By Jacob Passy
Disney (NYS:DIS) will revamp the popular ride Splash Mountain at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, the company said Thursday, after facing criticism that the attraction was inspired by a racist film.
The ride will be completely overhauled and will be “rethemed” to be based the 2009 animated feature film, “The Princess and the Frog,” the first Disney movie to star a Black princess. Disney’s announcement comes after a petition to redo Splash Mountain garnered traction online.
When the ride is revamped, it will have a new name, but the company was not ready to share the new name and will announce it in the future, a Disney spokeswoman said.
Theme park fans sought to get the ride made-over because of its connections to the 1946 film “Song of the South,” which has been widely criticized for its racist depictions of Black people and allusions to slavery. Disney has never made “Song of the South”available on VHS or DVD in the U.S., and the company has declined to include it on its streaming platform, Disney+. Splash Mountain currently features characters and stories from the film.
Recently, a Change.org petition to redo the log flume ride garnered more than 21,000 signatures. But others have criticized Splash Mountain’s connections to “Song of the South” in the past. The ride and film were the focus of multiple episodes of the popular podcast “You Must Remember This” last October.
“The retheming of Splash Mountain is of particular importance today,” Disney said in a statement provided to MarketWatch. “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.”
Courtesy of Disney
Internal discussions about “plussing” Splash Mountain, as Walt Disney referred to the practice, have been going on for a while, the company said, but Disney landed on the current concept last summer.
The project is being led by Walt Disney Imagineering senior creative producer Charita Carter, who previously led the creation of Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway at Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park in Florida, which was the first theme park ride based on Mickey Mouse.
The company’s “Imagineers,” the employees who create its theme park attractions, are still working on the conceptual design for the new ride. The designs will soon undergo preliminary reviews and the company will then create a timeline for the revamp.
“We are still evaluating project timelines based on the extended closures we’ve experienced due to COVID-19,” Bob Weis, president of Walt Disney Imagineering, told Disney fan club D23 . The viral outbreak has affected the turnaround times for other projects around the world. Disney staff were unable to access Splash Mountain during the parks’ coronavirus-related closures, but Disney shared that workers will soon perform full digital scans and facility assessments needed to move the project forward.
Currently, there are no plans to revamp the version of the ride located at Tokyo Disneyland in Japan.
“The Princess and the Frog” was less successful at the box office than other Disney films such as “Frozen,” but the lead character, Princess Tiana, has remained popular among children and is frequently seen at meet-and-greet events and parades at Disney’s theme parks.
‘On the list of priorities given how much red ink the parks are hemorrhaging right now this is way down there.’
Jim Hill, a theme park historian and blogge
Some travel experts have suggested that redoing Splash Mountain could be a draw for visitors. “This is a huge opportunity for Disney — new rides bring in customers,” Len Testa, president of travel website Touring Plans, previously told MarketWatch. (Testa noted that he had signed the petition regarding Splash Mountain.)
The new version of Splash Mountain will pick up where “The Princess and the Frog” left off, the company said, following Princess Tiana and her alligator friend Louis as they prepare for their first Mardi Gras performance. The film’s setting in New Orleans and the bayous of Louisiana works well thematically at Disneyland, where Splash Mountain is situated adjacent to New Orleans Square. At Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, the ride is located near Tom Sawyer’s Island, which is based on the Mark Twain novel set in Mississippi.
While many fans clamored for a new theme for Splash Mountain based on “The Princess and the Frog,” others argued against the change on Twitter (NYS:TWTR) , saying that the film deserves its own unique attraction.
And as calls for an overhaul of Splash Mountain grew in the wake of anti-racist protests sparked by police killings of people of color, theme park experts suggested that the coronavirus pandemic could stymie efforts to redo the popular attraction.
“On the list of priorities given how much red ink the parks are hemorrhaging right now this is way down there,” Jim Hill, a theme park historian and blogger, told MarketWatch before Disney’s announcement.
Disney’s theme parks around the world were closed for months because of COVID-19. Walt Disney World in Florida is currently set to reopen in July, but the company said Wednesday that it had delayed its reopening of Disneyland in California, which had also been planned for next month. The existing version of Splash Mountain will be available when the parks reopen, and no closing date for the ride’s overhaul has been set yet.
The pandemic has already cost the company’s theme-parks division $1 billion in profit, and the company has said it would reduce capital spending to compensate. Disney said it regularly plans for updates to attractions — such as the re-theming of a ride at the Norway pavilion at the Epcot theme park in Florida based on the “Frozen” franchise — and that the overhaul of Splash Mountain fits into those plans.
Shares of Disney have been down 24% this year to date compared to a nearly 11% decline for the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DOW:DJIA) and a nearly 5.6% dip for the S&P 500 Index (S&P:SPX) .
This story has been updated.