Last week-end we went to Disneyland Paris. I had mixed feelings about it all. I had to admit that I was just as excited as my daughter but for completely other reasons: mine were more to do with confronting my childhood fantasies to the reality of French Disneyfied suburbs and learn from this contrast. However, I was also quite nervous that when looking at this mysterious reality of my childhood with experienced, objective adult eyes, I’d feel real disappointment. I did not want to kill my dreams! Although aesthetically, I know that as a five year old, I found a lot of beauty in the Disney experience, I feared that my cultured adult gaze, might find it all a bit corny and pinkish. This chiefly centred around one particular attraction: It’s a small world.  This ride used to put tears in my eyes. It’s a sort of ode to universality, in which little dolls, dressed in traditional costumes from all over the world, sing together, in harmony: “it’s a small world after all, it’s a small small world!”. I use to love it and it really shaped my primary vision of world citizenship. Moreover, the façade of this attraction epitomized beauty to me. So I was very happy to note that despite the disappointments that this day out at Disney had (partly due to the hysterical lower middle class crowds from all around Europe, looking like MickeyMouse fundamentalists, with the mouse ears and tails, taking selfies everywhere),  It’s a small world still worked for me. So I decided to do a little research to understand why.


Disney designed a first version of it in 1964. He was then missionned by Pepsi Cola to design an attraction for the New York World’s Fair UNICEF pavillion. According to wikipedia, “while other attractions had lines out the doors, there seemed to always be a seat available aboard It’s a Small World. Its high rider-per-hour capacity was recognized as a valuable innovation and was incorporated indirectly and directly into future attractions.”

Mary Blair was responsible for the attraction’s whimsical design and colour styling. Blair had been an art director on several Disney animated features, including Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland, and Peter Pan“.

Mary Blair: it's a small world concept

What Mary Blair brought to Disney’s pictures is all the rigor of the fifties design and the play with contrasts between massive and slim shapes. So let’s dig a little deeper into Mary Blair’s style. It’s really a breathtaking travel into with I find being the best imagination part of the Disney styles. Here are some examples of first concepts.

Mary Blair: PeterPan concept
Mary Blair: Alice in Wonderland concept
Mary Blair: PeterPan concept
Mary Blair: Cinderella concept

The whole Mary Blair experience is now summarized in a children’s book by Amy Guglielmo (Author), Jacqueline Tourville (Author), Brigette Barrager (Illustrator) called Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire. As to why I like it, I think it’s because at least 10 years before everyone else in the design field, Mary Blair assembled all her knowledge of fairy tales and of the 1950s aesthetics to create what can be called the first ever post-modern architecture.

< Previous | Next >