The revamped version of the attraction will be based on the iconic 2009 animated film Princess and the Frog, featuring Disney’s first black princess, Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose).
Splash Mountain is based on the 1946 Disney movie Song of the South, which is based on the Uncle Remus stories of Joel Chandler Harris, a white Southern author who purported to have heard the stories from black Americans in the 19th century (although there is debate over whether or not this is actually the case). Song of the South depicts what critics say is an overly idealized view of the Reconstruction-era South, featuring anthropomorphized characters that have stereotypically black characteristics and a romanticized relationship between a freed black slave and a young white boy.
Immediately following its premiere, Song of the South was subject to criticism from groups like the NAACP, according to Karina Longworth’s podcast You Must Remember This, which devotes a season to the history of the film and Splash Mountain. “The same conversations we’re having today about who gets to tell people’s stories and who gets to profit off them and what the correct ways of doing that are, are things we were talking about in 1946,” Longworth told Rolling Stone last fall.
Despite such criticism, Disney re-released the movie four times in movie theaters between 1956 and 1986. While the company has not officially pulled the film, it has never been released on home video, leading to many fans erroneously referring to it as a “banned” movie. It’s also unavailable on the streaming service Disney Plus, with CEO Bob Iger saying at a shareholders meeting that the film is “not appropriate in today’s world.”
While some Disney fans have lobbied for Song of the South to be released, arguing that it is a crucial part of film history, over the past few years there’s been a growing effort among Disney fans to campaign for Splash Mountain, which opened in 1989, to be rethemed. A Change.org petition, “Retheme Splash Mountain to Princess and the Frog,” garnered more than 20,000 signatures.
In a press release on the Disney Parks blog, the Disney company makes oblique reference to the controversy surrounding the ride and its source material. “The retheming of Splash Mountain is of particular importance today,” the blog post states. “The new concept is inclusive — one that all of our guests can connect with and be inspired by, and it speaks to the diversity of the millions of people who visit our parks each year.”