LOS ANGELES – So long, Splash Mountain.
Disney said Thursday that it would redesign one of its most popular theme park rides, Splash Mountain, that featured characters and songs from “Song of the South, “The racist musical from 1946. The 31-year-old gutter ride will instead be modeled on“ The Princess and the Frog ”, the 2009 musical that Disney was introduced to first black princess, Tiana.
The Splash Mountain name is also withdrawn. New Adventures with Princess Tiana is the working title of the upcoming attraction set in the Louisiana Bayou.
“It is important that our guests can see themselves in the experiences we have,” said Carmen Smith, vice president of creative development and inclusion strategies at Walt Disney Imagineering, in a blog post. Imagineering is Disney’s research and design department.
The overhaul at both Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California, the theme parks where the ride takes place, will easily cost tens of millions of dollars.
Disney deletes the “Song of the South” images – Br’er Rabbit and other animal minstrels – during a national race justice bill. Protests against police brutality and racism triggered by the murder of a black man, George Floyd, in police custody in Minneapolis have prompted a wide range of companies to make overdue changes. For example, Quaker Oats said that this would be the case Send Aunt Jemima into retirement, a 131-year-old brand based on racist images.
In the case of Splash Mountain, Disney executives had spoken privately about abandoning the Song of the South topic for at least five years. Last summer, Disney said, a plan was put in place to give the ride a “princess and the frog” story. Bob Weis, the president of Walt Disney Imagineering, commissioned conceptual art. Disney said it accelerated the public unveiling of the project due to the current cultural discussion about races.
“It’s been a year or more since we talked about this particular concept,” Weis said in an interview posted on D23.com, a Disney fansite.
Online petitions about Splash Mountain have been circulating in recent weeks. More than 21,300 people signed one Ask Disney to remove the “offensive stereotypical theme” of the ride. Over 26,300 people have signed a dueling Change.org petition asking Disney to leave the “legendary classic ride” as it is.
Sparring over a ride through a theme park may seem silly, especially against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic billowing again. But Disney plays a big role in how many people live their lives – as they remember – and even the smallest changes to the company’s theme parks can provoke outrage. For the same reason, adding a main attraction around a black heroine could have a positive effect on young visitors, especially colored ones.
Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella have castles. The little mermaid and the “frozen” sisters have horse rides. Why not Tiana too?
“The Princess and the Frog” tells the story of a young black woman who is persuaded to kiss a frog who is really a prince. The magic fails and she too becomes an amphibian. Accompanied by a Cajun firefly and a popular alligator, she is looking for a cure.
Like other modern Disney princesses, Tiana is a strong-willed songbird (courtesy of Tony award winner Anika Noni Rose). The story takes place against a rough backdrop of voodoo and jazz, with Oprah Winfrey and Jenifer Lewis voicing supporting characters.
The film received strong ratings and was nominated for three Oscars. But the ticket sale was disappointingThis is due in part to the fact that children who grew up with Pixar’s computer magic had difficulty connecting with the film’s hand-drawn animation. “The Princess and the Frog” raised approximately $ 257 million or $ 324 million in today’s dollars worldwide.
Since its release, “The Princess and the Frog” has become a merchandising star for Disney, with Tiana princess dresses selling particularly well for young girls.
Disney has not provided “Song of the South” in any form for 33 years because of its racist images. Splash Mountain doesn’t openly refer to the film, but the ride is based on the stories of Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Fox that form its center. The trip also includes the Oscar-winning song from the film “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah. ”
Disney has updated other rides over the years to make them more relevant to children and to remove outdated images. In 2017, for example, a bridal auction and a scene in which mockers chase women through a house were removed from Pirates of the Caribbean. Disney this year too concluded the popular Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, a hotel with heavily disrupted elevators, turned it into a new ride based on Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy”.
At least for the moment, a Splash Mountain will survive: The ride also takes place in Tokyo Disneyland, which Disney does not own. (The company licenses its characters and products to the Oriental Land Company.) There are no plans to give it a “princess and the frog” change, a spokeswoman said.