It’s not uncommon for Disney Imagineers to look at current attractions and come up with ways to modernize and update them. This has happened with Finding Nemo Submarines, scenes in Pirates of the Caribbean, Incredicoaster, and many others. Today we found out Splash Mountain is the latest attraction to receive a retheme. Characters from Princess and the Frog will replace the Song of the South characters, and honestly, it probably is going to make the ride better.
Song of the South was released in 1946 and was quickly met with controversy. Some critics liked it, but members of the black community were unhappy with the way it portrayed slavery. Walter Francis White, the executive secretary for the NAACP, made the following statement:
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People recognizes in Song of the South remarkable artistic merit in the music and in the combination of living actors and the cartoon technique. It regrets, however, that in an effort neither to offend audiences in the north or south, the production helps to perpetuate a dangerously glorified picture of slavery. Making use of the beautiful Uncle Remus folklore, Song of the South unfortunately gives the impression of an idyllic master-slave relationship which is a distortion of the facts.
Unfortunately, Mr. White had never actually seen Song of the South. Two employees had been to press screenings and then emailed him their opinions. Disney tried to clarify and explain that the movie took place after the Civil War and that the African Americans portrayed were not slaves. But the damage was already done; the film was seen as racist and protests began.
The movie was very controversial, but, years later Disney Imagineer Tony Baxter came up with the idea to use the animated characters in a new log flume ride being developed for Critter Country. The characters were cute, the music was good, and the ride was likely to be a hit. Disney re-released Song of the South at theaters in Los Angeles as a litmus test. No complaints were received, so the company decided to proceed with the project. Disney wanted to put some distance between the ride and the movie though, which is why there is no mention of Song of the South in the name, or Uncle Remus in the story. The name “Splash Mountain” actually comes from the movie Splash. Splash, released in 1984, was a blockbuster hit. Michael Eisner, the Disney CEO at the time, hoped that naming the ride after the movie would help draw in crowds, even though there was no connection between the two.
Splash Mountain opened July 17, 1989 and people loved it. It was a very popular attraction, especially on hot summer days and has remained a favorite for many
Plans to Change
Following the death of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests around the country, many petitioned Disney to retheme Splash Mountain. Today, Disney announced that they are going to retheme it. However, the decision to retheme was not made just because of these petitions. It takes years for Imagineers to come up with ideas, flush them out, create concept art, and get a new ride or retheme approved for an attraction. They also have a lot of ideas that get put on the back burner for years before being brought back to life. Ideas like the Little Mermaid dark ride, a Star Wars themed space port, and even a Mickey Mouse ride bounced around the company for decades before finally being built. Others, like Fire Mountain, periodically come back as rumors, but haven’t been used yet.
The idea of putting Tiana in Splash Mountain likely was discussed when Princess and the Frog hit theaters in 2009. The film only made $267 million world wide, compared to Tangled, at $592 million, and Frozen at $1.28 billion. Because it did not do as well as other Disney movies, the idea was likely put on the back burner, with thousands of other ideas that Disney may revisit in the future. In Disney Parks Blog post about this retheme, Michael Ramirez, Public Relations Director for Disneyland Resort, wrote “Today we are thrilled to share a first glimpse of a project Imagineers have been working on since last year.” This was a very clear statement saying this change was not developed and decided on within the last few weeks. The political pressures of the last few weeks may have expedited the announcement, but this definitely is not the first time that Disney has considered the retheme.
New Ride Details
Since this is an early announcement, we don’t know much about the new ride. Location wise, it is the perfect ride to fit between New Orleans Square and Critter Country. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if they eventually made it officially part of New Orleans Square and tore out Winnie the Pooh and used that area as an expansion pad for Galaxy’s Edge.
The ride will pick up after Tiana and Naveen’s wedding and will take you on a musical journey down the Bayou with Princess Tiana and Louis. It will feature music from the original movie. Anika Noni Rose, original voice of Tiana, will likely provide the new vocals for the ride.
Honestly, as much as I’m going to miss Splash Mountain, I am pretty excited for this new attraction. The music from Princess and the Frog is catchy and upbeat, the characters are fun, the scenery is going to be beautiful. Singing “Going down the Bayou” while riding in a log flume could not be a better fit for a retheme. Splash Mountain is a popular attraction, Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah is an iconic song, and the left-over America Sings animatronics are unforgettable, but Princess and the Frog is sure to be loved just as much.