It’s a Small World (Walt Disney World, 1998)

By Michelle Railey

Walt Disney World, Florida; It’s a Small World
It’s a Small World, 1998; Walt Disney World, FL

The photo above is from the It’s a Small World attraction in Walt Disney World from 1998. I really don’t know why I still have it versus, say, any of my photos from Animal Kingdom or anywhere else at that time.

But here’s the thing:

The wonderful Maelstrom flume ride at the Norway pavilion in Epcot? It’s gone now. It’s been replaced by a Frozen-themed ride.

The also-wonderful Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride attraction in the Magic Kingdom at WDW has also been replaced.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea? Gone. El Rio del Tiempo from the Mexico pavilion? Deep-sixed. Tower of Terror? Obliterated.

Walt Disney World is still, thankfully, hanging on to the It’s a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Haunted Mansion attractions. Though both have been prone to (victims of) changes.

So for whatever reason, here it is: my sentimental snapshot of a cardboard and glitter heart from 1998 that just happened to have been taken from a silly little raft floating through the remnants of a 1960s World’s Fair exhibition that still exists in the humid center portion of Florida.

It’s a Small World.

Walt Disney World can keep updating the Carousel of Progress; they can fill their shops with the latest movie merchandise; they can keep raising ticket prices to their parks— in fairness, they probably will.

Still, for some of us born at a certain time, WDW will always be a world where eventually you will ride a pirate ride that does not include Johnny Depp or a reasonable audio animatronic facsimile thereof; it will forever permit you to drive an old-timey Model-T just like Mr. Toad; it will let you travel via bad filmography and silly effects through Mexico’s history; it will always let you visit old and new Norway via log flume (no movie characters necessary.)

And, for when the day comes, and I can’t help but think it will, it’s worth noting that, once upon a time, It’s a Small World was a water ride based on ideas of global peace and humanity; that it celebrated every nationality so long as that nationality could be illustrated by any and all of the following — glitter, cardboard, puppets.

Some day, Walt Disney World will decide It’s a Small World has had its day. It will demolish it and replace it with the latest Disney/Pixar/ESPN/ABC/Star Wars hit.

And some of us will remember what it was to look at the simple power of puppets dressed in simplified nationalistic costumes; we’ll remember what it was to float in a little boat on heavily-chlorinated water in the dark and look at cardboard, Christmas lights, and glitter hearts. We’ll remember what it was to weather the Maelstrom in Norway, to sail the Rio del Tiempo, to drive with Mr. Toad.

We’ll be glad, maybe, that we have this one photo, even.

Time and Walt Disney World wait for no man. Or woman or child.

For a park that specializes in the past and the shorthand: in Main Streets, in movie fantasies, in glorified ideas of the past, the never-existent, and the partially-imagined, it’s strange that they let attractions go in order to replace them with attractions which also will date, and age, and Havisham-like, need to be replaced.

if you think about Walt Disney World and Orlando, it’s sort of crazy it exists at all. But then again, I’m (mostly) glad it does. (Though, seriously, ticket prices…are you kidding me????) But man, oh man, I hate when they toss my childhood away (Maelstrom and Mr. Toad, I’m looking at you). So, lest Small World gets replaced with the latest animated success…

Here. Look at a glitter heart dating to the 1960s. It’s been a long time now; there’s been a lot of visitors, a lot of water, a lot of crazy repeats of “It’s a Small World After All.” But if it ever goes away, here’s one stupid photograph of the weird happiness that was.


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