Why Splash Mountain had to go


People enjoying Splash Mountain in Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. VIAVAL/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Cameron Tollefson

On January 23, 2023, Disney officially closed the ride Splash Mountain at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. According to the official Disneyland website, the Californian ride is still open, but there is an announcement that it too will close. Disneyland in Japan has made no announcements or plans to close it. 

The question is: why? Why did Disney decide to revamp one of its most popular rides? The answer to that lies in a movie called Song of the South.

Released in 1946, Song of the South is now considered by many to be the most controversial film ever created by Disney. 

Film historian and author Karina Longworth, in her podcast You Must Remember This, focusing on Hollywood in the 20th century, details the plot of the movie. Though Song of the South never mentions a specific year, it takes place during the Reconstruction era. That is the period of American history following the Civil War when the country attempted, and mostly failed, to amend the errors of slavery and give African-Americans the same rights and privileges as White Americans. 

It begins with the film’s protagonist, Johnny, a young boy of around six years old who goes with his mother to the plantation she grew up on. He finds out that he will be living there indefinitely while his father stays in the city. Johnny is incredibly upset with this information and runs away that night in an attempt to join his father. He gets lost and runs into a man named Uncle Remus at a campsite where all of the Black workers live. 

Uncle Remus sings the film’s famous song, Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, which later received an Oscar for best original song. This is then where the “story within a story” comes into play. Uncle Remus tells Johnny about Br’er Rabbit, who attempts to leave his home, a briar patch, and runs away, only to encounter predators like Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear. Br’er Rabbit then decides that staying home, though not ideal, is better than the horrors outside. 

Considering the movie takes place in a Reconstruction-era South where the Black workers are heavily implied to be formerly enslaved people that were forced to work on the plantation, the story sends a subtle but clear message. 

Throughout the film, there are several more instances of racist media tropes and stereotypes. Overall, the film romanticizes the Reconstruction era and glosses over the horrors of slavery, with characters like Uncle Remus praising the past and saying it “twas better all around.”

Disney later re-released Song of the South in theaters four times after its initial release, the last one being in 1986, all of which turned a profit. That brings us to Splash Mountain. 

Opening in 1989 at Disneyland and 1992 at Disneyworld, the ride is based on the Br’er Rabbit stories that Uncle Remus tells to Johnny in the movie. The official description of the ride on the Disneyland website is: “Hop inside a hollow log and float through a colorful bayou as you follow happy-go-lucky Br’er Rabbit to his ‘laughing place.’ But be warned: Br’er Bear and Br’er Fox are in hot pursuit of this wayward hare.” It also says that one can “sing along to classic ditties, including Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.”

There are no mentions of Song of the South or any human characters from the movie. 

This fits with Disney’s use of the movie. The company has continued to profit off of small parts of the movie while simultaneously hiding the bigger, problematic aspects. Song of the South has never been released in any home video format and it isn’t on Disney’s streaming service, Disney+. When asked, the former CEO of Disney, Bob Iger confirmed the movie would never be released on Disney+ and said that Song of the South “was just not appropriate in today’s world.” It should be noted that the NAACP openly spoke out against the Song of the South when it was first released in 1946.

Originally, Disney announced its intent to replace Splash Mountain in June 2020, during the height of the protests over George Floyd’s murder in America. Disney released a statement saying that they were reimagining Splash Mountain and transforming it into a ride based on The Princess and the Frog. 

In 2022, Disney announced more details about the ride. Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, inspired by the Disney movie The Princess and the Frog, is set to open sometime in 2024. According to the description provided by Disney, the ride is set shortly after the movie and follows Tiana and her friends on their journey through the bayou to plan a Mardi Gras celebration. 

While some were happy with this new addition to Disney’s theme parks, others were less thrilled about Splash Mountain being replaced. Some attempted to start a petition to stop the ride’s closure. Hundreds of people waited in line on Splash Mountain’s final day, and on eBay, some have even sold water that allegedly came from the ride.

At the end of the day, it’s still the same ride. The only things different are the decorations and the name. 

On one hand, it’s about time Tiana is getting her moment in the spotlight. On the other hand, Disney isn’t actually atoning for the past, it’s just slapping a shiny new face onto it. 

It’s a reminder that before Disney is an artist or an activist for change, it is a corporation.