Splash Mountain, the beloved Disney attraction based on the equally controversial 1946 live action/animation hybrid Song of the South, will soon get a new identity, based around characters from their 2009 animated feature The Princess and the Frog. In other words, Disney looked at the flume ride and said: Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Nah.
The official statement, released on the Disney Parks Blog, is hilarious in its wording and timing. According to Disney, the redo is “a project Imagineers have been working on since last year” (sure) and was timed to mere hours after Disney announced that Disneyland would no longer be opening on July 17 in time for the park’s 65th anniversary. (There were union disputes and public concerns about the safety of the park, given California’s catastrophic recent coronavirus spike.) Describing The Princess and the Frog as an “all-time favorite” (even though it didn’t even make its production budget back in the US), they describe the attraction’s storyline as: “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.”
The storyline sounds fun and makes sense, since Princess and the Frog and Splash Mountain share certain iconography that will be easy to repurpose, like the river boat in the ride’s epilogue and a number of the cartoon-y, bayou-dwelling characters. They go on to describe more about the change: “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.” What’s hilarious about the connection to New Orleans Square is that Splash Mountain, in Disneyland, is located in Critter Country and in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, it’s located in Frontierland. But, yes, let us please bring up New Orleans Square.
Anika Noni Rose, the Tony Award-winning actress who voices Tiana who has been an outspoken advocate for the character (she lobbied Disney to change her design in Ralph Breaks the Internet when she felt it wasn’t representative), said “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!”
It’s important to note that the ride will only be getting a transformation at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World and Disneyland. That means that hardcore Disney fans will have yet another reason to want to visit Tokyo Disneyland – because that Splash Mountain is staying unchanged. And in recent years they have done a number of totally killer re-themes on classic attractions, from the Finding Nemo overlay of Disneyland’s Submarine Voyage to the Guardians of the Galaxy invading the Tower of Terror at Disney California Adventure. So we are sure that Imagineering will do a terrific job of the Princess and the Frog-ization of Splash Mountain. We’d even go as far as to wager the new name for the attraction, given all the talk of the festival celebration in New Orleans: Mardi Gras Mountain.
And honestly, this isn’t exactly unexpected. Beyond a vocal outcry online and the current cultural movement, which has seen a number of prominent statues and other outdated monuments either fall to protestors or be removed by local governments, a redo of Splash Mountain means that Disney, as a company, can wipe Song of the South from the conversation once and for all. It’s hard to keep a questionable feature film, with problematic and harmful depictions of the antebellum south quiet when there’s a giant attraction that millions of visitors go through every year.
As for a timetable for the re-theme, that remains up in the air (“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”). Thanks to the coronavirus and the extended closure of the parks, Disney recently announced that $900 million was being slashed from prospective projects (don’t hold your breath for that Mary Poppins attraction at the England pavilion in EPCOT, amongst other things). But they seem committed to the Princess and the Frog project, not only because it is new and exciting but because it’s the right thing to do.
If you’d like to read our report on the history of Splash Mountain, Song of the South, and maybe why re-theming isn’t the best idea, head on over here.