In a move that was a long time coming, Disney has announced plans to renovate its popular log flume attraction Splash Mountain. The ride, which opened in California’s Disneyland in 1989 and then in 1992 in both Florida’s Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland, was based on Disney’s live-action/animated feature 1946 Song of the South. Disney announced plans to reimagine the ride in its California and Florida parks, featuring a new theme based on the company’s 2009 animated film The Princess and the Frog.
This is Disney’s attempt to amputate the ride’s racist past. Song of the South has long been the shame of the Disney vault, having never been released on video in its entirety in the United States. It, accordingly, is not available for streaming on Disney+. Since before its release, the film was controversial, with many critics decrying its use of African-American Vernacular English, its perpetuation of Black stereotypes via the Uncle Remus character, and an animated segment titled “Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby.” The company reportedly was well aware that it had a potential disaster on its hands during its making. According to Neal Gabler’s 2006 book Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, as the script was getting underway, Disney publicist Vern Caldwell wrote to producer Perce Pearce, “The negro situation is a dangerous one. Between the negro haters and the negro lovers there are many chances to run afoul of situations that could run the gamut all the way from the nasty to the controversial.’”
But Disney made it anyway and then swept it under the rug, and then—and this is the weirdest part—decades later, created a major, heavily publicized attraction based on this mar to its legacy. In fact, the repressed Song of the South has primarily lived on via Splash Mountain and the Disney songbook canonization of its most famous song, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” Disney effectively told audiences, “Do not look at this movie... ride it and hum along!” Via its storyline, the flume (which had elements of a dark ride, with animatronic presentations between drops) was able to whitewash Song of the South and cherry-pick elements that didn’t let on its source material’s racism, but it still seemed to me a bizarre way of treating a movie that Disney seemed otherwise eager for people to forget.
There was a much-publicized grand opening.
And who could forget the Splash Mountain rap?
According to CNN, the changeover from a Song of the South-inspired flume to a ride based on The Princess and the Frog comes after 20,000 people signed a petition requesting such a theme change. The Princess and the Frog featured Disney’s first black princess in one of its animated movies.
CNN reports that Disney called the rerendering “inclusive,” adding:
Disney added that the new ride — which the company has been working on since last year — will pick up the story of Princess and the Frog after “the final kiss” and will join Princess Tiana and her trumpet-playing alligator Louis “on a musical adventure.” It will feature “some of the powerful music from the film as they prepare for their first-ever Mardi Gras performance.”
“Tiana is a modern, courageous, and empowered woman, who pursues her dreams and never loses sight of what’s really important,” Disney said on Thursday. “It’s a great story with a strong lead character, set against the backdrop of New Orleans and the Louisiana bayou.”
Disney did not say when visitors can expect the refurbished attraction to be completed.
Despite its history and the bizarreness of its very existence, Splash Mountain was a fun ride. Disney has the chance to make it even better. This is a win.