Coaster Kingdom

It's a Small World (Disneyland Paris)

The following review will go into explicit detail regarding the attraction and the surprises it may conceal. If you choose to read on, be warned that it may detract from your first ride on the attraction.

Although hated in certain rings, if only because of the infectiously catchy theme tune that goes with it (…it’s a small world after all…), love it or hate it, It’s a Small World is one of Disney’s trademark attractions that no Disney park seems able to open without.

Each one at each park is slightly different from the point of view of approaching it, but the  concept remains that it is a gentle boat journey through the countries of the world, with dancing and singing native dolls resident at each turn.

The one at Disneyland Paris is perhaps the most impressive yet. The park had it good from the start, being a new park, more technology, more thought, and more style is evident from the main gate.

And so the trend continues, every ride uses better animatronics, is more aesthetically pleasing, and from the outside, more impressive. This goes for most of the rides, despite many being virtual clones, and It’s a Small World, to look at, is one of the best yet.

The Fantasy Land skyline is dominated by the cardboard cut out style, candy coloured wonders of the world that front the building that your journey will take place in. It looks great, and upon inspection you can see the windmills of Holland and pyramids of Egypt.

In the middle, a clock tower, and upon every fifteen minutes bursts into life with a small carnival of figures parading around the front. The park’s Disneyland Railroad is also cleverly built into the front, weaving in and out of the landmarks fronting the building.

The main photo point here is the globe, topped by a comical boat, captained by various dolls with water bubbling out from under and flowing down over the globe. It’s a nice water feature, and with the building behind, provides a good photo opportunity should you be that way inclined.

The queue is off to the right hand side, and takes you over some neatly manicured lawns, and along the front of the building. Here the boats disappear into the building, the sides of the small pool that the boats pass through surrounded in flowers and perfect topiary animals and characters.

Two boats at a time are unloaded, and two boats at the same time are loaded. The boats are just like any other dark boat ride, consisting of four or so benches in a row, each brightly coloured.

Upon leaving the station, you turn to the left, covered by a glass roof, past the queue line, and into the building. You go through a corridor, on each side, signs welcoming you in various languages. You then enter the main room of the ride.

It is truly overwhelming. The ride takes place inside what is essentially one huge room. It is the clever use of the set pieces that means through every turn you make, the next scene is hidden.

Each country has a host of native dolls dancing, parading and singing along to the world famous theme. Each scene takes place on set pieces of brightly coloured wonders, buildings or landmarks that each country is famed for.

You pass under the famous London landmark, Tower Bridge, soon after, to your left, Paris’ Eiffel Tower and Can-Can dancing dolls strut their things on a bridge that you go through.

It is after this that the ride continues. You go through Egypt with its pyramids, India and the Taj Mahal, Holland and its windmills behind fields of tulips. Each country is larger than life, each hosting legions of dancing dolls, all themed to their respective country.

Although the ride does nothing but stereotype each country with dolls donning clogs in Holland, lederhosen respectively in Germany, there are always the politically correct token black dolls interspersed with Disney’s perception of the world.

The scenes continue. All are large, colourful and undeniably spectacular. With each country, music styles change, despite it being the same, infamous ‘It’s a Small World’ theme. In Scotland, for example, bagpipes drone the tune, whilst in India sitars play the theme.

With the building being so gargantuan, the ceiling is high above you, and often from it hang more parts of the scenery, plus coloured spotlights bring the scenes to life. As you pass through the American section, with a Wild West style scene, you pass under a final archway into the ride’s finale.

The theme here is of a world brought together. Dolls from all around the world converge, donning their best attire of pure white suits and bow ties, and in a magical fairground with more glitter than Las Vegas, carousels, big wheels and other rides, the dolls ride, sing and lay on the feel-good factor to sickening extremes.

After this climatic ending, a muted Small World theme plays as you cruise through a tunnel similar to the one you entered through, this time each flag or banners salutation is wishing you well.

From here you leave the boat, and pass through a magical room full of buildings. Through the windows, more treats for the children and parents alike before you are cast back into the candy-coloured normality of the park.

It’s a Small World is a ride people love to hate. Often, on the inside though, people do love it, if not the theme-tune. The French version is much more opulent than the American versions taking part in a huge cavernous hall, yet, with the clever use of backdrops and set pieces, it still retains the charm synonymous with all other incarnations elsewhere.

The animatronics are rather endearing, each with a rather bleak repertoire of turning, leaning, dancing or the ability to repeat some other basic movement over, and over, and over… The sets are beautiful too, each a work of art and perfectly complementing the last. Lighting is used to the riders’ advantage too, and clever contraptions like the kites that continually circle, rising and falling as they do are ingenious.

The ride is so Disney it can make you green about the gills. It shows what a blinkered view Disney wants you to think they have. We may leave the ride thinking that Disney does actually believe that the world does from time to time unite in love. Whilst in some vague cases it may, it is a ride that perhaps was very meaningful a few decades ago, but now is so thin and dogmatic that you can only come off and think ‘ahh, how cute’.

This is by no means a bad thing, and in-fact probably adds to the innocence of the whole ride, it is just a happy-happy, joy-joy smoke screen on the face of one of the most cajoling and inveigling companies ever to grace this galaxy, which again, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is just Disney – as is the ride.

4/5 Marcus Sheen