The ride will be redesigned to draw from the 2009 film “The Princess and the Frog,” the first Disney animated movie to feature a Black princess. According to Disney, the redesign has been in the works for over a year, though no concrete timeline for its construction and relaunch has been announced. The new ride’s storyline will pick up after Princess Tiana and Louis’ final kiss in the film, and feature music from the movie as the pair prepare for a Mardi Gras performance.
The “conceptual design work is well underway,” according to a Disney Parks blog post, and Imagineers will “soon be able to conduct preliminary reviews and develop a timeline for when the transformation can start to take shape.”
Other companies have vowed to re-brand racially insensitive products in recent weeks, such as Quaker Oats’ decision to retire the Aunt Jemima name and image. As Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality protests continue across the country in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans, calls for companies to stop using problematic and racist imagery in their products have gained traction. A petition to re-theme Splash Mountain to “The Princess and the Frog” had accrued over 21,000 signatures before Thursday’s announcement.
Disney has previously redesigned rides to remove problematic content. In 2017, Disneyland removed the bride auction scene from its Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
In its current form, Splash Mountain incorporates characters and songs from “Song of the South.” Though the ride draws from a film from the 1940s, Splash Mountain was not conceived until the 1980s. The ride opened at Disneyland in 1989. Soon after, it was added to Walt Disney World in Florida and other Disney parks around the world.
“Song of the South” takes place in the southern United States during the Reconstruction era. The story follows a young white boy who befriends an older Black man that works on a plantation and tells stories of his adventures with animals. The film has drawn criticism for drawing on racist stereotypes in its portrayal of freed slaves, as well as its ahistorical conception of the plantation system as a harmonious agreement between Black and white Americans.
The subject matter prompted intense backlash when the film was originally released and drew further criticism over the course of numerous re-releases throughout the 20th century. The film has not been made available in any format, including Disney Plus, for more than three decades.