Splash Mountain will be getting a makeover at Disneyland and Disney World, Disney announced Thursday, removing its links to Disney’s 1946 film “Song of the South” that appeared to glorify the pre-Civil War South and slavery.
The popular log flume attraction first opened in 1989 featuring characters telling the story of the Br’er Rabbit animated segments from “Song of the South.” The Uncle Remus narrator from the original film was deliberately omitted from the ride, as were other racist tropes dating back to the original 19th century source material, such as the “Tar Baby.”
In the wake of nationwide protests against systemic racism, there were online petitions calling for Disney to overhaul the ride. Disney announced Thursday that it will indeed be rethemed to 2009’s “The Princess and the Frog” — Disney’s first animated film with a Black princess — though the company claimed the project had been in the works since last year.
“Tiana is a modern, courageous, and empowered woman, who pursues her dreams and never loses sight of what’s really important,” wrote Disneyland public relations director Michael Ramirez on the Disney Parks Blog. “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.”
It should be noted that Splash Mountain is not located in Disneyland’s New Orleans Square, but rather the park’s Critter Country section. In the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, the ride calls Frontierland home.
There’s no denying the racism at the heart of “Song of the South.” The film was controversial for this reason even upon release, as the NAACP said at the time that it “unfortunately gives the impression of an idyllic master-slave relationship which is a distortion of the facts.” In recent decades, Disney has not promoted the film, never releasing it on any home video format and leaving it off the Disney+ streaming service.
While Disney is saying the retheming was in the works before petitions began, it did make references to inclusion and diversity in its announcement.
“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,” Ramirez wrote on the Parks Blog.
Disney also provided a supportive statement from longtime Disney Imagineer Tony Baxter, who designed the original Splash Mountain.
“Following conversations with Imagineering’s leaders about the new attraction’s scope and resources, I had a great sense of reassurance — the attraction will be one to be proud of… bringing to life places, characters and music from the animated classic ‘The Princess and the Frog,’” Baxter said. “Being able to participate as a creative advisor on the planning and design with the Imagineering team, I look forward to being a part of a new adventure in Disney magic and fun!”
The retheming project will not begin immediately. The current version of Splash Mountain will be open when the Magic Kingdom welcomes back guests after its COVID-19 shutdown next month. Disneyland currently does not have a reopening date scheduled.