Some of Walt Disney’s greatest hits were just an idea away from disaster.
In “Behind the Attraction,” a new Disney+ series that takes a look at how iconic attractions got their start, we learn “It’s a Small World” could have been a “cacophony” of noise if all of the figures sang a different song. So? The Sherman Brothers crafted one that could carry through the entire experience and, yes, attach itself to the ears of those who heard it.
Debuting at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, the salute to children was a huge hit and just one of the attractions that made its way west to Disneyland after the fair was over. That event, in fact, became the necessity that inspired Disney employees’ invention. They came up with audio-animatronics (which made someone like Abraham Lincoln come to life), rotating theaters and futuristic transportation. Without the need to work quickly, Disneyland might not have gone through the second phase it enjoyed in the 1960s.
Revealing more secrets than you’d thought possible, “Behind the Attraction” starts with the germ of an idea for a ride, then spills out the possibilities, the changes, the inspirations.
Animators on Disney films became key components – Imagineers as they later became known. Marc Davis, the man behind Cruella De Vil and Maleficent, was great at storytelling and became a solid force behind “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “The Haunted Mansion” and many of those World’s Fair exhibits.
He was, they said, the “ambassador of illusions.”
Through interviews with those Imagineers and their replacements, we get the trial-and-error stories that pull back the curtain on a bit of the magic. Because the Imagineering department is still going strong, we also get to see how a ride vehicle from the past informs one for the future.
Directed by Brian Volk-Weiss, the often irreverent documentary moves as quickly as a roller coaster and excites twice as much. Narrator Paget Brewster drops names few would know but succinctly explains how Disney and his heirs were able to build an amusement park and a film company into a worldwide force.
While “Behind the Attraction” doesn’t detail the misses, it has enough hits to fuel this for years. Because the company’s archives are so deep, there’s plenty to savor – from early sketches to ribbon cuttings at opening day.
The Imagineers get a chance to strut their stuff, too. Folks like Rolly Crump get to chance to dish Disney. “Walt would tap his fingers” if he didn’t like something, Crump says, “and then say, ‘Try it another way.’”
While the 10 episodes work their way around Disney’s international portfolio of theme parks, they barely begin to discuss newer attractions. Rise of the Resistance, for example, gets mention during the “Star Tours” episode but something like “Pandora” is barely grazed.