Introduction to the Event:
This weekend I took the opportunity to attend the “It’s A Small World” 50th anniversary celebration that was sponsored by my local Disney Store. I had heard about the event from my wife. She had read something about it on the Disney Store website. I went online to see what I could find out, and I read that the event started at 11am on Saturday the 12th, and that “Kids, ages 3 and up, are invited to take a journey on an imaginary boat ride around the globe at their local Disney Store.” I really was not able to find out much more than that. I knew that the event was free, I knew that it would be intended for children, but I really didn’t know what was going to happen. I intentionally kept my expectations low going into the event on Saturday, but I wanted to go check it out, especially since I have a 5 year old who has been on the ride several times on both coasts.
My “Local” Disney store is the one that is located at the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN. I say “Local” because it’s still 45 minutes away, but it is the closest one to me. As you may or may not know, the Mall of America it is one of the largest malls in North America. It attracts tourists from all over the region, and internationally. I was concerned that the place would be busy in general, as it usually is on a weekend, let alone for a special event celebrating this anniversary. I know that store, and I know that it is not very big, so I was expecting that the event may have been held outside the store in the corridor in front of the store, or in one of the rotundas located around the mall.
A brief explanation of why there is an event:
I am sure that most of you who are reading this article are aware that the 50th Anniversary of “It’s a Small World” occurs this week (April 2014). The attraction was developed for UNICEF and was sponsored by Pepsi for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. That specific event plays an important part in Disney history for many different reasons. There are entire articles and all kinds of literature dedicated to detailing the influence and contribution the Disney Company had on that Fair, and the benefits that Disney received from its participation.
Briefly and generally, the development of exhibits for the World’s Fair allowed Disney to test and refine ideas that he had for future attractions in his parks without having to fund the research for them himself. He was able to convince sponsors to pay for the development of the attractions, then would take them and use the knowledge gained and apply it to attractions in his park, not to mention in some cases taking the attraction, moving it back to California, and dropping it directly in the park. The most significant of those were Small World (Pepsi); Carousel of Progress (GE); Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln (State of IL); and Magic Skyway (Ford) to name a few. Disney had several other contributions as well. Each of those attractions have their own significant history; however I am very disappointed that the Carousel of Progress specifically, but the other attractions as well, are not really getting any attention, at least nowhere near the kind of attention that IASW is getting, but that’s a different article. (Also, in case you are not sure, the part of “Magic Skyway” that you may know today would be the Primeval World diorama on the Disneyland Railroad right before you return to the Main Street USA Station.)
A word about the Disney Store:
The first Disney Store was opened in Glendale, CA in 1987. Disney stores have obviously grown in numbers over the years, but they have also changed ownership as well. This is why, if you have had a store near you for like the last 20 years or so, you may have seen lots of changes within each store as far as merchandise, environment, prices, and theming. Most recently, the North America stores were sold back to Disney, and are being run under the Disney Consumer Products division of the company. Shortly after they buy back, in 2009, Disney announced that they would be re-launching and re-branding their stores, and that “new” kind of store is the store that you can see at the Mall of America today.
These changes can be seen immediately as you enter the store with the ever-changing trees and leaves. Also, there are digital projections on the walls that surprise and delight guests and also seem to be always changing and updating.
There is a small castle area with magic mirrors that interact with guests (Children) and are able to read tags from merchandise when they are held up to the mirror. The interaction with the child is based directly on the characters that the merchandise relates to. The interactions range from storytelling, to simple statements, and representations of the child wearing the costume that was scanned.
At the Mall of America store, there is a full size gazebo in the middle of the store containing a kid sized table and chairs and a large projection screen to show videos chosen by kids using the touch screens on the wall next to it. It is also able to be controlled by a smart phone used by the staff to allow the store to do special events, or announcements on the screen.
They will generally host special events during the day including things like mock parades for the kids, and trivia contests. The events are generally focused at kids from 3-10ish. There are different colors and shades of light that will change throughout the store, and especially in the Gazebo. In addition, there is an opening ceremony every morning where one guest gets to use the giant key displayed behind the register to open the store with fanfare and celebration each morning.
The Special Event on Saturday the 12th, 2014.
Ok, back to IASW anniversary celebration. In general, I was very glad that I went. I felt that it allowed me, and my family, to feel some connection to the activities that had been going on all week that last week as part of the anniversary celebration. Also, keep in mind that the event was free, we had other reasons to be at the mall anyway. There always generally seems to be some reason to go to that mall specifically because of the options and opportunities they offer aside from the Disney store.
Realistically, we were one of maybe two or three families that were there intentionally for the event. There were about six or seven kids there total, and some of them were coming and going as the event went on. Most of the people seemed to be standing around because there was a presentation going on, or while waiting for someone who was shopping, and had no idea what was happening, as opposed to being there intentionally for the event. I did make casual conversation with three different people from three different families as we waited. Two of the three had no idea that there was anything special being planned. One of them did hear about it on the radio, and did decide to come check it out. I was quite surprised at the turnout. I did not expect giant numbers of people, but I thought that there would be more than 7 kids there for this event. Needless to say, we were not in one of the giant rotundas of the mall. We were in the gazebo, in the Disney store, all watching the big screen they have.
