Disney’s Splash Mountain Will Get a Princess and the Frog Redesign. Good!
Splash Mountain is finally getting a makeover to remove its racist roots. After thousands of people signed petitions, many fans and media outlets, including this very website, called on Disneyland to re-theme the log flume ride. Now the has company announced that it would indeed be redesigning the ride to celebrate characters from The Princess and the Frog.
It turns out that Disney imagineers say they have been working on the redesign of Splash Mountain (both in Disneyland and in the Magic Kingdom park of Disney World) since last year, and that makes a lot of sense considering the ride has always been problematic. Splash Mountain is based on the 1946 film Song of the South, a movie that is no longer available to the public because it’s highly racist. The movie, a combination of animated vignettes and live-action sections, perpetuated many harmful narratives and stereotypes, including that of the storytelling character Uncle Remus, a “happy” ex-slave on a “glorified and idyllic” plantation.
When Splash Mountain was opened in 1989, the ride already was trying to distance itself from Song of the South, but the controversies concerning the popularized versions of the stories about B’rer Rabbit, B’rer Fox and B’rer Bear could never be entirely erased. The stories first found mainstream popularity after being published in books by Joel Chandler Harris in 1881. There are questions about the authenticity of Harris’ versions of Black American folktales as well as controversy over his use of an invented dialect, and he has since been accused of appropriation. Song of the South itself has been described as “one of Hollywood’s most resiliently offensive racist texts.” This is why for years, people have called for Disney to re-theme the ride. And now they have.
The new Splash Mountain will no longer celebrate a racist movie, but will instead focus on the first Black Disney Princess, Tiana, along with her other friends in New Orleans from The Princess and the Frog. Here’s what guests will experience in the new Splash Mountain: “We pick up this story after the final kiss, and join Princess Tiana and Louis on a musical adventure – featuring some of the powerful music from the film – as they prepare for their first-ever Mardi Gras performance.” This will work extra well in Disneyland where Splash mountain is located next to New Orleans square.
The timing of this announcement is pretty good, considering, well, everything going on right now. We can’t say whether or not this is something that Disney would have announced were the country not going through a massive reexamination of systemic racism, but it certainly feels related. While Disney re-themes and redesigns rides all the time, this makeover was long overdue.
In the announcement, Disney also made sure to celebrate Tiana and emphasize how fitting it is to retheme this ride.
Tiana is a modern, courageous, and empowered woman, who pursues her dreams and never loses sight of what’s really important. It’s a great story with a strong lead character, set against the backdrop of New Orleans and the Louisiana bayou. In 1966, Walt himself opened New Orleans Square when it became the first new “land” added to Disneyland park, so it feels natural to link the story and the incredible music of “The Princess and the Frog” to our parks.
Tellingly, however, the Disney announcement makes no mention of why Splash Mountain in particular really needed to be “plussed.”
The approach to retheming or “plussing” attractions (as Walt Disney referred to it) begins with Imagineers asking the question, how can we build upon or elevate the experience and tell a fresh, relevant story? It’s a continuous process that Imagineers are deeply passionate about. And with this longstanding history of updating attractions and adding new magic, the retheming of Splash Mountain is of particular importance today. The new concept is inclusive – one that all of our guests can connect with and be inspired by, and it speaks to the diversity of the millions of people who visit our parks each year.
That’s a lot of nice words to say “we finally admitted to ourselves that the theme was racist and we’re trying to fix it.” What we know is that this is a good decision and one that should have happened a long time ago.
I’m excited to see what Splash Mountain will become. And while we wait, here’s a good new trick for identifying racists in your life: if you see people complaining about Disney messing with their childhoods or destroying the past in regards to Splash Mountain, ask them why they haven’t had this reaction to the dozens of other rides Disney has changed or updated over the years. If someone is mad about this but not about “California Screamin'” becoming the “Incredi-Coaster,” they might need to reexamine their priorities.
(via: CNN Business, image: Disney)
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