I’ve been to Disney World when it was just Disney World. I’ve been to the Disney World resort in Florida three times since then, with and without kids.
But I had never been to Disneyland until last month, when I was out in Anaheim, California at a writer’s conference. And, yes, there were the usual geeky things to see there — especially the Indiana Jones ride — but the place I most wanted to visit was the “It’s a Small World” ride. For two reasons: One, it always seems to be closed every time I’m in Florida. And, second and most importantly, it’s the ultimate Disney place of Disney places. It’s Walt Disney’s ideas taken to the extreme, not always in a great way, and I had to see it for myself.
Also piquing my interest was the knowledge that the Sherman Brothers, the men responsible for so many of the classic Disney songs, wrote the “It’s a Small World” song specifically for Walt Disney. The Sherman Brothers are an amazing story. If Walt Disney was the face and design of Disney, the Shermans were the voice Richard and Robert Sherman were sons of a songwriter but didn’t start collaborating as adults for some time. Their life story would be very Disney-like except for one sad fact. At some point, they had a falling out over a personal matter, and never talked to each other again except when they were working.
They become completely emotionally estranged from each other. It’s hard to think of the writers responsible for the songs in Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book as not being close all their lives but their falling out also estranged their families. All this is detailed in a terrific documentary made by their sons, The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story. The cousins hoped making the documentary would bring their fathers together, but it appears that didn’t happen before Robert Sherman’s death earlier this year.
So what did I think of the ride that Disney designed and the Sherman brothers put to music?
Completely over-the-top. I didn’t know whether to be amazed or appalled. There is the repetition of that song in so many languages throughout the ride. There are the designs of the various children of each country, many of which are now politically incorrect and some veer toward worse than that, and there is that gorgeous white and gold castle facade, all of which add up to overwhelming and not really in a good way.
Except, like most things Disney, it really has to be seen to be believed.