The Eschatology of It’s a Small World

Mark Beuving —  November 29, 2012

It's a Small WorldI can’t believe how many times I’ve sat on a plastic gondola as it meandered past an impossible number of singing puppets. And the song those puppets sing! So simple and repetitive—a reality that most kids love and most parents hate.

It’s a Small World is my 3-year old daughter’s favorite ride at Disneyland, so we do it more than once when we’re at the park. I typically avoid listening carefully to the song, but on our last couple of visits I paid attention to what the ride was saying.

Have you ever thought about the message of It’s a Small World?

It’s pure eschatology, which means that it gives a vision for the end of the world. Think about it. You ride through room after room of singing dolls. Each group of dolls represents a distinct culture. The ride takes you on a trip around the world and gives you a taste of the best (or some might say the most kitschy) of each culture. Every doll is happy, every doll is singing the same song. It gives a picture of the world as it might be. A world where everyone gets along.

It's a Small World 2And then you float into the final room. In that room, every culture appears again. But this time they’re all dressed in white. They’re all together in one place, dressed alike, overjoyed, and singing the same song. Apparently, Walt Disney had a vision of the world set to rights, a world where every diverse culture on earth stops their fighting and decides to enjoy the world together.

It’s beautiful, really (maybe not aesthetically, but conceptually). And it mirrors a hope that lies deep within the Christian tradition. This is indeed where history is headed. John’s vision of the end of the world is in essence very Small-Worldy:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9–10)

Note the similarities: a multitude from every nation wearing white robes and singing together. Crazy, right?

But the difference is also important. In Revelation, the multitude is praising God for the salvation he worked through the Lamb (Jesus). But Small World’s doll-host sings a different song:

It’s a world of hopes, it’s a world of fears
It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears
There’s so much that we share, that it’s time we’re aware:
It’s a small world after all

It's a Small World 3These dolls have a solid assessment of the human experience: hopes, fears, laughter, tears—we all share these experiences in common, no matter what culture or age we inhabit.

But what is the “saving” factor that creates the eschatological scene in Small World? (I know, I’m being too technically critical of a children’s ride, but I still think it’s important to view all of life theologically.) Awareness. That’s how we get from the separated cultures to the united multitude dressed in white. “We have a lot in common, so if we would all recognize that then we can all be happy and get along.”

Ultimately, It’s a Small World offers us a cheap hope. It’s a beautiful picture of the world as it should be, but its answer for how we overcome our differences is shallow and naïve.

Don’t worry, I’ll still take my daughters on the ride. And I’ll still smile as I float through Walt Disney’s picture of the world as I know it will end. But I’m also looking forward to the day when my girls are old enough to have a conversation about the eschatology of It’s a Small World.

 

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Mark Beuving

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Mark has worked in youth, college, and worship ministry since 1999, and now serves at Eternity Bible College as the Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies. He is passionate about building up the body of Christ, training future leaders for the Church, and writing. Though he is interested in many areas of theology and philosophy, Mark is most fascinated with practical theology and exploring the many ways in which the Bible can speak to and transform our world. He is the author of "Resonate: Enjoying God's Gift of Music" and the co-author with Francis Chan of "Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples." Mark lives in Simi Valley with his wife and two daughters.