Disney Imagineer Defends ‘Song of the South’ and Splash Mountain

Animated display of a lion character with a shaggy mane and an owl companion in Tiana's Bayou Adventure setting with vibrant lighting, accentuating the whimsical and cartoonish theme.
Credit: Disney

Disney legend Tony Baxter was the former senior vice president of creative development at Walt Disney Imagineering. The 76-year-old former Imagineer oversaw the development of many classic Disneyland and Walt Disney World attractions, including Big Thunder Mountain, Star Tours, Splash Mountain, the Indiana Jones Adventure, and Journey into Imagination. He has been honored with a lifetime achievement award by the Themed Entertainment Association and, in 2013, was inducted as a Disney Legend at the D23 Expo. Recently, the Disney icon gave an interview with Zeitgeist Design and Production.

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Tony Baxter

Credit: D23

Song of the South (1946)

In that interview, he defended the original Splash Mountain he helped create and the film that inspired it. According to Tony Baxter, he explains that then Disney CEO Michael Eisner re-released Song of the South (1946) in the 1980s to determine if there was still interest in a movie from the 1940s.

Song of the south cover

Credit: Disney

It was an effort to confirm whether or not Song of the South (1946) was popular enough to sustain an E-ticket water attraction. And according to the former Disney Imagineer, the film performed better in the 1980s than in the 1940s.

Splash Mountain and the NAACP

Splash Mountain enterance

Credit: Flickr/ParkThoughts

He further explains that at the time of its construction, the Walt Disney Company and Disney Imagineering were aware of the potential controversy surrounding Song of the South (1946) and made efforts to ensure the ride would not be offensive to African Americans (or anyone else). Tony Baxter explains that they worked with the NAACP to develop the attraction and tested the concept with various groups. At the time, the dialect used by the characters was something that many people in the African American community enjoyed – because it was the first time that there was an attraction that wasn’t Euro-centric. Furthermore, Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox’s story was part of African American culture and history – not a Grimm Fairy Tale.

Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom

Credit: Disney

“I will stand by this today; there is not a thing in the ride that was detrimental to anybody,” Tony Baxter said. “Whatever the controversy is that’s come up has more to do with what the film is. I think we’re way overboard on that kind of sensitivity.”

Splash Mountain scene

Credit: Disney Dining

Former Disney Imagineer Tony Baxter also goes on to explain that one of the film’s original Cast Members (Nick Stewart, AKA Nick O’Demus) was able to reprise his role from the movie as an audio-animatronic Brer Bear.

RELATED: Splash Mountain Character Makes a Surprise Comeback at Disney

Despite the many objections by Tony Baxter (and other Disney Cast Members and fans) – Splash Mountain ceases to exist anymore in Disneyland Park or the Magic Kingdom Park. The only place to enjoy the world’s most popular theme Park attraction is Tokyo Disneyland.

Splash Mountain Log


About Steven Wilk

Steven has a complicated relationship with Disney. As a child, he visited Walt Disney World every few years with his family. But he never understood why kids his age (and older) were so scared of Snow White or Alien Encounter. He is a former participant of the Disney College Program (left early…long story), and he also previously worked in Children’s publishing, where he adapted multiple Disney movies and TV shows. He has many controversial opinions about Disney…like having a positive view of Michael Eisner, believing Return of the Jedi is superior to The Empire Strikes Back, and that Toy Story Land and Galaxy’s Edge should have never been built (at least not at Hollywood Studios). Every year for the past two decades, Steven has visited either Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Aulani or went on a Disney Cruise. He’s happy to share any and all knowledge of the Disney destinations (and he likes using parenthesis a lot…as well as ellipses…)