In June 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Disney announced that the classic Magic Kingdom ride “Splash Mountain” would be getting a makeover. It has been making news ever since.
Decades after it opened at Walt Disney World and after legions of patrons experienced the ride, executives at the famous Orlando location announced a rebrand and a transition to a theme dedicated to the “Princess and the Frog” movie. There was history behind the decision, of course, and a turn to the future. But what Disney probably wasn’t expecting, was additional issues beyond the change.
In 1987, Disney approved plans for “Splash Mountain,” a flume ride themed after and including characters from the company’s notorious film “Song of the South.” The film, released in 1949, has long been criticized for its depiction of race and for creating a glorified version of slavery.
So, the rebrand was largely seen as a positive by fans and parkgoers eager to not have any affiliation with the film. Disney fan Nashly Suarez is among them, saying it was “about time” Disney took steps to make the transition.
“Today, imagine a child asking their parents which film the characters are based on, and trying to explain ‘Song of the South,'” she said.
Others are more focused on the new theme, especially because the process has not been completed yet. As the time goes on — and more and more patrons head back to the parks while the nation transitions out of the pandemic — excitement builds for the “The Princess and the Frog” theme based on the 2009 movie that often gets overlooked in an overcrowded Disney film library.
“(It) just seems like the perfect choice for the ride, especially with how much they used music from the movie in a lot of fireworks shows,” parkgoer Emily Newton said. “I’m excited because the movie deserved more than it received when it came out.”
Decades ago, as “Splash Mountain” became a reality, imagineers were excited, too. Disney’s plans at the time probably didn’t include the potential pitfalls regarding a movie that would negatively impact patrons’ experiences with the ride.
That played out when it opened in California in 1989 to glowing reviews. People visited, people rode and Disney, in turn, opened two other versions of the ride in Florida and Japan in 1992.
However, times change and Disney wouldn’t be the entertainment giant that it has become without being able transition around those changes. But that’s only part of the issue. Through the years, “Splash Mountain” has become one of the attractions most likely to break down.
“Splash Mountain” had its annual refurbishment in January and was scheduled to reopen Feb. 11. However, the ride’s opening was temporarily delayed for unknown reasons. According to the BlogMickey website, the refurbishment barely altered the attraction and elements of it remained broken.
Perhaps that will all change when the massive retheme reaches its ultimate conclusion. And now, there appears to be some finality. On July 1, Disney executives said in a statement that the ride will officially take on the theme of “Tiana’s Bayou Adventure,” named after a primary character in the “The Princess and the Frog” and the unveiling will occur in late 2024.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Florida’s Splash Mountain opened before California’s. We apologize for the error.