“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” These are the words Dante and his guide Virgil see inscribed over the gate to the underworld. And when we lived in Southern California, I always imagined the line printed over the entrance tunnel to Disney’s iconic It’s a Small World ride. That’s because I’m a Disney curmudgeon. We were stuck once for eleven minutes in the ride and I left at least four years of my life and a decent-sized piece of my soul in that boat. Sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat, having dreamed the tune sung by Gmork from The Neverending Story.
That said, I did once see a heron guard a tourist’s popcorn floating in green/blue Disney “water” until fish arrived, at which point the heron grabbed a fish and flew off — which was pretty cool. So, you know, as Bill Murray says, Gunga galunga — it’s got that going for it.
The app version of the ride ($3.99, multiple platforms) is true to the experience with two very important differences: your child can experience it alone in the privacy of his or her own bedroom with the door closed, and you can make it stop at any point.
And even I, a Disney curmudgeon, have to admit it’s kind of sweet in a Winnie the Pooh or Oswald kind of way. Which is to say the animation is simple and well done and the pacing is slow enough to make the experience lilting and relaxing as opposed to making one feel as if possessed animatronic undead are pulling free from their pedestals to kill you in the individualized and ritualistic ways endemic to their countries.
So despite the cost, the simplicity and the slow pace, I have to admit that I kind of even recommend the app. At least for the 2- to 4-year-old crowd. Simply press the start arrow and hop aboard the hot-air balloon for a story-book-like tour through 15 countries, panning through scenes of Dutch in clogs, Italian children poling through canals (note: Venetian gondolas are rowed not poled, using a long oar set in a complex lock called a “forcola”), and French townspeople wielding pitchforks, whom you have to pacify with champagne. Okay, not the last one. Along the gentle journey that plays more like an e-book than a game, you can click features like ice skaters, ducks and elephants, which respond with — spoiler alert! — things like skating, quacking and smiling. Return at any point to the main screen to pick your favorite land from a spinning globe.
The “learn to say hello in 16 languages” feature seems a bit overreaching — as if it tries to stuff education into an app that wants to be entertainment. But in its way, the app fulfills the mission of introducing kids to other cultures and my just-4yo daughter loves it. My wife loves it, too, but then she also loves the ride.
And at the very least, I hope the app will satisfy my family’s Small World cravings, removing the need to offer myself in the flesh to the ride’s thousands of watchful dolls, waiting for the slightest gap in vigilance to storm the boat.