Splash Mountain's Replacing Its Racist Heritage With A Black Disney Princess
Is it time to say so long to "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah"? Following renewed attention on Black representation and an online petition from fans, Disney announced that Disneyland/Disney World log ride Splash Mountain will be getting re-themed.
The ride currently uses story, characters, and songs drawn from 1946's Song of the South — a film widely seen as using racist stereotypes and which Disney has kept locked in its vault and off its Disney+ streaming service (though many of the most problematic elements aren't included in the ride).
Fans had petitioned to change the theme to that of Disney animated movie The Princess and the Frog, hitting 20,000 supporters as of two weeks ago. It looks like the Disney Imagineers were already thinking along the same lines — they've been working on the project for a year or more, according to a D23 interview with Disney Imagineer Bob Weis, though Imagineers explored a variety of new themes. The film features a Black lead in Princess Tiana, set in the New Orleans bayou — a natural fit given Splash Mountain's placement at Disneyland right next to the park's New Orleans Square.
"There is a huge need for diversity in the parks and this could help fill that need," the petition reads.
While already underway, conceptual design work is still in progress, according to Disney. The next step is for Imagineers to conduct preliminary reviews and develop a timeline for beginning Splash Mountain's transformation. Timelines are also still affected by the extended COVID-19 closures, Weis said.
In a press release, Disney wrote:
"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."
Weis acknowledged that not all fans may support the change. A rival petition to keep the ride the way it is has even more supporters than the original — almost 35,000 digital signatures.
"There is nothing wrong with the ride," the petition to keep things the same reads. "The controversy from these stories and Song of the South comes from the depiction of the slaves and their relationships with slaveowners on the plantation. Splash Mountain removes these elements and focuses solely on the fun stories that are not racist, but merely taken from oral tales of slaves. ... The want to change the ride to be themed to something more politically correct is foolish."
"We completely understand that these decisions aren't always popular, but I think our biggest fans know that we care as much as they do," Weis said.
The ride opened in 1989. Former Imagineer Tony Baxter, who's working as a creative advisor on planning and design with the Imagineering team, cited the opportunity to use animated stories that have been created since the ride's opening. It opened before the modern wave of Disney animation, Baxter noted — including 2009's The Princess and the Frog.
"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," Baxter said.
"It's important that our guests be able to see themselves in the experiences we create," Walt Disney Imagineering executive Carmen Smith said in a statement.
The revamped ride's storyline will still be musical, themed around a Mardi Gras performance by Tiana, Louis, and friends that takes place after the events of the movie. It will feature music from the film.
"It is really exciting to know that Princess Tiana's presence in both Disneyland and Magic Kingdom will finally be fully realized," the character's voice actress Anika Noni Rose said in a press release.
And while Splash Mountain will be seeing some change, Disney still plans to reopen with the ride operating as it currently exists.
"As someone who grew up in Florida and had to endure bullying from white classmates on every field trip to Disney, this needs to be changed as soon as possible," a commenter on the original post wrote.
You can watch the trailer for the Princess and the Frog here: