Splash Mountain, one of Disney’s most beloved theme park rides, is getting “reimagined” to distance itself from a film many have decried as racist. The company announced Thursday that the ride will now highlight the 2009 animated hit “The Princess and the Frog,” which features Disney’s first black princess.
Both Disneyland in California and Walt Disney World in Florida will re-theme their Splash Mountain rides, a plan that has been in the works since last year, Disney said. The current log flume ride, created in 1989, is based on the 1946 film “Song of the South.”
The film, best known for its Oscar-winning song, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” is about a young boy visiting his grandmother’s plantation following the Civil War. It features stereotypical portrayals of African Americans and romanticizes the Antebellum South.
Disney has kept the film locked in its vault for decades, and it is not available to stream along with other classics on Disney+. Disney chair Bob Iger reportedly said it would never be available for purchase.
“I’ve felt as long as I’ve been CEO that ‘Song of the South’ — even with a disclaimer — was just not appropriate in today’s world,” Iger said in March 2019 during a shareholder meeting, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s just hard, given the depictions in some of those films, to bring them out today without in some form or another offending people, so we’ve decided not to do that.”
Alternatively, fans have been begging Disney to more prominently feature the story of “The Princess and the Frog” for years. A recent petition for Tiana to be the new star of Splash Mountain garnered more than 20,000 signatures.
“Tiana is a modern, courageous, and empowered woman, who pursues her dreams and never loses sight of what’s really important,” Michael Ramirez, Disneyland Resort’s Public Relations Director, wrote in a blog post on Thursday. “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,” he added.
Charita Carter, a black woman, is leading the redesign as the senior creative producer at Walt Disney Imagineering. “Like Princess Tiana, I believe that courage and love are the key ingredients for wonderful adventures,” she said. “I am delighted to be a part of bringing this fun-filled experience to our guests.”
“It is really exciting to know that Princess Tiana’s presence in both Disneyland and Magic Kingdom will finally be fully realized!” Tony Award-winning actress Anika Noni Rose, who voiced the princess, said. “As passionate as I am about what we created, I know the fans are going to be over the moon.”
The entertainment industry has made several changes amid the recent Black Lives Matter protests. NBC’s “30 Rock” is pulling episodes featuring blackface, and “Gone with the Wind” now features a disclaimer and hour-long discussion contextualizing the film’s portrayal of African Americans.
Disney did not announce an opening date for the new ride, but said that “conceptual design work is well underway.”
banner image: concept art for Disney’s reimagined “Princess and the Frog” ride courtesy Disney