It hasn’t been a “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” day on Splash Mountain lately. There have been calls for Disney to re-theme the ride and remove the Song of the South songs, characters, and other elements from the popular attraction due to the 1940 film's racist stereotypes the ride shares it's characters with.
I like the theme. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Song of the South in its entirety, but I know a lot of the songs, and I like them. Of course, in researching this post I learned that “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” may have been inspired by a racist pre-Civil War folk song, “Zip Coon.”
But I still like the music, and I still like the theming, and I still think Splash Mountain must be re-themed.
Sure, I’ll miss hearing “Zip” after coming down the flume and turning the bend into the riverboat finale (which seems broken more often than not — maybe the fact they can’t keep these animatronics from the 70’s working for more than a day is another good reason to say bye-bye to Br’er Rabbit?) but I try to picture myself at The Happiest Place on Earth, seeing a towering icon in front of me that was based on stereotypes meant to degrade and humiliate me, and I can’t help but feel a little sick and angry. Disney can do better.
Side rant: I’ve always held that Disneyland should have been swapping out dark ride interiors every decade or so. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride could have become a taxi ride through New York with Oliver and Company, and Peter Pan’s Flight could have become a soaring Magic Carpet Ride with Aladdin over Agrabah. Yes, these are beloved rides, but only because us aging Disneyland fans have ridden them dozens or hundreds of times for the last 65 years. Imagine what a Moana or Big Hero 6 dark ride could have been to this newest generation of Disney-fans. They don’t know much about the kid with the nose, but they love that ice princess. Disneyland can’t survive if they aren’t willing to do a little recycling in the space they have. What’s a kid born in 2055 going to think of the Alice ride?
My point is, this could be an exciting opportunity for Disney to turn something old into something new. Nothing about the core of Splash Mountain — not the name (which was named after Tom Hank’s mermaid movie Splash), not the flume, not the logs, not the water aspect — nothing about the ride has the slightest relationship to the Song of the South film — except for some of the animatronic characters. But most of those animatronics were recycled from the former America Sings attraction and don’t appear in the film. There’s no argument that can be made that a log flume ride requires songs and characters from a 1946 live-action/animated hybrid film with heavily racist stereotypes and overtones.
The Princess and the Frog has been heavily recommended as the new theme for Splash Mounatin, and the art and characters and songs for that film are wonderful — a large part of the film even takes place on the water! And The Princess and the Frog on a flume ride would be an exciting way to celebrate black lives at Disneyland, with the New Orleans land theming extended way out into Critter Country. (That name will probably have to go, but I’m sure Pooh and Tigger won’t mind.) Let’s also give Disney time to do the next film or theme right — there’s no need to rush this. (The resort is going to be closed for a while, anyways.)
As Walt used to say, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” Let’s use that imagination on Splash Mountain 2.0 and make something better, something filled with Disney magic, something that doesn’t break down every week, and something celebrating black lives.
Update: Disney has confirmed that Splash Mountain will be re-designed with characters and songs from The Princess and the Frog, and you can read more about the story and design on the Disney Parks Blog, here and here. And second update: Splash Mountain permanently closed at Disneyland on May 31st, 2023.
And not that anyone asked me, but, my idea for a new Splash Mountain theme is Goofy’s Mountain, and every time you go over the falls you hear an “AAH HOO HOO HOO HOWEE!!” on the way down. Anyone? Hello?