Amidst increased discussions of race and racism, Disney announced June 25 it will “completely reimagine” Splash Mountain. Since opening in 1989, the ride has used characters from the 1946 Disney film Song of the South and prominently featured the song “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” Disney indicated the ride's new theme will be based on 2009’s The Princess and the Frog.
I can’t deny it’s the correct move. As Karina Longworth, host of the podcast You Must Remember This, convincingly argued in a series of episodes last fall, Song of the South is not just problematic – it is outright racist. This makes basing Splash Mountain on the film complicated, to say the least.
Changing the ride’s theme is a major step for representation and will draw greater attention to a lesser-known Disney film that features mostly black characters.
It will also likely not require much work. Certain major fixtures will need to be replaced, areas of the ride will need to be repainted and the music will have to change. But both films are set in the southern United States, and many of the animatronic characters already featured on the ride could be reused.
Changing the ride is also a smart business move. Fans of Splash Mountain are reportedly rushing to buy merchandise. Once the new theme is unveiled, it will breathe new life into an already popular attraction, with crowds interested in experiencing the same old thrill while taking in the new dressings.
And, before the arguments begin that Disney is merely caving to political pressures, it’s important to note the corporation changes the themes of its rides all the time. Disneyland’s Tower of Terror was changed to Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout to capitalize on the growing popularity of Marvel.
Even so, if I’m being totally honest, I’m a little sad about the decision, only because change is hard to get used to. Since my first visit to a Disney theme park, Splash Mountain has been my favourite ride. It's the attraction I look forward to the most, and I always try to sneak as many turns on the ride as I can.
I know, however, that any sadness I feel about the change comes from a place of privilege. As a white person, I don’t have to contend with the legacy of racism represented by the current theme.
As my wife pointed out, the ride itself is not changing. At the end of the day, I’ll always have great memories of riding Splash Mountain, and I look forward to making new memories the next time I can ride it. Making the world more inclusive is always the right move, so I'm happy to live with a small amount of disappointment to see that goal achieved.