Disney Imagineer Joyce Carlson Dies, Leaves Smaller World

In 56 years with The Disney Company, Joyce Carlson worked on classic animated films like Peter Pan, and helped design "It's a Small World" for the theme parks.
According to JIM HILL at JimHillMedia.com, "the world got a little smaller" on January 2, when 84-year-old artist and model-maker Joyce Carlson lost a long battle with cancer at her home in Orlando, Florida.

Carlson was one of the first women to work at Walter Elias Disney (WED) Enterprises, and, over a 56-year career with The Disney Company, she worked on some of its best-known animated features and, most importantly, was involved in the design and construction of all six versions of the theme park attraction "It's a Small World."

Joyce Carlson was born in Racine, Wisconsin, on March 16, 1923, and moved with her family to Southern California in 1938. After graduating from Santa Monica High School in 1944, she followed a friend to Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, where she took a job as an office assistant delivering pens, pencils, paints and brushes to animators.

Because of her good eye and steady hand, she was hired six months later by the Ink and Paint department (often called "The Nunnery" due to the primarily-female staff), where she worked as an inker for the next 16 years on such films as The Three Caballeros, Cinderella, Peter Pan and Sleeping Beauty.

In 1960, Carlson moved to Walt Disney Imagineering and helped build miniature prototypes of attractions for the 1964 World's Fair pavilions. She was part of the small contingent sent to New York to install "It's a Small World," for which she'd designed both the model and many of the ride's multi-cultural singing dolls. She later refitted the attraction for its permanent home at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. She also was instrumental in bringing the ride to the theme parks in Orlando, Paris and Tokyo.

After spending 10 months at Tokyo Disneyland in 1982, Carlson made Orlando her new home. At Walt Disney World, she helped maintain many of the attractions (and their Audio-Animatronics characters), and she trained dozens of talented imagineers over the years to do the same.

Carlson officially retired from the Walt Disney Company in February 2000, and was declared a "Disney Legend" the same year. Being a naturally humble person, however, she preferred to talk about the other creative people with whom she'd worked at the company, such as "Pirates of the Caribbean" designer Marc Davis.

She was honored with a second-floor shop window on Main Street at Disney World's Magic Kingdom (right). The sign still reads, "Dolls by Miss Joyce, Dollmaker for the World."

Even though retired, Carlson still consulted on the (soon-to-open) Hong Kong Disneyland version of "It's a Small World."

"Which is why," wrote Jim Hill, "there won't be a single version of this attraction on the planet that doesn't feature Joyce's exacting eye for detail, her keen sense of color."

After such a close association with "Small World," what was Carlson's personal 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," she once said. "I couldn't choose. You might say I've got a big family in 'It's a Small World.'"

Joyce Carlson has a big family in the larger world, too.

[Additional info provided by The Associated Press.]
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