Disney recently announced that one of their iconic attractions, Splash Mountain, will no longer exist, making way for a a Princess and the Frog layover. This news has come at the height of racial tension throughout America and across the globe. As usual, Wandering in Disney is immediately ready with their take on the news as soon as it dropped. Just kidding. Disney announced this weeks ago. That said, this post will offer our commentary on the soon-to-be changed attraction.
I’ll start with the replacement of Splash Mountain and my thoughts on that, since they are fairly straight forward. Princess and the Frog is an easy successor to Splash Mountain for a number of reasons. Instead of a troubling source material like Splash Mountain’s Song of the South, Princess and the Frog celebrates culture with rich storytelling, music and characters.
The project is headed by Imagineer Charita Carter, which was an obvious and correct choice. Along with her, Tony Baxter is coming out of retirement to work on the project and Scott Trowbridge (Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge) is thought to be included. That’s a pretty powerful trio of Imagineers to be working on this project and makes me cautiously optimistic. Joe Rohde, one of the brightest spots in Imagineering, called Carter ‘the queen’ in a recent social media post and I think the project being run by a black woman was an important choice.
My concern lies in the attraction being an overlay instead of a totally new build. I’m fairly underwhelmed when it comes to all of Disney’s most recent overlays (Mission: BREAKOUT!, Incredicoaster, Frozen Ever After) and while I think this will be done on a larger scale, I’m slightly concerned about shoehorning a new attraction into an existing ride. All in all, I think The Princess and the Frog attraction is something to look forward to although it will be hard pressed to beat what it replaces.
We’ll have years to discuss what will be, I mainly wanted this post focus on what was (and still is for probably another year or two). Splash Mountain is undoubtedly one of Disney’s most iconic and adored attractions. There are many reasons for this whether it be the incredible storytelling, dozens of wonderful animatronics, or that giant drop. There is little doubt that if the source material of Splash Mountain was different then the attraction would be a mainstay in the parks for decades to come. Just weeks ago we ranked our favorite Disney attractions on the Wandering in Disney Podcast, and Splash ended up on the majority of our lists.
Now that it’s being replaced there is a thought that if you like Splash Mountain or are sad that it’s being replaced then that makes you racist. This is quite a leap to make and it’s simply incorrect. Among the reasons already laid out, nostalgia must be factored into the reasons for loving things. Theme parks aren’t simply built to make you remember jaw-dropping sights or thrills, they’re built to make you remember moments. They thrill and tire you and then overwhelm your emotions by having you experience joy with those closest to you. For every memory of seeing Splash Mountain’s wonderful finale or that anticipatory feeling of climbing the hill before the plunge, there’s a memory of your brother getting absolutely drenched while you laugh hysterically or a moment in your head of two of the people you love the most sitting behind you in a log grinning from ear-to-ear while covered in ponchos. To deny those emotions and feelings when hearing of a ride closing, especially one as iconic as this one, is to deny why theme parks are such a popular vacation spot.
Moving past nostalgia, the actual attraction isn’t overtly racist. Again, the source material is the problem (and I’ll get to why it’s a problem in a minute) but a ride on Splash Mountain doesn’t bring Song of the South or racist thoughts to most minds. That’s partially because Song of the South is so far removed from the public conscious now. But the point remains that simply liking the attraction for what it is, not for what it’s based on, is okay. There is nothing wrong with that and there is nothing wrong with being sad about it leaving. I count myself among those sad that it will be leaving, partially based on nostalgia and also being disappointed that a fantastic attraction will not be in the American Parks any longer.
Despite all of those feelings and emotions, this is the right move. I’ll take Disney at their word that this has been discussed for years, but even if that’s not true does it really matter? Racial discrimination is at the forefront of America’s conversation and considering that doesn’t mean this is a knee jerk reaction. There are plenty of ways to push for change and most of them happen incrementally. Disney has taken something from their past that is troubling and is choosing to change it.
Song of the South is troubling for many reasons. Uncle Remus, the story’s narrator, is replaced in the attraction and that does dissolve a few issues for Splash Mountain but there are still some unfortunate connections to the film. Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, a seemingly light and skippy song, is inspired and eerily reminiscent of an old racist folk song sung by actors in blackface at Minstrel shows, where black people were treated as far lesser than. Main Street Gazette goes in-depth on this subject and has a very concise article on why this attraction change is the right way to go. I happen to agree with him.
Furthermore, Song of the South normalized slavery. While this might not have been the intention of the movie when it was made, and certainly isn’t the intention of Splash Mountain, that’s the reality now and therein lies the problem. No matter how few people have seen the movie and no matter what parts were taken out of the attraction, there will always be this unfortunate connection.
I won’t speak to further problems with the film, as there are many places online far more informed than I am on that subject. I should also say that I’m a white male in my late 20’s, hardly the person to look to for commentary on racial discrimination. I offer up my thoughts in complete humility.
Over the last month or two, this site has laid dormant. While Disney Parks have slowly begun their restart, I’ve taken my time to think about other things that have been pressing in the world. Instead of writing dining reviews, I’ve been trying to read, watch, listen and then form my own thoughts on the racial divide throughout America. That has led me to believe that changing this attraction because of the insult the source material provides to the Black community is the right move.
No, changing a theme park attraction does not equate to the change that protests over the last few months have called for. But the justice that is demanded for the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others doesn’t stop at heinous, huge acts. Change happens incrementally with each person, group or company doing what they can to improve the situation. That same justice trickles down to the smallest of acts and no, they aren’t as meaningful, but they are important.
I’ve thought about the future lately, about the younger generation and the world in which they’ll grow up in. As usual, Disney Parks also come to mind. I think about kids walking from Small World to a new attraction that celebrates Black culture. Instead of going from one attraction that celebrates unity to one that is rooted in division, the Disney Parks will practice what Small World teaches. Young Black girls and boys will have something that celebrates them and we’ll have a chance to join in that. It’s not about forgetting past mistakes like Song of the South or those troubling figures that came before us, it’s about setting up the next generation for a better tomorrow. With this change, Disney is making a small step towards that.
Black Lives Matter.