In the 1980s, I was lucky enough to go to Disney World in Florida, where—as a small child—I stood in wonderment in the shadows of Cinderella's Castle and tall human versions of my favorite animated characters, like Minnie Mouse. Sure, my parents were probably dumping their hard-earned paychecks into the Disney empire's massive bank vault in order to make this trip happen, but I was oblivious to the business machine churning behind the park. And that Walt Disney was probably a racist, sexist, tool of capitalist oppression. For me, I was just transported into a magical world that I had no plans of leaving anytime soon.
I particularly did not want to leave the It's A Small World ride, which I went on over and over again until every adult in my family was driven mad by the Sherman Brothers-penned song that accompanies the ride. There was just something about going through tunnel after tunnel and there being MORE when you expected it to be over, and the space was so large, it felt like you were really in another world. And also you were in a boat (as long as you didn't drink the water it was all good). This type of ride was apparently called a "people eater" and was wildly successful for its layout.
But who cares about what brought me joy when I was a child... this is a website about New York City. So, did you know that It's A Small World actually debuted here during the 1964-65 World's Fair? And while Disney is celebrating the 50 year anniversary by trying to sell you stuff, we're celebrating by looking back at some old photos from the ride's debut in Queens.
The fair is said to be where Walt Disney perfected his system of "Audio-Animatronics," and this ride was "a Salute to UNICEF and the World's Children at the Pepsi pavilion [where] animated dolls and animals frolicked in a spirit of international unity accompanying a boat ride around the world." And it's not just the ride that's a native New Yorker, "each of the animated dolls had an identical face, originally designed by New York (Valley Stream) artist Gregory S. Marinello in partnership with Walt Disney himself." By the end of the fair, ten million 60¢ and 95¢ tickets were sold, benefiting UNICEF. Some more on the ride's journey to becoming a reality in Queens can be found here, and a couple more photos here.