So Long, Splash Mountain; Hello, Tiana's Bayou Adventure
Updated: May 10
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Splash Mountain Changes Its Theme to Tiana's Bayou Adventure
The Reasons Why Disney Changed the Log Flume Theme
See our Point of View Video of
Amidst different points of view, the Splash Mountain log flume water ride attraction in Magic Kingdom, Disney World has closed to be transformed into Tiana's Bayou Adventure.
The basic attraction is constructed as a log flume ride culminating splashing down the mountain where you get wet. It is a popular attraction, even in winter, with riders sometimes donning ponchos and securing valuables to prevent water damage. Others, particularly if it is blazing hot, don't mind getting soaked because you will certainly dry off quickly in the Florida sun. You used to through the world of Br'er Rabbit, with the story told in dialogue and song, as the Rabbit goes on his adventures. Sometimes, he was caught by the Fox and the Bear, but he always tricked them into being set free. In the end, it was the Bear that gets caught and then you rode your log down into the flume, splashing down. You continued riding through final scenes until you exited the ride. There are reasons why Disney changed the theme of the log flume ride.
The controversy exists with the theme of the log flume ride: it's based off a 1946 movie entitled Song of the South. That plot was based of the stories of Uncle Remus and Br'er (short for Brother) Rabbit and his adventures against Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear. The plot of the attraction was always controversial since it was conceived in 1983 and launched in 1992, long after 1946. In fact, the original movie drew criticism since it was released among the rising Civil Right movement. For at least 5 years prior to the announcement in 2019, Disney execs allegedly were discussing re-theming the ride.
Now, Disney has changed the theme of the log flume ride. So far, Anika Noni Rose (Tiana), Bruno Campos (Naveen), Michael-Leon Wooley (Louis), and Jenifer Lewis (Mama Odie) are reprising their roles for the ride. Since New Orleans is a flat city, the final splashdown takes place on a salt dome, to explain the "mountain."
Some fans of the ride are unfamiliar with the background story of Splash Mountain and don't know the controversy associated with it. They have been vocal about why Disney changed the theme of the ride, which is visually appealing inside and is fun. Others have applauded that one of the Disney Princesses is getting a ride of her own, following after The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure and Frozen Ever After (the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train shows Snow White, but doesn't really feature her), not to mention the main character is African-American.
The Uncle Remus stories were told during the USA slavery era by slaves who remembered the folk stories of Africa. The author, Joel Chandler Harris, who was white, wrote the dialogue to represent what was perceived to be the deep Southern dialect spoken by African-Americans during the antebellum era. Br'er Rabbit is constantly getting in and out of trouble, often hindered by the other characters. The original stories were collected by the author from former slaves, therefore the title character, Uncle Remus, was black, telling the fables as an African griot.
Walt Disney, born in 1901, would have probably grown up with these stories, which were published between 1881-1910. The author himself, Joel Chandler Harris, 1848-1908, actually apprenticed for a printer on a plantation. He would hang out in the slave quarters, listening to the stories they told. He remembered them, wrote them down as he perceived he heard them and published them (some were published posthumously).
Harris' fond memories of his time spent on that plantation turned out to be his legacy, for better or worse. As a journalist, he isn't remembered much. But, he was, and still is, criticized for writing the Uncle Remus stories. Sadly, his other works as a journalist and author, writing stories and publishing a magazine that focused positive race relations and promoting the social and economic rise for African-Americans are not well known.
Harris' stories probably would not be so well-known if Disney had not produced the film Song of the South at a time when African-Americans were trying to destroy the stereotyped perceptions of the culture and achieve true civil rights in the United States. The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s-1930s that demonstrated the artistic brilliance of the culture, the founding of what would later be called Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs, with the first one starting in 1837), the rise of the Black Middle Class and the work of civil rights groups and activists were part of the progress that in high gear by 1946. Jackie Robinson would break the color barrier in baseball the next year and Jesse Owens had long proved that the idea of white supremacy in all things was not scientifically correct. The timing of the movie with this subject was very interesting indeed.
Furthermore, the value of the African folklore, as remembered by some slaves who were born in Africa as well as their descendants remembering these stories, was credited to one who was not of the culture. Unfortunately, any lessons contained within the stories were lost with people focusing on the dialect associated with not only the days of slavery, but the image of uneducated African-Americans. And many of these images became part of the stereotyped images that would be continued for decades, even a century after. The drawings associated with the stories are also reminiscent of minstrel shows, racist cartoons and portrayals of African-Americans in Hollywood movies, and later, television.
If black people at one time were encouraged to speak in a certain manner to illustrate the inequities in education and sophistication during and immediately after slavery and to effectively keep them in second class citizenship, then releasing Song of the South in 1946 was not viewed as helping the cause. Disney employed writer Dalton Reymond, later Maurice Rapf to write the script. Reymond, who was Jewish and liberal, originally had phrases from the stories but they later watered down some of the language. However, the project attracted attention and was protested by African-American actors and organizations. In fact, Disney refused to let the NAACP and the American Council on Race Relations to see the script.
Meanwhile, the film went through typical growing pains, starting out first as a series that would be totally animated, to a feature length animated film to the final production of live action combined with animation. This would be a tactic Disney would use in other films including Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
Finding an actor to play Uncle Remus would be an adventure. Clarence Muse was actually a consultant but quit because Reymond did not listen to his suggestions, particular with the dialect and some phrases. He also wanted the part but did not get it. After considering Paul Robeson and others, James Baskett was selected. Baskett won an honorary Oscar in 1948. Ironically, as with Hattie McDaniel in 1939 with Gone With the Wind, Bassett could not attend the premiere of the film, which was held in Atlanta, Georgia, which was the last hometown of Joel Harris.
It's interested to note that Song of the South in its entirety is still not available to be seen. It was not released on VHS or DVD nor is it currently available on Disney +. The controversy still continues. Also consider this: Uncle Remus was not featured in the ride, replaced by Br'er Frog. In the 1990s, Disney probably knew that there would be a backlash and tried to make the ride as acceptable as possible. The discussion still continues in and around Disney, whether the film is part of the history of this country, its past and present perceptions and race relations in general. Certainly, film students can benefit from knowing the history.
But, there is one everlasting component: the song "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" is the film's one positive feature. Footage of this song, which includes the live action/animation combo, has been seen in compilations and anthologies. For many generations, this is all that is known of the film.
What is good is that the technical part of the ride will still be a log flume water ride with a splashdown. For some, as long as you keep this part, the theme doesn't matter, it'll be time to cool off and get wet.
Either way, we'll ride it and we can't wait for the ride to come back!
See our Point of View Video of Splash Mountain