Disney's 'Splash Mountain' Is Getting a Makeover and It's About Time

Disney announced on Thursday that it's re-imagining the iconic Splash Mountain rides at its amusement parks to be themed around the 2009 film The Princess and the Frog, rather than the controversial and problematic The Song of the South.

First opened in California's Disneyland park in 1989, the ride has long included characters from the 1946 film, which is widely regarded as a stain on the legacy of Walt Disney Studios, for its handling of the Reconstruction-era South and depiction of Black characters. As previously reported, the film was not released on Disney+ when the platform launched and has not seen an official home video release since 2000. Besides the song "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah," the Splash Mountain attraction is one of the only enduring cultural touchstones associated with the film.

The significance of changing the ride to highlight characters from The Princess and the Frog can't be overstated, particularly in our current moment. The Princess and the Frog was, notably, the first animated Disney film to feature an African-American Disney Princess.

According to a blog post from the Disney Parks, the company has been working on reimagining the flume ride since last year, before nationwide protests and public outcry following the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Even if that's really the case, the timing of this announcement is noteworthy, as the culture at large is having a broader and more in-depth dialogue about systemic racism and racial inequality. In the entertainment sphere, TV shows like 30 Rock and Scrubs have pulled episodes due to racially insensitive content. And in the world of business, companies like Quaker Oats have vowed to rebrand products like Aunt Jemima pancake mix, due to racist connotations tied to the name and logo.

Splash Mountain
People scream as they ride on the Splash Mountain ride at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom November 11, 2001 in Orlando, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty

The ride will be changed at Disneyland and Florida's Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. In the post, Disney said that Imagineers updating and changing concepts is a part of the Disney tradition. "And with this longstanding history of updating attractions and adding new magic, the retheming of Splash Mountain is of particular importance today. 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," the post reads.

In a statement, Charita Carter, who has worked with Walt Disney Imagineering for 22 years, drew a connection between the change and the values of Princess Tiana, the lead character in The Princess and the Frog. "Like Princess Tiana, I believe that courage and love are the key ingredients for wonderful adventures. I am delighted to be a part of bringing this fun-filled experience to our guests," Carter said.

Disney clarified that the changes made to the Splash Mountain ride's story would pick up after where The Princess and the Frog leaves off, as Princess Tiana and another character get ready for their debut Mardi Gras performance. The film's voice actors expressed their excitement for the ride's update to include them.

"It is really exciting to know that Princess Tiana's presence in both Disneyland and Magic Kingdom will finally be fully realized! As passionate as I am about what we created, I know the fans are going to be over the moon," said Anika Noni Rose, the Tony-winning actress who voiced Princess Tiana. "The Imagineers are giving us The Princess and The Frog Mardi Gras celebration we've been waiting for, and I'm here for it!"

Disney's blog post said that Imagineers are currently working on conceptual designs, and the team will soon begin preliminary reviews and come up with a timeline for the upcoming changes.

Princess and the Frog
Jenifer Lewis, Keith David, Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Terrence Howard and Jim Cummings at The premiere of "The Princess And The Frog" held at The Walt Disney Studios on November 15, 2009 in Burbank, California. Alexandra Wyman/WireImage/Getty

Newsweek contacted Disney for further comment on the impending changes to Splash Mountain, but did not hear back by time of this article's publication.