Splash Mountain, the iconic log flume ride at Disneyland and Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, will undergo a makeover to remove a storyline based on the controversial 1946 film Song of the South. While some are praising Disney for the move, saying the ride should never have featured characters from a movie that romanticized the Reconstruction-era South, others claim that the theme is not racist and should stay in place for nostalgia's sake. Here's everything you need to know:
What is 'Song of the South'?
The Song of the South was released by Disney in 1946, a hybrid live-action and animation film set in the Reconstruction-era South. It focuses on a Black man named Uncle Remus who works on a plantation in Georgia, and the stories he tells the property owner's grandson about Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Fox, and Br'er Bear.
At the time, the NAACP and American Council on Race Relations objected to the movie and its stereotypes about Black people. In 2019, The Guardian's Scott Tobias wrote that there are "plenty of examples of pernicious racism in Song of the South that are right there on the surface: the minstrelsy of the animated characters, particularly Br'er Fox; the slang in the dialogue; a wandering chorus singing traditional Black songs; and, most notoriously of all, a fable where Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear use a tar baby to fool and ensnare Br'er Rabbit." He also noted that during the film, Uncle Remus reminisced about life before the Civil War, saying "every day was mighty satisfactual" and "'twas better all around."
Song of the South was never released on home video in the United States, and is not on the Disney+ streaming service, where some movies have a disclaimer saying they include "outdated cultural depictions." In 2020, Disney CEO Bob Iger said Song of the South is "not appropriate in today's world."
Why was 'Song of the South' the inspiration for Splash Mountain?
In the 1980s, Disney wanted to introduce more thrill rides for teenage visitors, and Imagineer Tony Baxter also wanted to find a way to get people to Disneyland's Bear Country. Initially, the attraction he developed was known as the Zip-a-Dee River Run, with characters from the Song of the South. Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Fox, and Br'er Bear characters already walked around the park, CinemaBlend reports, and Disneyland was able to reuse for the ride animatronic animals from its defunct show America Sings, which fit the Song of the South aesthetic.
Splash Mountain opened in Disneyland in 1989 and at Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland in 1992. It is described by Disney as being "a musical cruise" where riders follow "happy-go-lucky Br'er Rabbit to his 'laughing place,'" before experiencing a "thrilling 5-story splashdown!"
When did critics call on Disney to change the Splash Mountain theme?
There have been objections for years, but in June 2020, during the national protests against racism and police brutality, a petition was started on Change.org calling on Disney to redo Splash Mountain at Disneyland and Disney World. The ride's "history and storyline are steeped in extremely problematic and stereotypical racist tropes from the 1946 film Song of the South," the petition stated, and supporters thought the attraction could be reimagined with a Princess and the Frog theme. This 2009 animated film set in 1920s New Orleans features Tiana, the first Black Disney princess.
A counter-petition, titled "Save Splash Mountain," was also launched, with the creator claiming that "Disney haters" did not "understand the story" of the ride. "Splash Mountain has never included depictions of slaves or any racist elements and is based solely on historical African folktales that families of all ethnicities have been enjoying for nearly a century," the petition states.
How did Disney respond to this?
Disney announced in June 2020 that Splash Mountain at Disneyland and Disney World would be revamped, sharing that Imagineers had been working on the project "since last year." The new version of the ride, Tiana's Bayou Adventure, will be based on The Princess and the Frog, with Tiana and Louis, a trumpet-playing alligator, going on "a musical adventure ... as they prepare for their first-ever Mardi Gras performance." Disney said Imagineers are "deeply passionate" about freshening up rides, and "the retheming of Splash Mountain is of particular importance today. 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."
Disney was not the only company in 2020 asked to reckon with its past — several established food brands, including Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben's, Cream of Wheat, and Mrs. Butterworth's, announced they would redesign their labels, and in some cases even change their names, after being accused of using racially insensitive imagery and monikers.
When will Tiana's Bayou Adventure open?
Disney said the ride will open in both Disneyland and Disney World in late 2024. Disneyland's Splash Mountain is still in operation, with no closing date announced, while the Magic Kingdom Splash Mountain closed for renovations on Jan. 23. Some superfans waited in line for five hours to ride, and not long after, people began listing on eBay containers filled with water they said came from the attraction.
"The Disney community can be very weird sometimes," Adrian Vasquez, a Splash Mountain devotee who came out to ride it on its last day, told The New York Times. "I honestly don't know how else to put it." Vasquez worked at Disney World in 2015, and shared that at the time, his trainers said Splash Mountain's "source material was racist. It's fitting that an attraction that is based on a film that negatively affects people of color be replaced by Disney's first African American princess. This move will go a long way for many Disney fans of color who have been looking for more representation in the parks."