The world as I know it seems to be equally divided among people who love this ride or can't stand it. Certainly, even Cast Members are aware of the ride's supposed potential to drive people bonkers, because I've heard several of them (including a memorable bus driver) threaten to lock people up in this ride and make them listen to the song for 10 hours straight...
[On the other hand, I think if you make anyone listen to any song for 10 hours straight you'd get pretty ugly results including, possibly, some sort of a psychotic breakdown.]
Right. I'm back now.
I happen to be firmly in the camp of those who love this ride, and the song, corny as they both might be. Perhaps it is the innocence I feel is so sadly lacking in the world today. I definitely love the vibrant colors (especially following the mega-refurbishment in 2005) and imaginative design of the dolls. I also love playing the "Name the Represented Country" with my son as we wind through the different parts of the ride.
Small World, "the happiest cruise that ever sailed," was originally built for the NY World's Fair in 1964. It was meant to promote familiarity with different world cultures, and I believe the proceeds from the World's Fair ride went to the UN's Children's Fund. It is a sweet ride, populated with dolls of children in their respective national costumes, and is one of only a few rides left in Disney World that is purely a Walt Disney ride (his vision, untouched). The Disney World ride is a duplicate of the World's Fair ride. The original ride went from the World's Fair to Disneyland, where it was recently destroyed by the shameless addition of Disney characters among the dolls. I can only hope (though I'm not optimistic) that the Disney World ride won't be similarly desecrated. To me, branding It's A Small World is another indication that Disney is a little too mercenary these days.
But I'll keep enjoying the unadulterated version in Disney World for as long as it's there.