Disgusting, Disrespectful, & unforgivably insensitive: Disney World is reimagining the wrong attraction

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Disney Parks ever remains on the cutting edge when it comes to the creation of entertainment offerings across the globe, and that cutting-edge standard comes in various forms like attractions, rides, parks experiences, and the reimagining of current offerings.

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Perhaps one of the most prominent examples of this is the newly-unveiled reimagining of the Splash Mountain attraction at Disneyland Resort and the Walt Disney World Resort, which will become a new Princess and the Frog-themed attraction sometime in 2024.

And while fans can appreciate Disney’s dedication to continually upgrading the Guest experience at Disney Parks, many feel that The Walt Disney Company picked the wrong attraction with which to start.

The first version of Disney ParksSplash Mountain attraction opened to Guests at Disneyland Resort on July 17, 1989. Exactly three years later, Guests at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida were offered a soft opening of the Splash Mountain attraction, followed by the grand opening of the ride on October 2, 1992, just a day after the attraction opened at Tokyo Disneyland.

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Official]Splash Mountain|Tokyo Disneyland|Tokyo Disney Resort

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Disneyland’s version is hailed on the resort’s official website as a “hare-raising experience,” one that invites Guests to “hop inside a hollow log and float through a colorful bayou as you follow happy-go-lucky Br’er Rabbit to his “laughing place.” But be warned: Br’er Bear and Br’er Fox are in hot pursuit of this wayward hare.

Glide past over 100 talking, singing, storytelling Audio-Animatronics critters who inhabit Splash Mountain and offer up their own slice of down-home culture. Sing along to classic Disney ditties, including “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.”

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Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby - New Georgia Encyclopedia

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A similar description can be found on the Disney World website.

Both the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resort attractions boast 950,000 gallons of water, three dips, and a finale that consists of a massive five-story splashdown.

But in June 2020, Disney announced a massive reimagining of the attraction via Disney Parks Blog:

“Splash Mountain at both Disneyland Park in California and Magic Kingdom Park in Florida will soon be completely reimagined. The theme is inspired by an all-time favorite animated Disney film, “The Princess and the Frog.”

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Disney further announced that the ride would “pick up this story after the final kiss and join Princess Tiana and Louis on a musical adventure featuring some of the powerful music from the film as they prepare for their first-ever Mardi Gras performance.”

But little else was known then about plans for the take-two of the famous log flume water ride at Disney World and Disneyland Park.

What was known was that Splash Mountain was based on an old Disney film that has been at the center of controversy and debate in recent years. Because of this, the film isn’t available on DVD or Blu-Ray, and it has never debuted on the Disney+ streaming platform. In fact, it’s just about impossible to find the film–even on sites like eBay and Amazon.

Splash Mountain, like every other Disney Parks attraction, is based on a Disney story–and it tells a story. No harm, no foul, right? Wrong, according to a growing number of fans who have voiced concerns over Disney’s 1946 The Song of the South, upon which the attraction is based. The film has long been problematic, as many feel the film helps to perseverate racist stereotypes against the African American community.

Default Disney: Song of the South (1946) - Hilarity by Default

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The Splash Mountain attraction features zero references to the film’s main character, Uncle Remus. Rather, it features only the animal characters from the film, such as Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Bear, and Br’er Fox. And because the Song of the South film is unavailable, the chances are that many Guests who experience the Splash Mountain attraction have never seen the film and would know very little–if anything–about any potentially offensive elements of the film.

Earlier this month, Disney Parks announced that the newly reimagined Splash Mountain attraction, which will be named “Tianas Bayou Adventure,” will debut sometime in 2024. The change sounds as good as done.

Splash Mountain to Princess and the Frog

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And while there’s viable merit to Disney’s efforts in combatting potentially harmful and hurtful elements like racial stereotypes in its productions and in Disney Parks attractions based upon those productions, there’s at least one potentially harmful and hurtful element in another Magic Kingdom attraction that never should have been included in an attraction–especially in a vacation resort geared toward families.

