On Thursday, June 25th, Disney announced that the ever-popular ride Splash Mountain would be re-imagined due to its ties to the banned, infamous 1946 Disney movie Song of the South. The log flume ride will not be shut down completely, but instead redesigned to align with the 2009 movie The Princess and the Frog, which stepped away from the traditional White princess, featuring instead the first black princess, Tiana.
According to Vox.com, the project to “completely reimagine” Splash Mountain began last year, relaunching the whole theme of the ride. It is not known when the project will start or be completed. However, the announcement seems skeptical as anti-racism movements and Black Lives Matter protests have been ongoing for weeks, calling out the elements of our daily ‘normal’ life that actually are founded in racism.
Splash Mountain opened in 1989 and features the animated character of Br’er Rabbit pitted against Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear. The semi-intense log flume takes the rider along the journey of the three characters, culminating in a giant, splash worthy drop into the “briarpatch”. The ride has made the song “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” by James Baskett a popular, catchy tune meant to be stuck in your head for days. The song originated in the aforementioned film.
The film Song of the South has been almost completely abandoned by the Disney name for some time now, with many people unaware of its mere existence. The movie is a live-action/animated hybrid that follows young Johnny after he moves to his grandmother’s plantation. Here, he meets Uncle Remus, who tells the story of Br’er Rabbit, using each story as a life lesson for Johnny. But the question arises: how is this film considered racist?
Screencrush.com states that a lot of the issue with the film is what it chooses not to depict. First off, it is difficult to distinguish when the film takes place; while it is now confirmed that the film is set in the Reconstruction-era, the average viewer might believe that it takes place during slavery. If so, its depiction of slaves being happy about their position as slaves is highly problematic. Screencrush.com states this lack of setting allows Disney to “essentially turn… the plantation system into a ludicrous utopia where blacks and whites live in harmony--a harmony where the only thing that’s clear is that the blacks are inferior and servile to the whites, but are content to work the fields anyway” The cartoon itself was meant to teach Johnny lessons about how there is no place like home and trouble cannot be avoided.
The one animated scene that stands out is one in which Br’er Rabbit gets stuck in a “tar-baby” which is used as a decoy object to distract him. The tar-baby is a derogatory term for an African American. In the ride, this scene is replaced with Br’er Rabbit getting his head stuck in a beehive, unbeknownst to the rider.
Even at the initial release of the movie in 1946, the NAACP highlighted their disapproval claiming, according to NPR, “the production helps to perpetuate a dangerously glorified picture of slavery… [the film] unfortunately gives the impression of an idyllic master-slave relationship which is a distortion of the facts.”
Due to the negative connotation of the film and Disney’s consistency in barring it from its history, it asks the question: Why did Disney include this themed ride to begin with? The beloved ride has become a sort of monumental figure in the Disney parks, becoming a favorite of young and old alike. If Disney has a problem with it, why give the ride that theme? And many are confused, believing that Disney is going too far to change the ride. But at the same time, the first black princess will be getting her own ride, allowing for more diversity and representation among the parks
Splash Mountain is not the only thing changing in light of the movement. Brands like Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, and so many others are changing their names to take away any racist connections. It is important to note that while some may not agree with the changes being made to the world, we must remember change is not always bad. Splash Mountain will always be Splash Mountain, but instead of “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” we will be singing “Down in New Orleans”.