Don’t Expect Disney’s New Splash Mountain Theme Right Away

The attraction will be reimagined for The Princess and the Frog

screengrab from a disney cartoon of a shack in the forest with an alligator playing a trumpet and a black princess standing next to him
Concept art of the new Princess and the Frog storyline planned for the attraction. Disney
Headshot of Eva Kis

Key insight:

Splash Mountain, one of Disney’s problematic theme park attractions, will be “completely reimagined” from its current theme, which has its roots in Song of the South, a Disney movie the company has long disavowed.

The official Disney Parks blog broke the news today with a first-look rendering of the new theme for the ride, a project Disney said its engineers—known as imagineers—”have been working on since last year.” Splash Mountain will now be based on the 2009 animated film The Princess and the Frog—the only one to feature a Black Disney princess—that tells the story of Tiana, an aspiring New Orleans restaurateur who meets a prince cursed to live as a frog.

“The retheming of Splash Mountain is of particular importance today,” the blog post said. “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.”

However, don’t expect the change immediately. Disney did not announce a timeline for the project, and just this month the company “paused” scheduled renovations of another iconic ride, Spaceship Earth—the ride inside Epcot’s signature “golf ball,” which depicts how the tradition of storytelling began and may continue in the future.

Disney also has several projects it’s already broken ground on (their pre-pandemic projected opening dates are in brackets):

  • The Tron Lightcycle Power Run roller coaster at the Magic Kingdom in Florida (2021)
  • A trackless indoor ride based on the animated film Ratatouille in the France pavilion at Epcot’s World Showcase (Summer 2020)
  • A version of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway at Disneyland in California (2022)
  • All-new Avengers-themed zones with several rides at Disney California Adventure (Summer 2020, now delayed), Disneyland Paris (2021) and Hong Kong Disneyland (2023)

In an interview with the official Disney fan club D23, Walt Disney Imagineering president Bob Weis said his teams are “evaluating project timelines based on the extended closures we’ve experienced due to Covid-19.”

Some, including Avengers zones at both Disney California Adventure and Disneyland Paris will still “surge forward,” while others “will be picked back up in stages,” including Runaway Railway and Tron.

“We are working with our operations partners now to determine timing for this project to get under way,” Weis told D23. “For now, we know that both Magic Kingdom and Disneyland parks will reopen with the existing Splash Mountain attraction.”

The idea for revamping Splash Mountain—the ride exists at both Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Florida and Disneyland in California—actually began trending on social media in early June as people reexamined racist relics of the past within modern American life in light of the Black Lives Matter movement. But it really took off when self-described “Disney parks aficionado” Frederick Chambers showed off his renderings and storylines for the ride, which he said he’s been working on for years:

The ride’s current storyline stars Br’er Rabbit escaping from Br’er Fox, characters from Disney’s 1946 movie Song of the South. The film is based on the widely criticized Uncle Remus books of Black folktales framed in Southern plantations, which were written by white author Joel Chandler Harris in the 1800s.

It’s an especially poignant change that the racist history behind Song of the South is giving way to the only Disney movie starring a Black princess.

Disney has disavowed Song of the South for decades. The controversial movie was even kept off its Disney+ streaming service, which debuted last October. Other streamers have chosen to deal with problematic fare differently, such as HBO temporarily pulling Gone With the Wind for its depiction of Black slaves while it adds a “discussion of its historical context.”

The change to Splash Mountain comes as Disney grapples with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Its 12 parks worldwide started closing in January and have only recently begun to reopen at partial capacity. Shanghai Disney reopened on May 11 at 30% capacity, with guests required to make reservations and wear face masks, among other safety measures.

But reopening its American parks, which had been set for July, has been met with resistance from some cast members, Disney’s term for its theme park employees. One cast member wrote an open letter in a closed Facebook group that was shared to Reddit, where they said that given the rising number of Covid-19 cases in Florida, “as eager as we may be to come back, we are also afraid.”

The four parks that comprise the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., remain on track to reopen on July 11 and July 15, with “most attractions” open, according to the blog. But Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., just delayed its reopening, which had been set for July 17, telling the Los Angeles Times it’s waiting for safety guidelines from the state government.

@thisiskis Eva Kis is the online editor at Adweek.