Updated: Jul 12, 2020
Imagine this: Splash Mountain - among Disney’s most iconic and memorable theme park rides - changed entirely. Now, make it a reality.
In a statement released Thursday, a Disney representative announced a redesign of the ride incorporating elements of the 2009 animated film The Princess and the Frog. All previous theming, including imagery of Br’er Rabbit and other animal minstrels, will be removed during this complete overhaul. Why? The answer relates to a film Disney has kept locked away for decades...
Disneyland’s Splash Mountain attraction, located in Critter County. Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland
The musical Song of the South depicts an elderly black plantation laborer named Uncle Remus telling stories of Br’er Rabbit to a young white boy through both live-action and animation. Initially released in 1946, this controversial film was protested by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Strongly disapproving of its glorified depiction of slavery, the NAACP stated “[the film] unfortunately gives the impression of an idyllic master-slave relationship which is a distortion of the facts.”
Song of the South was never made available on home video in the U.S. It was notably missing from the Disney+ streaming platform release as well, although other films depicting racist stereotypes, such as Dumbo and Peter Pan, are available with brief disclaimers.
During this reimagination, all references to Song of the South will be removed from Splash Mountain, including the name. New Adventures with Princess Tiana is the working title of the attraction, upcoming at both Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California.
Princess and the Frog portrays an ambitious black woman named Tiana persuaded to kiss a frog, the transformed Prince Naveen. As the spell backfires, both newly made amphibians are forced to adventure through the bayou in search of a voodoo priestess. The new ride, in pre-production since last year, will continue at the movie’s ending, joining Princess Tiana and her trumpet-playing alligator Louis. This “musical adventure” will feature songs from the film, playing as the characters “prepare for their first-ever Mardi Gras performance.”
Conceptual depiction of New Adventures with Princess Tiana. Walt Disney Imagineering
Despite the original’s clear references to a deeply problematic film, this redesign of Splash Mountain has been immensely debated. In recent weeks, several online petitions have begun to circulate. Close to 21,300 people signed one on Change.org requesting that the ride’s “offensive stereotypical theming” be removed. Meanwhile, near 27,600 people have signed another petition seeking that “iconic classic ride” be kept the same.
Arguments surrounding a theme park ride may seem trivial, especially in the current global context. However, the Walt Disney Company plays a significant role in the experiences of today’s youth. In the aforementioned statement, Disney representatives briefly reference the redesign’s relevance to depictions of race in American pop culture.
“The new concept is inclusive - one that all of our guests can connect with and be inspired by,” Michael Rameriz claims, “and it speaks to the diversity of the millions of people who visit our parks each year.” Carmen Smith states “It’s important that our guests be able to see themselves in the experiences we create.”
Splash Mountain Disney - CNN Business (June 2020)
Disney Splash Mountain Princess Frog - NY Times (June 2020)
Disney Redesign Splash Mountain Themes Racist - NPR (June 2020)
Splash Mountain Disney Petition Princess Frog - USA Today (June 2020)