Though I haven’t been to any of Disney’s theme parks since a brief visit with a friend back in 2009, I consider myself a fan. Walt Disney World is the biggest, and therefore offers the most to do, but the other parks I’ve had the good fortune to visit are enjoyable too.
Splash Mountain isn’t my absolute favourite ride – that honour has to go to the Tommorowland Transit Authority/Peoplemover, which is brilliant and almost always has a short wait – but it’s up there among my favourites.
Criticism of the ride’s theme, which uses characters and songs from the 1946 film Song of the South, has been building for a number of years already, and work to re-theme it has seemed an inevitability – it was just a question of when. Under the current circumstances, where there’s a renewed focus on race in the United States, Disney evidently felt they could wait no longer.
I’ve seen some criticism of the decision, with it being derided as another part of “cancel culture”, but I fully understand why it’s been done. Song of the South is an interesting work of cinema from an historical and academic perspective – but it’s by no means something kids should be watching, and having its characters on one of Disneyland and Walt Disney World’s most prominent and famous attractions is obviously unacceptable. It arguably has been unacceptable for some time.
Song of the South was the first film for which a black American received an Academy Award, and in addition its pioneering blend of live-action and animation arguably laid the groundwork for many of today’s visual effects and CGI. But we’re looking back on it in 2020 in the same way one might look back on The Birth of a Nation – it may have been pioneering in its techniques, but it is undeniably racist in its depiction of black Americans.
Disney parks need to be spaces where everyone can feel welcome, and while Splash Mountain may not have been quite as troublesome as the film it borrows from, the association is enough for many people to feel upset. Furthermore, Disney parks are in a constant state of evolution, with rides being updated and changed all the time. Another of my favourites – Epcot’s Spaceship Earth – is set for a major overhaul in the coming months. It’s no bad thing when a ride is updated, and the re-themed Splash Mountain will be the better for it.
The basic layout of the ride looks set to remain the same. All that will change is the theming – out with Song of the South, in with The Princess and the Frog. The first black Disney Princess had been lacking an attraction of her own at the theme parks, and I honestly couldn’t imagine a more appropriate or poetic way to include her. I don’t think we need to worry about the ride’s song either – The Princess and the Frog had a wonderful jazz soundtrack with some great options to choose from. Or a new song could be composed just for Splash Mountain. I’d be happy either way.
If you like Splash Mountain for the ride itself, nothing will change. And if you enjoyed the theming and lament its passing, I understand. But something that may seem innocuous to one person or group of people may be upsetting or offensive to another, and from Disney’s point of view, making sure everyone feels welcome and included is really important.
Because of my health I have no idea if or when I’ll get back to the Magic Kingdom to see the renovated ride for myself. But if I ever do I’ll be sure to go for a ride on the new Splash Mountain. I think it’ll be absolutely fantastic.
Splash Mountain and The Princess and the Frog are the copyright of the Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.