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Same old song

Even 'It's a Small World' is falling victim to today's over-commercialization.

April 05, 2008

It's a world of Beast, it's a world of Belle; it's a world of Eric and Ariel ...

Or words to that effect, now that Disneyland wants to plant commercial Disney characters among the pert-nosed look-alike dolls of "It’s a Small World.”

Grown-up children who floated countless times through the gentle if syrupy world of this old E-ticket ride have raised a collective howl. Though we appreciate Disneyland's desire to jazz up its aging attractions, we'd like to add our voice to the chorus -- of protest, that is, not "Small World's" mind-numbing refrain.

More commercialism, yes. But unlike the family of the ride's original designer, we wouldn't go so far as to call this desecration. We'd use that term if someday Disneyland traded in the sports cars on Autopia to do a marketing tie-in with Chevron -- no, wait, they did that.

To give Disneyland due credit, the Imagineers surely will design this "Small World" invasion with enough panache to avoid jarring its pint-sized guests. Chances are that the audio-animatronic Alices, Jasmines or whomevers (park spokesmen are coy about revealing the identities of the ride's new celebs) will have their cheeks and bodies rounded to look like the longtime inhabitants. They'll probably be just recognizable enough for children to make a sly game of pointing them out.

It's a world of Lilo, a world of Stitch; it's a world of Buzz and the mean Sea Witch ...

"Small World" has been scoffed at for so long for its lack of edginess that it has developed its own cachet of boring. Call it the retro-chic of the amusement park. Its blandness is the very point. "Small World" was one corner of Disneyland where nothing was sly, nothing was marketed or self-referential, exciting or even mildly frightening. (And really, most of Fantasyland is a pretty scary place to the under-7 crowd.) On a searing summer day of mega-lines, when the ice cream cones and preschoolers were experiencing simultaneous meltdowns, the cool dimness and slow-paced, unrelieved cuteness of "Small World" served as a family escape from frantic fun, where the geography lessons were as follows: In Scotland, cows graze on tartan hills; in France, all girls dance the can-can; pretty much everyone south of the border wears a sombrero. Now, more than ever, it's comforting to know there's a place where children can still enjoy global naivete.

Though perhaps, in a Hannah Montana world, this is too innocent even for the diaper set. Maybe children no longer can be wowed by the simple and unbranded. If that's true, we'll have lost more than a few cherub-cheeked hula dancers, after all.

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