Editor’s Note: Disney provided this letter written by Marty Sklar Executive Vice President Walt Disney Imagineering and Imagineer Ambassador as a response to the controversy surrounding the addition of Disney characters to Walt Disney’s classic attraction “it’s a small world.” I’ve included it in its entirety with my thoughts in the comments section.
“A MAGIC KINGDOM OF ALL THE WORLD’S CHILDREN”
A local newspaper reporter got it right when she wrote that, after we updated Pirates of the Caribbean last year, “many fans grudgingly acknowledged that… the additions may make the ride more appealing to young park goers.” Now, based purely on rumors that are mostly inaccurate, we are being criticized for touching another one of Walt Disney’s “classics.”
We all agree that “It’s A Small World” is a Disney classic. But the greatest “change agent” who ever walked down Main Street at Disneyland was Walt himself. In fact, the park had not been open 24 hours when Walt began to “plus” Disneyland, and he never stopped. Having started my Disney career at Disneyland one month before the park opened in 1955, I can cite countless examples.
Like all my colleagues at Walt Disney Imagineering, I was pressed into action to help make “It’s A Small World” happen at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. We were all working to complete and open Ford’s “Magic Skyway” and General Electric’s “Carousel of Progress” (I worked on both) as well as “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” for the State of Illinois. But 11 months before the World’s Fair opening, Walt agreed to do “a salute to the children of the world” for UNICEF, and all the Imagineers somehow made it happen.
Mary Blair’s illustrations were, of course, the spark. But this was one of those great Disney “team efforts,” and many Disney legends joined her: Marc Davis; Blaine Gibson; Rolly Crump, Harriet Burns and numerous others. And, of course, Bob and Dick Sherman added that song we can’t get out of our heads. I interfaced with all of them to write and produce a 24-page souvenir book that was sold at the Fair, because Walt wanted to showcase and thank the team for an extraordinary accomplishment.
Now the rumors are swirling that we are “ruining Walt’s creation.” I’ve heard that we are planning to remove the rainforest, add Mickey and Minnie Mouse, create an “Up with America” tribute, to effectively “marginalize” the Mary Blair style and Walt’s classic (all not true).
In fact, just the opposite is true. We want the message of brotherhood and good will among all children around the world to resonate with more people than ever before, especially today’s young people. Our objective is to have everyone who experiences “It’s a Small World” understand (in the words the Shermans’ wrote 44 years ago) that “there is just one moon, and one golden sun, and a smile means friendship to everyone.”
To make “It’s A Small World” even more relevant to our guests, Tony Baxter (who created the concepts for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain and other Disneyland classics) and I arrived at the same place eight years ago. To accomplish our objective, we decided to seamlessly integrate Disney characters into appropriate thematic scenes in the attraction, and do it completely in the distinctive “Mary Blair style.” We spent many long months exploring ways to accomplish this.
We are not turning this classic attraction into a marketing pitch for Disney plush toys (rumors to the contrary). Between Tony, our chief designer Kim Irvine, and me, we represent 128 years creating Disney park entertainment and fun for literally billions of guests around the world. We are not “young marketing whizzes” trying to make a name for ourselves. We were fortunate to have trained, and worked with, all of Walt’s original Imagineers.
In the Shermans’ song, it’s the oceans that are wide, and the mountains that divide. Our goal was, and always will be, to bring people together, and keep this classic “the happiest cruise that ever sailed around the world” (words I personally wrote for that souvenir guide nearly half a century ago).
Or, as Walt Disney phrased it in his introduction to that guide, “a magic kingdom of all the world’s children.”
Martin A. Sklar
Executive Vice President
Walt Disney Imagineering