Photo: Splash Mountain, Princess and The Frog/Disney
The news was announced on June 25, arriving amid the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests against racism and police brutality spurred by George Floyd’s death, which have led to much critical thinking about our society’s complicity in perpetuating racism and especially the way race is depicted in pop culture.
Splash Mountain, which was inspired by the 1946 Disney movie Song of the South, has been the number one attraction in the Florida and California theme parks since 1989, despite its affiliation with the racist film.
A New Makeover for Splash Mountain
The upcoming “Princess and the Frog” ride will replace Splash Mountain and will follow the adventure of Princess Tiana and friends, culminating in a Mardi Gras celebration before the log flume ride’s infamous 5-story drop. A statement issued on the Disney Parks Blog detailed the plan for the upcoming changes of the ride’s design and storyline.
“We pick up this story after the final kiss, and join Princess Tiana and Louis on a musical adventure – featuring some of the powerful music from the film – as they prepare for their first-ever Mardi Gras performance,” it reads.
“Tiana is a modern, courageous, and empowered woman, who pursues her dreams and never loses sight of what’s really important. 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.”
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“The Princess and the Frog” – Splash Mountain
The Princess and the Frog was released back in 2009 and marked the first Black Disney princess. Set in New Orleans in 1926, the animated musical film details the story of Tiana, a hard-working waitress who dreams of opening a restaurant of her own. After she kisses a prince who was turned into a frog by a sorcerer, Tiana herself becomes a frog and must figure out how to turn back into a human before time runs out. The film received considerable praise, including three Oscar nominations at the 82nd Academy Awards, and has become a popular fan-favorite.
Anika Noni Rose, the Tony Award-winning actress who voices Princess Tiana, expressed her excitement about the new ride. “It is really exciting to know that Princess Tiana’s presence in both Disneyland and Magic Kingdom will finally be fully realized! As passionate as I am about what we created, I know the fans are going to be over the moon. The Imagineers are giving us ‘The Princess and the Frog’ Mardi Gras celebration we’ve been waiting for, and I’m here for it!”
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Song of the South’s Problematic History
Known for the Oscar-winning song “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” which is featured at the end of Splash Mountain, the movie depicts the relationship between Johnny, a young white boy, and Uncle Remus (James Baskett), a formerly enslaved man, in a combination of live-action and animated elements that serve to create a glorified version of the post-Civil War era South on a Georgia plantation. More problematically, the film was produced despite the objections of the NAACP and the American Council on Race Relations and later debuted at the racially segregated Fox Theatre in Atlanta back in 1946. Walter White, the executive secretary of the NAACP at the time, had argued strongly that the movie “helps to perpetuate a dangerously glorified picture of slavery” and “gives the impression of an idyllic master-slave relationship which is a distortion of the facts.”
Back in March, it was confirmed that Song of the South would not be available on the streaming service Disney+ because it was “not appropriate in today’s world,” according to Disney executive chairman Bob Iger.
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The recent decision regarding the ride’s official change had already been in the works since 2019, according to theme park executives, due to in part years of fans urging the parks to consider a new theme. Over 21,000 people had recently signed a petition urging Disney to revise the premise of the ride. “While the ride is considered a beloved classic its history and storyline are steeped in extremely problematic and stereotypical racist tropes,” the petition read. “There is a huge need for diversity in the parks and this could help fill that need.”
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In their statement, Disney acknowledged that “the retheming of Splash Mountain is of particular importance today,” stating that “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.”
While there is currently no set date for the ride’s official debut, Disney stated that “conceptual design work is well underway and Imagineers will soon be able to conduct preliminary reviews and develop a timeline for when the transformation can start to take shape.”
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