Tuesday, August 14, 2012


I have come to the conclusion that the world is basically divided into two camps: those who love Disney theme parks and those who hate them and everything they stand for. Ever since I was seven years old and my mother brought home the 45 rpm record of IT’S A SMALL WORLD, I dreamed of visiting this magical place called Disneyland.

I have yet to make it to Anaheim, but have been to Florida’s Disney World on three occasions. On one trip my brother and I stayed an entire week in a hotel within the park, completely immersing ourselves in the experience.

My first trip, however, was a different story. I had just played a New Year’s concert in Miami and had a few days free, so I decided to head north to Orlando. I recall the thrill I felt when I first saw the gates of the Magic Kingdom, and once inside I was determined to completely immerse myself in the glow of this wondrous place.

I felt a little conspicuous, a single man enjoying the Dumbo ride and the Country Bear Jamboree on my own, but I had been anticipating this visit since I was seven and was not going to miss the chance to fully enjoy the Disney experience. After several hours of glory I emerged from Cinderella’s Castle and heard, faintly in the distance, the siren’s song that had first ignited my burning desire to visit this place.

There it was; the “It’s A Small World” ride. Excitedly I joined the line of riders, noting that I was the oldest one there by a long shot, which I imagine was the reason the ride operator seated me by myself in the front row of the boat once we finally boarded.

For those who have never experienced this ride, let me paint a picture. A large boat with several rows, each seating numerous people, floats through various tableaux of what the 1950’s Disney designers assumed to represent the world’s many cultures. Creepy animatronic dolls, all of them frighteningly identical other than their skin colour, move around clumsily while the well-known Sherman Brothers’ song, “It’s A Small World After All” plays endlessly.

Of course this is magical to the average 7 year old, and I revelled in the memory of the hours I had spent playing that old 45. This ride might be old and outdated, but its very simplicity harkened back to a simpler time.

Then unexpectedly our journey came to a grinding halt. Something was clearly wrong with the mechanism that moved the boat, but I assumed it would soon be corrected. I then became acutely aware that I was the sole adult on the ride, sitting alone in the front row with dozens of small children behind me.

I turned around and found several kids already in tears, no doubt terrified that we would be stuck in this terrifying place forever. I attempted to talk to them but, as most kids today have rightly learned, one never talks to strangers - especially creepy guys sitting all by themselves on a children’s ride. I was beginning to feel like a Disney villain, kidnapping frightened children and spiriting them away to my evil island.

Miraculously the sound system had somehow managed to escape any breakdown, since the song continued to play. Incessantly. Relentlessly. The minutes ticked past. 10, 15, 20...all the while a chorus of hysterical children sobbed along with the mocking lyric, “It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears…”

How had I never realized how insipid this song was? The United Nations and the European Court of Human Rights have both banned the use of loud music in interrogations; the U.S. military even uses the term “music torture.” How had any evil-doer not yet discovered the power of this single recording?

Almost a full half hour into this ordeal, the boat finally jerked back into motion and headed toward the exit doors. As we emerged into the sunlight I dreaded what the mobs of panic-stricken parents were about to see. There I sat, front and centre, the evil Captain Hook with my crew of weeping children, waving feebly as we returned from Neverland.

Shortly thereafter Disney decided to revamp this ride. Perhaps they discovered that not everyone in the world looks the same, or that their song could far more easily be used for evil than good, or maybe they decided to no longer allow solitary adults to take a boatload of kids into a dark building for half an hour.

I’m not sure. All I do know is that, should I ever again visit It’s A Small World, I will be certain to take along two things. Another adult and earplugs.

Goofy and I share a tender moment.