by Brandon Butler
Making Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise better for everyone 1/25/2021

The LA Times:

On Monday, the Walt Disney Co. announced that it’s embarking on what many view as a long-overdue course correction for the Jungle Cruise. Numerous changes will make the attraction feel more inclusive and less racially insensitive in its depiction of other cultures.

The move follows updates to other older attractions such as Splash Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean, all done to remove now-outdated tableaus that can be cringe-inducing at best and racist at worst. The company had already announced that Splash Mountain, originally inspired by the critters in the racist film “Song of the South,” would receive a makeover themed to “The Princess and the Frog,” the movie that featured Disney’s first Black princess.

Early cartoons were full of cultural stereotypes and ugly caricatures of people who looked different than the white animators holding the pencil. Those ideas leaked from the page into the real world when Walt Disney gave his animators the task of designing Disneyland.

Walt famously said, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world,” and I think that’s more true today than ever. Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar have created tremendous opportunities for new rides, shows, and lands throughout the parks, but there’s another opportunity for growth that Disneyland, in years past, have quietly addressed in small ways. One of the earliest changes to an attraction — and one that brought with it a lot of negativity towards Disneyland — was with the Pirates of the Caribbean, changing the pirate who was chasing the woman because she was a woman to chasing the woman because she was holding a platter of food (the comments in the LA Times don’t really hold up too well).

Disneyland has also changed attractions to increase safety or to bring better animatronics and effects into the ride, like with Alice in Wonderland or Peter Pan’s Flight. The Submarine Voyage’s original story at Disneyland was completely gutted and replaced with an entirely new Finding Nemo story.

Last summer, during the Black Lives Matter movement, Disneyland made the timely announcement that Splash Mountain would be getting a complete re-theming, removing the songs and characters from the racist film Song of the South and replacing them with The Princess and the Frog, which introduced us to Disney’s first Black Princess, Tiana. For a company that hasn’t always been on the right side of history, Disney’s timing came at exactly the right time.

A few months later, Disney’s Stories Matter website launched which addresses their history, including the addition of an advisory to the start of several “classic” Disney cartoons and films on Disney+, which reads:

This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now. Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together.

Disney is committed to creating stories with inspirational and aspirational themes that reflect the rich diversity of the human experience around the globe.

To learn more about how stories have impacted society, please visit
www.disney.com/StoriesMatter

It’s so much easier to click delete and pretend a scene or a movie never existed; it’s much harder to admit to a history of harm and try to change for the better. Disneyland began this journey decades ago by putting food in the hands of a woman being chased by a man; today they’re talking about what’s wrong and why it needs to change.

The changes to the Jungle Cruise are a welcome update to a classic ride. And I think the Jungle Cruise has already changed more than any other ride or attraction at the park: after all, the Jungle now has its own ecosystem. Walt knew Disneyland couldn’t survive in a vacuum, that to thrive and grow it would need to change with the times. Those changes can’t just be in the technology of the animatronics or the menus of the restaurants — sometimes they have to be much deeper. The removal of a negative stereotype from a classic Disneyland attraction won’t make the experience worse for anyone — but it does make it better for everyone.