So I had no idea what exactly was going to happen, but the screen indicated that the event was starting soon, so I knew that I was in the right place. The time finally came, and Charles came out. He clearly worked at the store, as he was in his store uniform. Charles did an excellent job of attempting to keep the children engaged while going through the script he had obviously been given, and dealing with some technical difficulties with his smart phone controller.
The event started with Charles asking who had been on the attraction before, and where, and then gave a very brief history about the attraction combined with photos and video on the screen. They did show some neat old photos from the opening in New York, but nothing that was groundbreaking, and most of the photos and footage I have seen before elsewhere.
We proceeded to take our “Imaginary Boat Ride” by looking at the screen while it was showing a clip from the IASW ride featuring a specific country, then learning to say “Hello” in the language of that country.
Charles would say it first, then he would have the group repeat it back. They did about 9 different countries including Japan, Mexico, China, India and Russia. Charles would talk a little about each country, he would also seemed to throw in a little fact about each country as well, like a major monument, (like Egypt is where the Pyramids are, or try to teach us how to say “hat” in Russian). We got through them all, and came to the last screen.
The last screen is where we were going to do our actual sing along. Paper flags were handed out to the kids, and any of the adults that wanted to participate. I noticed that they had about 30 flags, but only ended up needing less than 10. They also had little sticker sheets that they gave to the kids.
Charles attempted to lead the small group of onlookers in a rendition of the song we all know, “It’s a Small World”. Most of the group begrudgingly participated. The lyrics were on the screen, but that did not help most of the kids as they were too young to actually read the words. However, a few of them knew the words already. Because of the size of the group in attendance, the result was a shy, Minnesota subdued, version of the theme song.
Charles thanked us for coming, and the event was over. In total, I would say that even with the wait that we had for the technical difficulties during the presentation, and the unexpected viewing of the trailer for Winter Soldier in the middle of the presentation (part of the technical difficulties) the whole official event took less than 15 minutes.
I spoke directly to Charles after the event. He was an extremely nice, personable cast member, who was kind enough to put up with my questions. I did inform him that I wrote a blog, so I hoped that explained why I was asking specific questions about the event. Charles had worked for the Disney store for over 17 years. I asked how he felt the event went. He stated that he thought it went very well, except for the technical problems. I told him that I thought he did an excellent job, and that the only issues seemed to be out of his control. I focused many of my questions specifically on the attendance at the event. I honestly thought that there would be 2 or 3 times as many people there. He thought that the attendance was pretty good. He informed me that the most highly attended event that the store does is the “Halloween Dress Rehearsal Party” where the kids get to come in their costumes before Halloween and enjoy games, prizes and a costume parade.
In general, I felt that it was nice that the Disney Store was doing something that was related to the parks. However, I don’t know how much of the idea was really about the attraction, and how much of the idea was about selling the new lines of merchandise related to the attractions.
I really did not have any high expectations for the event itself, but I did feel that there would have been a little bit more to it than what it was. I guess I was hoping for some little things, like if the kids could have paraded around the store or something. Mostly, I would say that at the time I was confused by the turnout. I really thought that there would be more people there intentionally for the event. I hesitate to use the word disappointed because I don’t want to come off too strong. Now that I have had time to process things, I realize that there really was not that much promotion for the event itself, obviously resulting in low attendance numbers. I am very “tied in” to Disney park things, and Disney in general, but if my wife would not have said anything I would not have known about it at all, so how would the casual Disney person know about it if they did not stumble across it.
I think that the lack of promotion ties directly into the overall nature of the event. I am assuming that it was intentional. I guess that the stores, or more likely the Disney Consumer Products Division, did not want to do some big thing at each location with a lot of people. Then, keeping in mind that they planned a small event for each store, they put the appropriate amount of resources behind the promotion of each respective event. There are over 200 stores in the United States alone, so I guess that expecting anything much larger to occur at each individual store would be asking a lot, especially because it’s the Consumer Product division that would eat the cost of putting on the event and promoting it, and probably getting little or nothing in return.
In summary, knowing what I know now, I still would have gone, but it’s because we are a “Disney” family. If I would have traveled more than an hour, just for the event, I probably would have been more disappointed. I did learn that I need to take the Kid to the Halloween event though. Charles made that one sound like it was significantly better. Also, PLEASE don’t forget Carousel of Progress! It’s 50 too now, along with the other attractions from the World’s Fair, but to me the COP really does not get the love it deserves. That is a very significant attraction, and if you are going to Disney World, I suggest you ride it. Every time I go, I make sure to ride it thinking that it will be the last time I get to experience it, but I have been saying that for 15 or more years now, so you never really know.
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