Last week, Disneyland re-opened its legendary, 45-year-old "it's a small world" boat ride after a lavish renovation. It looks fantastic: Colors are vibrant, lighting as rich as sugar frosting, and sounds crisp with CD quality. But there's one crucial difference between the new ride and the one you remember from your childhood: It's now stocked with Disney characters from the DVD shelf.
The ride has always been a slow-moving drift through rooms populated by dolls and robots incessantly chanting the same 48-bar tune that's dressed up with orchestrations from various world regions. They're meant to represent many of the world's most prominent cultures through the most genial stereotypes imaginable. My first exposure to many world cultures was through the attraction, which I first rode as an infant. Indeed, it was originally created as an attraction for the 1964 World's Fair--the cheerful, kid-populated world party was meant to be a promotion for UNICEF. Now, though, its philanthropic origins mostly forgotten, this classic has been retrofitted to be a showplace for the most popular characters from Disney's animated canon.