Disney’s Splash Mountain is set to reopen with a Princess Tiana theme

Disney’s Splash Mountain is set to reopen with a Princess Tiana theme

In the summer of 2020, as a reckoning over racial justice swept the country, Disney said it would rip Splash Mountain, a popular ride with a racist storyline.

Some people cheered, saying the move was long overdue: After 31 years at Disneyland in California and 28 years at Walt Disney World in Florida, the attraction had to be canceled — along with the animal minstrels from “Song of the South,” the 1946 hit film .

But Disney also faced negative backlash. Last year, when Splash Mountain finally closed, someone started Temporary memorial Near its entrance, the type that appears at horrific crime scenes. Stunned fans brought out jars of water. More than 100,000 fans signed a petition calling on Disney to reverse its “ridiculous” decision.

Now, Disney is rolling out a replacement for Splash Mountain, which is based on “The Princess and the Frog,” the 2009 animated musical that introduced Disney’s first black princess. The fun new ride, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, will open to the public on June 28 at Disney World, with a similar version expected to arrive at Disneyland by the end of the year.

It’s a historic moment for Disney: After 69 years in the theme park business, the company will have a landmark attraction based on a black character. Analysts estimate that Disney spent at least $150 million on the coastal project. (A Disney spokesperson declined to comment on the cost.)

“For young black kids, of course it’s a wonderful, amazing way to show representation.” Anika Noni Rose, who voiced Tiana in the film and recorded new lines for the ride, when the project was announced. “For kids who don’t look like Tiana, this is a way to open their eyes.

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Disney has remade rides before, often due to fan outcry, but this overhaul is particularly subtle. In recent years, Disney has found itself embroiled in nationwide debates over diversity and inclusion initiatives, with prominent Republican politicians and conservative media pundits pointing to Disney as an example of corporate political correctness.

The pressure is beginning to fade, in part because Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is no longer running for president and has been attacking “Woke Disney” at campaign stops. Disney CEO Robert Iger has also repeatedly said he steered Disney away from “agenda-driven” content.

Tiana’s Bayou Adventure could put Disney back on the cultural battlefield. Or it could provide further evidence that the debate has passed.

“Our parks are treasured, and our fans care deeply about how they evolve and change — just as we do,” Josh D’Amaro, Disney’s theme park president, said in an interview. “The one thing fans always tell me is, ‘If you change it, promise to make it better.’ And I think we delivered on that promise with Tiana.

Tiana’s Bayou Adventure uses the same riding trails as Splash Mountain, and riders still travel in vehicles made to look like hollowed out logs. But everything else has been redesigned. Instead of a thrilling story that involves Br’er Rabbit being thrown into a thorny patch, the new attraction focuses on a Mardi Gras party: Tiana and her friend Louis, a trumpet-playing alligator, search for creatures to form a band.

Halfway through, Julie Mama Odie, the Voodoo Queen of “The Princess and the Frog” and now “Bayou’s Fairy Godmother,” casts a spell, supposedly to shrink the riders to the size of fireflies.

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Tiana’s Bayou Adventure also has a new pointed phrase: “Hello, Everyone.”

While riding Tiana’s Bayou Adventure with a reporter during the soft opening phase, Ted Robledo, the attraction’s executive creative director, pointed out several inclusive touches — decorative elements in Spanish and French, reflecting New Orleans’ multicultural history; A variety of music (jazz, zydeco, blues) played on the sound system.

“It’s a nod to the indigenous people of the area,” Robledo said, referring to the Choctaw ball bat found in the diorama near the ride’s entrance.

“We are always looking for ways to expand our network,” Mr. Robledo said. “With the older properties, for various reasons, it just didn’t matter anymore. It had kind of run its course.”

“The Princess and the Frog,” about a working-class woman who becomes royalty, was a disappointment at the box office. However, Tiana became crucial to Disney. In consumer surveys conducted by the company, she ranked second in popularity—of the entire roster of Disney characters—among black women. (The Lion King characters are No. 1.)

Disney has high hopes for merchandise associated with the new attraction, expanding the film’s story. (there Two gift shops Close to its director.) The Tiana animated series will be coming to Disney+ and will continue part of the story set up by the ride.

“Tiana is a modern princess who resonates with everyone,” Mr. D’Amaro said. “She was not born into royalty, but her story of perseverance and pride is timeless. This enduring quality is crucial to the attractions in our parks, because they need to entertain across generations.”

Mr. D’Amaro likened complaints about the removal of Splash Mountain to a previous situation at the Disneyland Resort. In 2017, Disney closed the iconic Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, a hotel with broken elevators, and rebuilt it in the style of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Fans booed – until they had the chance to ride the substitute.

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“It was a controversial decision at the time, but by presenting a modern story with a different emotion, we created a whole new experience,” Mr. D’Amaro said, noting that visitor ratings for the reconstructed Tower of Terror have skyrocketed.

This month, Disney posted a nine-minute clip Video tour From Tiana’s new hottie on the internet. As of Monday, it had been viewed 625,000 times, with 10,000 liking it and 38,000 liking it. “The trip seems to lack tension and exciting risks.” Jim Scholl, a retired Disney park designer, wrote on X, based on the video. A small group of Splash Mountain fanatics nicknamed the new ride Tiana’s Bayou Blunder.

The reaction has been much more positive from those who rode the attraction, which is in its soft opening period.

“loved it,” Victoria Wade, a social media influencer from Baltimore, said Thursday. “I love how this attraction adds more to the continuation of Tiana’s story.” She described the 48 animated characters on the ride as “absolutely incredible.”

Drew Smith, 21, a self-described “huge Disney fan” from Windermere, Florida, made his way onto the ride during the testing phase. “Splash Mountain has been my favorite attraction since I was a little kid, and I’m very happy to say that the new ride is just as amazing,” he said in an interview. “Don’t believe the haters!”

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