As the Halloween season was winding down, Disneyland’s famous canal boat ride, “It’s a Small World,” closes and goes through a transformation.
Inside the ride, a crew of 24 people is busy at work turning it into a holiday version complete with scenic Christmas trees, festive decorations and lights, lots of lights. On the outside another 11-person crew is working at night, when the park is closed, adding lights to the facade. All in all, nearly one million lights are used in this annual tradition, now in its 20th year.
Steven Davison, a Disney Imagineer, helped to develop the concept. “We were looking at the holidays at Disneyland, and it felt very buttoned up. A lot of us felt like, ‘What if we made it more like home for the holidays?’ One of the ideas was to add a holiday overlay to one of the attractions,” he said.
Disney had done holiday shows on existing attractions before. In the mid-1980s, it had a Christmas version for its Country Bear Jamboree. But nothing on this scale. Davison developed storyboards for the idea and started pitching it around. He also presented the idea, including models at that point, to Robert and Richard Sherman, the songwriters responsible for the ride’s famous song.
“They told us how they had talked to Walt (Disney) about an idea like this years ago. To them it was another dream come true.”
Soon, it was presented it to Disney management, and got the green light.
“It was terrifying at the time. The internet was just starting and people online were questioning what we were doing to this classic attraction,” Davison said.
Undaunted, Davison moved forward, enlisting the aid of Joseph Peters, a technical director in the Entertainment Division at the Disneyland Resort.
“It took us nearly two months the first year,” Peters said.
Peters’ crew had to add some temporary electrical power to support the lights, and beef up the scenery to hold the extra decorations – scenery that dated to the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
“We could see the old Global Van Lines shipping labels on the back of the scenery from when it was shipped from New York to California,” he said.
After the holiday version was a big success Peters realized it would be coming back again and again. The crew went through the ride and photographed everything, putting the photos and other information in a notebook that would serve as a guide year after year.
Over the years they’ve reworked the electrical system, and replaced much of the original 1964 scenery. But there have only been a few changes since the overlay was installed 20 years ago; a snowman replaced a tree in the finale scene, and a wrought iron arch replaced a piñata arch in the Mexico scene. When a North American scene was added a few years ago, they made holiday scenery for that too.
Now the 20 years is causing another problem, the lights they use are embedded in some of the props, and when the bulbs burn out, they have to be replaced - hence the problem. The company that made the bulbs stopped making them.
“I am buying them online from a lady who bought out all their stock just so we have enough replacement bulbs until we can replace them with new LED lights,” Peters said.
The crew working on the outside facade had seven weeks to complete their task. The inside crew now gets the transformation done in 17 days, down from the two months it originally took. After the holiday season is over, they will take it all down, store it in locations throughout the building, and turn it back into the classic attraction.
On November 18, the Southern California Children’s Choir took to a stage in front of the ride and sang some holiday songs and as they reached their big finish, the facade lights were lit up, and “the happiest voyage around the world” opened to visitors for its 20th season.
Peters says that visitors riding might be able to spot a few special decorations added just for this year, “we’ve put the number 20 in a few hidden locations throughout the ride in honor of the anniversary.”
Source: OC Register
Banner Photo Credit: Justin Brown