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The Walt Disney Co. announced on Thursday that the classic ride Splash Mountain would be retooled at its parks amid outcry over its ties to the controversial 1946 film Song of the South.
Splash Mountain first opened at Disneyland in 1989 and the ride was subsequently added to Walt Disney World and other parks around the globe.
However, amid the ongoing worldwide anti-racism protests in the wake of the May 25 killing of George Floyd, Splash Mountain found itself in the middle of the debate about what is acceptable.
The rides will be redesigned to depict scenes from The Princess and the Frog, the celebrated 2009 animated film featuring an African American female protagonist. In its Thursday announcement, Disney said it has been planning on retooling the ride since last year.
“The point of having an Imagineering division is to plan, test and implement new rides, redesigns and refreshes. Of course they have been thinking about ‘plussing’ the ride last year — they are supposed to be thinking about such changes all the time,” J.D. Connor, USC School of Cinematic Arts associate professor, whose courses include “Disney After Walt,” said of the timing of the development. “And I would be surprised if they hadn’t been thinking about a whole bunch of different versions of the re-theming, up to and including getting rid of the ride altogether. They generate options! So what matters is the decision to go ahead, and that seems to have been made recently.”
No date was given for the unveiling. While Walt Disney World is slated to reopen next month, the company on Wednesday said plans to reopen Disneyland were being postponed because state clearance concerning novel coronavirus pandemic outlines could not be given in time to keep to the schedule.
Splash Mountain features scenes and characters from 1946’s Song of the South, a movie so overtly out-of-touch and racist, Disney chairman and former CEO Bob Iger made it a point to note the film would never be available for purchase or made to stream on Disney+.
A number of petitions have been floating around online, one with some 21,000 signatures, calling for the ride to be rebranded, specifically as The Princess and the Frog.
This is not the first time Disney has altered a ride to change with the times. In 2017, Disneyland updated the classic Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland due to sexist moments, like a bride auction and an instance of a pirate chasing a woman through a house.
June 25, 10:15 a.m. Updated with comments from J.D. Connor.
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