I feel duty bound to overjoy/alarm you with the news that there’s a charming/dreadful event scheduled next month that will be a cause for celebration/despair.
Disneyland’s It’s a Small World, the famous ride that features dolls in ethnic attire singing a kitschy tribute to the elusive concept of world peace, will mark its 50th anniversary. Folks around the planet will join in singing the attraction’s theme song that’s No. 1 in the all-time Earworm Top Forty.
This will cause some to dance in the streets, others to pour beeswax in their ears lest they hear one bar of a song that will remain in their heads for weeks, months, even years.
I am firmly in the latter camp. To me, no matter how heartfelt the lyrics, the song conjures visions of an ice cream truck parked in front of my house for hours on end.
Indeed, I believe that, played on a continuous loop, it could be piped into jail cells and the most hardened criminals would confess just to make it stop. Call it musicboarding.
There are, of course, various opinions on the “small world” question.
“We took our 2-year-old on it yesterday while in Florida. He loved it and it’s one of my only memories of Disney from my first visit when I was 3,” wrote one mother on a Facebook page.
But another had a different experience. “Worst nightmare! Stuck in the broken down “small world” for 45 minutes with two 4-year-olds that had to pee and the song playing over and over and over. That was in 1995 and I still cringe at the thought of it.”
She was not the only one. A man who was forced to listen to “It’s A Small World” over and over again for 30 minutes sued Disney and won.
The disabled man got stuck when the ride broke down. His lawyer said the music continued to play and never stopped playing. Workers were able to evacuate other passengers, but the man’s boat was stuck in a cave. He had to remain in place for about a half hour and then required several hours of medical assistance.
He was awarded $8,000 in his lawsuit.
The annoyingness of “It’s a Small World (After All)” is so well-established that even Disney has acknowledged it with a self-referencing wink, writes Jason Richards in the Atlantic.
In a scene from “The Lion King,” the movie’s villain, Scar, asks Zazu, who he has captured, to “sing something with a little bounce in it.” When his prisoner breaks into “It’s a Small World (After All),” Scar quickly interrupts: “No! No. Anything but that.”
So who’s responsible for this legendary opus?
The It’s a Small World attraction was originally designed for the 1964 World’s Fair. The tentative soundtrack featured the national anthems of the countries represented throughout the ride all playing all at once, which resulted in a cacophonous noise.
Walt Disney showed a scale model of the attraction to his staff songwriters Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman, saying, “I need one song that can be easily translated into many languages and be played as a round.”
The Sherman Brothers then wrote “It’s a Small World (After All)” in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which influenced the song’s message of peace and brotherhood.
It’s the fault of those damn Russians again.
Of course, there is one school of thought that suggests no matter how the Shermans crafted their song, it was doomed. That’s based on an online poll conducted in 1996 that surveyed approximately 500 people about their most and least favorite musical sounds. Children’s choirs were on the “hated” list, along with bagpipes, accordions, banjos, synthesizers, harps and organs.
So is “It’s a Small World” the most annoying song of all time?
Not even close, in my highly unscientific and off-the-top-of-my-head opinion.
Number one would be “I Love You” sung by Barney, a purple and green dinosaur character who appeared on a PBS children’s show for a number of years.
How bad is it? A U.S. undercover operative told Newsweek in 2003 that he was forced to listen to the song for 45 minutes during training. “I never want to go through that again,” he laconically stated.
Then, in no particular order: “McArthur Park” by Richard Harris; “Your Having My Baby” by Paul Anka; “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” by Brian Hyland; “I’m Henry the VIII, I Am” by Herman’s Hermits; “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window” by Patti Page; “Achy Breaky Heart” by Bill Ray Cyrus; “Ebony and Ivory” by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder; “Jingle Bells” by the Barking Dogs; “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” by Tiny Tim; and, of course, any rap song, anything by Pat Boone, anything by Justin Beiber.
Matched against that lineup, maybe Mr. Disney’s creation wasn’t so bad. After all.