Disney is changing the story of its Splash Mountain flume ride. Out: the controversial 1946 movie “Song of the South,” which the company refuses to even show because of content that has been decried as racist.
In: “The Princess and the Frog,” Disney’s first animated film featuring a black princess.
“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,” Disneyland Resort public relations director Michael Ramirez said in a blog post.
The post did not directly address recent controversy, but said the change had been in the works since last year.
Fans started a campaign this month to ask Disney to rethink the ride on both social media and through Change.org petitions. The overwhelming preference was to switch it to a story based on “The Princess and the Frog.”
“The framing of the ride is such that it could be easily changed to tell the story of Tiana while not compromising too much of the ride/costing a fortune in remodeling for Disney,” one petitioner wrote. “This change could kill two birds with one stone, remove the offensive stereotypical theming the ride currently has and bring a much needed diversity to the parks.”
The movie that inspired the ride — a mix of live action and animation that is set on a post-Civil War plantation — is not available on the streaming service Disney Plus, even while some others with controversial material were made available with warnings about “outdated cultural depictions.”
“I’ve felt as long as I’ve been CEO that ‘Song of the South’ — even with a disclaimer — was just not appropriate in today’s world,” former chief executive Bob Iger, now executive chairman, told shareholders at a meeting in March.
Reaction to the announcement on social media was met with celebration, anger and at least one vow to never return to the parks.
One man who described himself as a Disney cast member who has been imagining such an overhaul for years, Frederick Chambers, cheered the announcement on Twitter. This month, he posted a scene-by-scene breakdown of how the current ride, which ends with a five-story drop, could be adapted.
“We moved a mountain people!!!!!” he wrote.
Timing for the change was not disclosed, but the Disney blog post said the rides at both Disneyland in California and Magic Kingdom in Florida would “soon be completely reimagined.” The announcement said conceptual design work was “well underway,” and Imagineers — the employees who design and build theme park attractions — would be able to develop a timeline soon.
Magic Kingdom and Disney’s other Florida parks are scheduled to reopen next month, but the company said Wednesday that it was delaying a planned July 17 reopening of Disneyland Resort.
Ramirez wrote that Disney has a long history of updating attractions and added that “the retheming of Splash Mountain is of particular importance today.”
In a statement included in the announcement, Carmen Smith, creative development and inclusive strategies executive with Walt Disney Imagineering, said the company is constantly seeking out ways to improve the park experience for visitors.
“It’s important that our guests be able to see themselves in the experiences we create,” Smith said. “Because we consider ourselves constant learners, we go to great lengths to research and engage cultural advisers and other experts to help guide us along the way.”