I’d argue that there’s nothing more iconic to Disney than its music. Music is such a prevalent part of the entire experience watching movies or riding theme park attractions, and Walt Disney himself thought the same thing, too.
And if there’s one song that is synonymous with Walt and his high regard for music, it would probably be it’s a small world.
Since its debut back in 1964 at the New York World’s Fair, the attraction that Walt saw as an offering of peace and unity around the world, can now be found at nearly every Disney Park. While the layouts and scenes differ, one thing remains the same – the theme song.
For 50+ years, the theme music has either made people realize that global call for unity and peace, or made you hate it altogether.
For one such Disney fan and music artist, love for the song has led him to create his own version of the iconic Sherman Brothers theme.
“I really do love it!,” said artist Sleeping at Last, remotely from his studio in the Chicago, IL area.
it’s a small world is our world
Ryan O’Neal isn’t new to having his work featured on Disney-branded properties. You most likely have heard his iconic instrumentals or covers on ABC shows like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Station 19,” “American Idol,” and more. Some of his more popular cover songs include Disney tunes like “The Rainbow Connection” and now, “it’s a small world’.”
As for what inspired him to do a cover on this classic, it came by way of a trip to Walt Disney World a few years ago and jumping on the boat ride with his family. “People know the chorus, but I found myself taking my phone out looking up the lyrics right then and there and realizing how sweet and real the song is,” O’Neal said to me in a phone interview.
He went on to talk about that real-ness as he described that it’s not just an “idealistic” song, but one that’s grounded in our own human reality. “It’s a world of hope, and a world of fears…, he said recounting the lyrics in that first verse. “But there’s so much that we share that it’s time we’re aware… it’s a small world after all; how can you not feel that and not be moved?”
“It’s not often that we take note of the things that unite us, good and bad,” he continued. “But I think this song perfectly captures that as a collective response that our human connections are valuable and needed.”
Much of O’Neal’s music has connected to people on an emotional level, so he acknowledged that it was right up his alley in doing a cover. In his mind, all that was left was how to do it in his own way.
Then, the Coronavirus hit.
“My friend, who also is a big Disney fan, knew that I was going to do the cover, but didn’t know when. When the pandemic hit, he messaged me and said ‘what better time to do it than now!’ I received that nudge well,” he said.
O’Neal also knew that the arrangement of ‘it’s a small world’ had to not only be his sound, but be sensitive to the listening environment it would be going into – the COVID-19 environment. It was then that Ryan’s joyful yet melancholy sound led him to create a version of the song that matched what the Sherman Brothers originally wrote it to be: a prayerful ballad.
He said, “I knew it was written to be played slower at first, but had never heard it as such before. My sound naturally makes things sader anyway, but I also knew that I couldn’t make this overtly sad, too! It’s needed to strike that ‘hopes and fears’ balance.”
it’s a small world is unity in song
To represent the unity aspect in the song, O’Neal got creative and invited his fans to submit a voice recording of themselves singing a note that would then be a part of the final recording.
“I felt strange singing a song from a global perspective when I’m in one particular place, so I thought it might be fun to include as many voices as I can to just have them drone through the song,” O’Neal said. “It ended up being a logistical challenge, but was so worth it in the end.”
Over 1,000 voices are included in the final track, which he also credited in an Instagram post. And just like the attraction the song plays through, the voices span around the globe including the USA, Canada, The Philippines, Germany, Brazil, United Kingdom, Mexico, and more.
Since the track’s debut about four weeks ago on April 10, 2020, it has become another popular cover song for Sleeping at Last, but different at the same time. He likened this particular musical offering to be part of “a calling.” He continued, “I believe it’s all our current collective duties to create hopeful things during this difficult time.”
So as the Coronavirus pandemic continues, O’Neal has vowed to create more hopeful music, especially in the form of more Disney covers.
“I think much of what Disney offers the world is this eternal pointing of goodness, and the hope for brighter days ahead…so yes, expect a full album of Disney covers sometime soon!”
Our special thanks to Ryan O’Neal / Sleeping at Last for contributing to this story! You can listen to his cover of “it’s a small world’ by clicking HERE.