“There’s so much that we share that it’s time we’re aware… It’s a small world after all.” – Richard and Robert Sherman
It’s the ride and song people love to mock and say they hate. It’s the valley of the dolls in the Happiest Place on Earth. It’s the attraction people most fear getting stuck on. So much so, in fact, that many refuse to ride it. It’s the song that has at times been used as a punchline in Disney movies itself.
It’s also the first attraction we took our daughter on when she visited Disneyland for the first time. It’s the ride that I find myself wanting to do at least once every day of my trip. It’s a song that has shaped not just my philosophy on why I love to write about Disney, but thoughts on life itself.
Yes, we have our differences. But we all have hopes and fears, excitements and disappointments. And I believe in lifting each other up, encouraging, and helping others to smile within the darkness we feel at times. We’re human, and need to treat each other accordingly. I feel that in reaching out to our fellow human beings, we’re helping ourselves as much as each other. Be positive. Learn to look past our differences to love each other. We may not agree on things, but perhaps…there’s some common ground. The mountains may divide us; the oceans may separate us. But in this day and age especially, the world is getting smaller and smaller in terms of communicating and reaching our fellow human beings. When I think of the song in those terms, when I ride a boat through various countries and see smiling, happy children… I believe the world CAN be better.
There’s a video that I love watching to this day of songwriter Richard Sherman, beginning the song as originally intended – as a ballad. It really drives home the lyrics for me, and many times brings a tear to my eye:
This, to me, is the perfect example of the mastery of the Sherman Brothers’ music in score and lyric. As the story goes, the original concept was for the children of each country to sing their own national anthem. However, on a boat ride, the overlapping songs made for a jumbled, Tower of Babel-esque mess. How beautiful and symbolic for these two to come up with a melody and infusion of lyrics that would carry from room to room regardless of the language in which it was delivered!
A couple years back, upon the passing of Robert Sherman, his son (and co-director of “The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story”) wrote the following in memoriam of his father:
“From the time the ride opened, it was a tradition for the Bob Sherman family to always go on “It’s a Small World,” every time we visited Disneyland. Dad would be on the boat, but he never took in the ride. He’d watch the children’s faces. Dad studied their awe and wonder and loved that, by the end of the ride, these kids would know the words and be singing along. He’d always tear up.
Dad told me he wished he could just stand at the end of that ride and shake everyone’s hand as they stepped off the boat. He wanted to thank each person for listening, for taking to heart his deceptively simple message of peace and brotherhood….
….It warms my heart to know Dad’s messages of peace and love, brotherhood, charity and humility, hope — and family — are there forever in his and my Uncle’s songs. And I know that somewhere in the world right this very moment, some child is learning and singing out Dad’s lovely words and Dick’s gorgeous melodies — “It’s a Small World” or one of the Sherman Brothers’ thousand other beloved songs. Simple, sing-able and sincere. And these children will, in turn, pass them onto their own. And my Dad is right there with them, smiling through a tear. As I am now.
Dad and his dear, sweet heart and brilliant mind will live on forever. His ride may be over, but when you sing his words, know that Bob Sherman is smiling down on you — and wishing he could shake your hand. —– Thank you.”
Thanks for your words, Jeff. I have no doubt that he is and lives on, not only in this attraction, but in so many other works as well.
I would be remiss in not mentioning others who helped make “it’s a small world” what it is. Wonderful legends such as Mary Blair, Alice Davis, Harriet Burns, Rolly Crump. Their contributions to costuming, architecture and color design helped turn a boat ride in a show building into a beautiful work of art. And of course, the man who dreamed it up and really believed in the message he put forward, Walt Disney himself. Years from now, people will still be making fun of the song. They may still be debating whether Disney characters should have been added to the attraction, whether the outside facade should be colorful or white. Yet, I truly believe that even more people, young and old alike, will continue to ride and be amazed at the artistry and the message the attraction brings. Perhaps they will be able to forget their worries for 15 minutes as they listen to the lyrics, thinking about how wonderful life could be if we all found common ground. Maybe, for at least a moment, they really will realize that it truly IS a small world after all.
Happy birthday, “it’s a small world!” Thanks to all who made it the amazing attraction and song that it has become on a worldwide scale. Here’s to many more happy cruises!