one another" message of the attraction, and accusing Disney of injecting marketing into it by the inclusion of the characters.
I really think folks should lighten up. It's a theme park. It's entertainment. Does Disney integrate the rides with all their other products and market to its guests? Yeah. That's just good business, and the company would be crazy NOT to do that. There is a reason why my parents introduced me to the classic Disney films and that I in turn did the same with my daughter.
That does not mean that I enjoy finding myself in a gift shop before I can exit every attraction, or that I'm being tempted to purchase family photographs whenever we get off a thrill ride... but I'm pretty good at saying "no." Lately, I tell my daughter that she can purchase any souvenirs with her own money, and that works like a charm.
When we'd finished the ride, one of the Disney crew asked my daughter if she wanted to appear on camera for an interview... and she came down with a sudden case of shyness. "I thought you wanted to be on Disney Channel," I coaxed. She changed her mind.
I ended up doing the interview, but I'm pretty sure they won't use it. I told them about thinking the ride was uncool when I was a kid. Somehow, I don't think that's the message they want out there.