When I was a kid my cousins lived in Anaheim, California, just down the road from Disneyland. Not understanding the essentials of municipal regulations, I thought they lived in Disneyland. Like, Disneyland was the name of a place, same as Cleveland or the Catskills, and they lived there. My cousins. That put me, like, three degrees of separation from Mickey Mouse and thereby, I won. I wasn’t sure what I won, but it felt good to know I had a one-up on everyone else in Kindergarten.
Further adding to the confusion, it seemed like every time our family went to visit them, we would all go to Disneyland. In retrospect, I think they had some sort of local resident discount deal and an amusement park was an efficient way to exhaust four small children, but at the time, I just thought that was how they spent Saturdays. That was their park. My park had a tire swing and monkey bars and a homeless looking man who liked to rub his inner thigh a lot. Their park had a castle and a Matterhorn and a Bear Country Jamboree.
I liked their park better.
On our outings to their park, my Aunt Annie usually served as the lion tamer. To thank her for her kindness in facilitating the journey we demanded she take us to the one ride she hated more than all else: It’s A Small World.
As a ride, it sucks. It’s not even a ride, it’s just a 16 person boat that floats in a moat sort of thing that winds through a soundstage filled with racially homogenized puppets dressed in America’s 1965 concept of native garb. The only part anyone remembers –not that you could forget it, as it’s carved into your ear cavity for all eternity— is the song, “It’s a Small World After All.” Not only does the song play for the ten minute duration of the ride, it plays the hour or so spent waiting in line beforehand. And so while Aunt Annie was stuck be tortured by jingle (and four kids singing along as loud as we possibly could), I was enjoying myself while looking at the murals.
This is not one of the the murals. But it’s similar.
*Tangent. Weird thing – I can describe those murals down to the palm frond, but I can’t find a photo of them anywhere on the internet. Google, wtf? I don’t get it. Were they temporary? Did they move the waiting line to make room for some devil trash Mulan ninja exhibit? (I hate her) (No, I really hate her). Also, I cannot find a photo of the exterior of the ride as I remember it – it was pink and blue with gold trim. Now it appears to be white. Am I making this up? Someone tell me I am not making this up. I swear to Barbra Streisand, it used to be mostly pink. And there were murals. I haven’t been to Disneyland in 20 years, and suddenly I feel some sense of indignant inner rage that they refurbished without asking me.
Anyway. Lucky for me, the artist behind the murals, Mary Blair, was downright prolific and made all sorts of art for me to gawk at and get nostalgic about. Lookahere….
And when Mary Blair wasn’t making stuff for Disney’s theme park, she was working as an art director for Disney’s movies like Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland.
As a kid, I was never all that big on Disney movies, but I always gravitated toward certain threads of illustration. Certain colorwaves. Certain cubist-esque style blocking shapes. I always assumed that was Walt Disney reflecting trends from the midcentury, but what I now realize is that was the midcentury reflecting Mary Blair. Granted, design influence is an odd thing to measure – creative types are all swimming around in the same stimulus soup. Things get muddled. But as an adult with a decent grasp on concepts like form and composition, I know how to recognize a visual groove when I see one, and I am so grooving on Mary Blair right now. I see her influence rippling all over 1960’s – everything from advertising and product design, to my favorite home goods manufacturer, Vera Neumann, to my own graphic design work for clients. Weird.
It’s a small world after all.