If you have a TMS number use the format TMS-####

Forgot Your Password Or Login?

Having trouble logging in?
Try clearing your cookie:

Disneyland Article
It Takes A Small Army To Transform Its A Small World For The Holidays

It's A Small World
Orange County Register
Brady Macdonald
November 08, 2018
November 14, 2018
Decrease Font Size
Inside an empty pool known as "The Plunge," Joe Peters and his team of Disney technicians repair scenic props, replace burned-out Christmas lights and paint dinged-up decor in a makeshift workshop as holiday decorations used during It's a Small World Holiday hang from the ceiling above.

"It's that race to the finish line every year," said Peters, the technical director responsible for the Small World Holiday installation at Disneyland. "It's always kind of an adrenaline rush."

It's the busiest time of the year for 35-year Disneyland veteran Peters and his stagecraft team as they install the Small World Holiday overlay on the beloved attraction that's the size of two side-by-side football fields. Peters' 36-person team of scenic designers, riggers, electricians and painters spends 18 days each year in late October and early November installing the holiday overlay inside the attraction. Ten weeks later, the team reverses its actions during an 11-day sprint to return Small World to its classic configuration.

The holiday version of the leisurely meandering boat ride celebrating the children of the world returns Friday for its 22nd season.

The drained Small World boat storage basin becomes a bustling mobile repair shop during this time every year as the venerable Disneyland attraction prepares for its 500,000-light holiday incarnation.

Every backstage nook and cranny is utilized to store the holiday decorations used each year to transform the revered 1964 classic into a glistening yuletide beacon that draws hordes of faithful fans to the Anaheim theme park every Christmas season.

Moving from the backstage area into the attraction, a red arch over the South America section of the ride proclaiming "Feliz Navidad" signals that Small World will soon be making its annual winter wonderland transformation at Disneyland.

It's a Small World was created for the 1964 World's Fair in New York and shipped back to Disneyland after the international expo.

Peters has worked on the Small World Holiday overlay since its first season in 1997. He remembers walking through the attraction before the first holiday overlay and marveling at the original props that still had the Global Van Lines stickers on the back stamped "New York" and "1964."

"We knew right off the bat that we had to not only do our part to enhance it for the holidays, but to also maintain the history of the attraction," said Peters, 56, of Orange, during a telephone interview.

The backstory for It's a Small World takes its inspiration from the rainy day projects familiar to parents and children the world over.

"The idea was that it's raining outside and the kids are kind of stuck in the house," Peters said. "Mom gave them something to do and she dragged out their dolls and stuff. She had pipe cleaners, tissue paper, old paper towel rolls that she saved, glitter and glue and let the kids go at it."

In 1997, Disney designers incorporated that original "rainy day project" concept into the Small World Holiday overlay, Peters said. But it didn't take long for the adults to stray from their child's point of view.

"From the technical end, we were coming up with a whole bunch of special effects at one point," Peters said. "We ended up dumbing all of them down because it didn't lend itself to the story or the look of the attraction."

A who's who of Disney legends worked on the original 1964 attraction. Mary Blair's quirky and whimsical designs provided the artistic guideposts for Marc Davis' playful scenes, Alice Davis' multinational costumes, Rolly Crump's toy props and the Sherman Brothers' earworm song.

The challenge of remaking the classic ride for the holidays is striking a balance between showcasing the work of the Disney legends while overlaying the attraction with the overwhelming wattage of half a million lights, Peters said.

"You want to layer on those legends," Peters said. "You don't want to upstage them."

The Small World Holiday crews still draw inspiration from the Disney legends who built the original attraction. During a tour one Christmas season, Crump took exception with a candy archway that didn't look like it had been made by a kid, Peters said. A new gingerbread arch designed to look like a child's "rainy day" paper mache project takes its place this year.

Of course, the 4,000-pound gingerbread arch is no child's plaything. The 21-foot-wide arch installed using industrial chain winches is one of the new props being added this season to the holiday version of the attraction that is showing its age after more than two decades in service.

"One of the reasons that we're getting some of the new scenery is that this is our 22nd year installing this," Peters said. "Some of the stuff was made to last maybe 10 years if we were lucky. So we've been rebuilding and refurbishing things like that over the years."

Small World is a bustle of activity just before every holiday season, the only time the attraction comes down for an extended rehab each year. Not only are the stagehand crews installing the seasonal overlay, but the facilities department is busy working on long-term refurbishment projects like new fire system installations and mechanical renovations to the spinning turntables that make the dolls move in the attraction.

After the water is drained from the boat flume, Peters' scenic team typically starts in the Hello Room at the beginning of the ride and works its way through the attraction.

"The Finale Room is probably the one that takes the most time," Peters said.

A 14-foot-tall snowman made of glimmering crystal snowflakes dominates the climactic room. Iconic figures representing the international regions visited along the 15-minute boat journey hang from the ceiling beside giant holly leaves and a glowing display proclaiming "Peace on Earth."

On the exterior of the attraction, a 12-person team spends seven weeks during graveyard shifts prepping the Small World façade with 50,000 lights for the holidays and tending to the topiary-dotted grounds. A specialized team of riggers rappels by rope down the Small World façade to install lights that can't be reached by scissor lifts.

"It's a very big undertaking," Peters said. "We kind of have it down."

Which is not to say that the Small World Holiday transformation is always without its challenges.

Every season riggers have to descend 20 feet from the ceiling of the attraction's interior to replace malfunctioning lights during the middle of the holiday run. And at some point each winter the mini-lights on the hedges outside have to be replaced after landscapers accidentally mow over power cords.

But the crew has learned plenty of lessons during the past two decades.

Peters remembers how the the blue lights on one end of the façade didn't match those on the other end the first year because the colored bulbs faded in the baking sun during the weeks-long installation. Now crews install the electrical strings first and then add the lights at the end.

And the crew doesn't have to worry about finding a place to store all those twinkling bulbs. The 500,000 lights used throughout the attraction get removed and recycled after each holiday season rather than put away and reused the following year.

"Everybody always says, "You don't use the same stuff?'" Peters said. "It's like, "Okay, how long did it take you to untangle your six strings for your tree?' Now picture that times half a million lights."

After an exhausting two-and-half-week marathon, Peters' most emotionally-satisfying moment comes at dusk on opening night of Small World Holiday.

"The first time I see that façade lit up for the guests and you see thousands of people just gasping at the same time, it is an incredible high that I get everytime and every year," Peters said. "I never get tired of it. It's one of those things, that's like, "This is why I'm doing what I'm doing.'"

It's a Small World Holiday debuts Friday at Disneyland and runs through Jan. 6.
Attractions Referenced

It's A Small World

It's A Small World Holiday

Top Of Page
Solution  Graphics Western Union Money Gram

MickeyMousePark.com   Contact Us   Privacy   Payment Options   Disclaimer   Email Policy   Site Map   Clear Cookie  

Copyright: (c) 1997-2021 by ThrillMountain Software

MickeyMousePark.com is not associated in any official way with the Walt Disney Company,
its subsidiaries, or its affiliates. The official Disney site is available at disney.com
Troubleshooting Info:

BrowserBrand: IE
LocalHost: NO
BrowserServer: mickeymousepark.com
BrowserAgent:CCBot/2.0 (https://commoncrawl.org/faq/)
BrowserCurrentPage: /disneyland-article.aspx
Login: 0
FilterBy: 0
SortBy: 0