Among the original team of Walt Disney Imagineers, it was common knowledge that Walt had the long-standing goal of building a “haunted house”-esque attraction at Disneyland. In fact, the blueprints for the structure that would house such an experience were drawn up, and the structure was built. But because the New York World’s Fair was on the horizon, and Walt had been commissioned by General Electric to produce elements for the company’s pavilion, it was all hands on deck for the World’s Fair efforts.

Disney's Haunted Mansion-Behind the Scenes~ | Disney haunted mansion, Haunted mansion, Haunted mansion disneyland

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Thus, the stately mansion at Disneyland lay vacant, dormant, empty, and eerily quiet for years before the new Haunted Mansion attraction experience inhabited the house in 1969. When the Walt Disney World Resort opened in October 1971, the Haunted Mansion was among its Opening Day attractions.

Flashback - October 1971

The Haunted Mansion, Disney World, October 1971/Credit: Orlando Magazine

Finally, several years after his death, Walt’s dream had been realized.

But that dream is often the stuff of nightmares, as the opening scene of the attraction features a visual image of a suicide in the form of a human figure hanging by his neck from the ceiling of the Portrait Chamber (also called the Stretching Room). It’s distasteful, disheartening, and quite frankly, disgusting and incredibly disrespectful to anyone whose life has ever been touched by the ripple effects of such a terrible tragedy.

The Haunted Mansion's Stretching Room Returns! - YouTube

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Because the Haunted Mansion attractions were fashioned after Walt Disney died, the Disney fan inside of this writer unequivocally believes such a scene was no part of Walt’s plan for the new attraction. Disney had been clear in his directives and instruction to Imagineers that the new attraction would NOT be such an experience, as fans can gather from this 1965 episode of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.

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Naysayers have pointed out that the suicide visual is located in the topmost part of the high-pitched ceiling of the Portrait Chamber, so Guests can simply look away. But the design of the attraction points Guests’ eyes directly to the suicide element, as all the lights go out, save for those illuminating the hanging figure.

No part of the suicide scene should have ever been included in a Disney Parks attraction, but since there is no such thing as truly re-writing history–despite the efforts taken and edicts passed in recent years in an attempt to do so–this writer will not waste time on the subject of poor judgment on the part of Walt Disney Imagineering in the Haunted Mansion attraction.

Rather, I’ll propose an immediate pause on the Splash Mountain-Princess Tiana project in the name of the far more pressing need for a reimagining that would potentially affect an untold number of Guests whose lives have been either grazed or turned upside-down by the tragedy of suicide. If ever there were an attraction (or element of an attraction) that is harmful or hurtful (not to mention outright heinous) toward Guests and Cast Members alike, it’s this visual image inside the Haunted Mansion attraction.

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For the record, it’s also incredibly cold, heartless, and nearly unforgivably insensitive and malicious toward anyone who has ever been affected by suicide. (It’s worth noting that the scene appears in a moment of cliffhanging suspense, offering first-time Guests no knowledge that they are about to see something that could be extremely unsettling for them, making the scene all the more disgusting and disrespectful.)

Who would celebrate such a tragedy? It needs to be removed. Immediately.

Disney would incur extremely minimal costs in this proposed reimagining; after all, it wouldn’t require a complete overhaul. It requires only the removal of the figure and a different lighting sequence (perhaps). The scene adds nothing to the experience except for a visage of gruesomeness, terror, and personal trauma, each of which would be gone once the image is removed.

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And during the time it takes for Disney to launch an Imagineer or skilled Cast Member up to the topmost part of the chamber, the situation can be completely rectified by simply keeping all lighting off of the figure above the chamber until it’s removed. The entire project will prove to be perhaps the most inexpensive and most positive change ever to grace a Disney Parks attraction.

And it needs to be done far sooner than any change to Splash Mountain. This writer is most definitely a Tiana fan, but I’m also a fan of entertainment that doesn’t ostracize any Guest on the basis of familiarity with an awful tragedy, and all of my research tells me I’m certainly not alone in this.

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!