At Disneyland you can find all kids of rides, many of them fan favorites for decades. From the Jungle Cruise to It’s a Small World, these rides are classics in the Disney park cannon. Among the most famous of rides is Splash Mountain, a log ride with a water-y ending that’s recently made headlines because it’s getting axed from the Disney line up.
On Sunday, January 22, 2023 the ride as we know it took it’s last plunging dip into the water as onlookers mourned its loss preemptively. Many Disney park fans have now taken to social media to decry the ride closing down and don’t see why it has to go. However, the ride and the film it was based on have been mired in controversy for some time.
The ride is based on the scenery and characters of the 1946 animated/live action musical Song of the South. This 94-minute movie contains the song that was once recognizable around the world as pure Disney, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”. Anyone born before 1990 in the US would be able to identify this song after only hearing a few bars- that’s how iconic it was for Disney. It was included for decades in the opening to the popular TV show The Wonderful World of Disney, which delighted children every week for generations.
But, the movie is based on the Uncle Remus stories that were first published in the 1880s. These stories centered around the trickster Br’er Rabbit (short for Brother Rabbit) and his animal friends and foes. The original stories were written in a contrived African American Southern dialect by the white author, Joel Chandler Harris, who had recorded the tales during the Civil War from enslaved people working on his family’s plantation.
The Reconstruction-era books minimize the harsh realities of chattel slavery and make light of Black storytelling traditions, despite having roots in African American folklore. Sadly these same themes can be found in Song of the South as well.
Inside the ride are depictions of the animated animals from the movie, but the freedman character of Uncle Remus is absent. Because of this Disney executives didn’t expect any backlash in 1987 when the ride opened. And, since then some of the animal characters have appeared in other Disney films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Lion King 1 1/2 so some fans of Splash Mountain my not even know they first appeared in Song of the South.
Currently the film is not available on Disney+ or other popular streaming sites. In fact Disney CEO Robert Iger said in 2020 that the film was “not appropriate in today’s world” -signaling that many families no longer find this type of film appropriate. He also said that it wouldn’t be added to the streaming catalog, not even with the disclaimer at the beginning “may contain outdated cultural depictions” as Dumbo has. Even as far back as the early 2000s fans of the film were asking for it to be re-released, but this appears increasingly unlikely to ever happen.
The move to end Splash Mountain (named as an homage to the movie Splash) isn’t a rash one as it was decided in 2020 that the theme would be changed.
The actual log ride itself will still be intact, with the decorations and characters changed to ones from the The Princess and the Frog (2009), the first Disney film to feature a Black princess. This change will keep the Southern theme of the ride as the cartoon is set in 1920s New Orleans. The new ride is set to re-open in late 2024 as Tiana’s Bayou Adventure.