Joyce Carlson knows it’s a small world. In fact, she’s a bit of an expert on the Disney theme park attraction; she helped create the original it’s a small world for the New York World’s Fair of 1964, and later refitted it for its permanent home at Disneyland. But that’s not all—she also helped create a new version of the attraction for Walt Disney World in 1971 and Tokyo Disneyland in 1983. So what’s her favorite scene in the attraction?
“Though I’ve always liked the Europe scene with the balloon kids, can-can dancers, and Eiffel Tower, they’re all my kids. I couldn’t choose. You might say I’ve got a big family in it’s a small world.”
Joyce was born in Racine, Wisconsin, on March 16, 1923, and moved with her family to Southern California in 1938. After she graduated from Santa Monica High School, Joyce followed a friend to The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank in 1944. There, she took a job in the traffic department delivering pens, pencils, paints, and brushes to animators.
Six months later, she was hired by the Ink and Paint department—the “nunnery,” as it was called, since mostly women worked there.
Because of her good eye and steady hand, Joyce worked as an inker for the next 16 years on such films as The Three Caballeros, Victory Through Air Power, Cinderella, Peter Pan, and Sleeping Beauty.”
In 1960, inkers were being replaced by the new Xerox electrostatic process, which directly transferred animators’ pencil drawings to cels. Joyce took her talents to Walt Disney Imagineering, then called WED Enterprises. There, she helped build miniature prototypes of attractions for the 1964 World’s Fair pavilions and was among a small group of artists Walt Disney sent to New York to install it’s a small world.
Because of her extensive experience with it’s a small world, she was a natural to later help bring the attraction to Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland. After spending 10 months in Tokyo in 1982, Joyce returned to the States and made Florida her new home. There, the show designer helped maintain many Walt Disney World attractions, and the Audio-Animatronics® characters featured in them, including the Carousel of Progress and, of course, it’s a small world.
After 56 years with the Company, Joyce retired in February 2000. She continued to consult, however, passing along her trade secrets to young artists who help keep the attractions looking fresh and like new. “One thing they’ve learned from me is how to mix colors,” she once explained. “They say, ‘You want me to put in some raw umber?’ – that’s one of my secrets to perking up a color!”
Joyce Carlson passed away on January 2, 2008, in Orlando, Florida.