The Splash Mountain Conspiracy: Did Disney Parks Intentionally Neglect the Beloved and Controversial Attraction?

Splash Mountain has a controversial history in the eyes of many; is Disney attempting to erase the ride and its storied past with deliberate neglect and ride malfunctions?

The Stories of Uncle Remus

Uncle Remus, His Songs and Sayings by Joel Chandler Harris, New York, D. Appleton and Company, 1881.

In 1881, journalist Joel Chandler Harris published a collection of southern folktales known as the Uncle Remus stories, which was the first of seven books in a series. He wrote these stories to document their historical and cultural value in the post-Reconstruction era south, as well as to depict the struggle of southern Black Americans living and working as sharecroppers on plantations.

This followed the success of the Brothers Grimm in early 1812, who collected oral tales for publication in order to write a history of old German poetry and to preserve their cultural history. The Uncle Remus stories themselves are a collection of animal stories, songs, and oral folklore collected from southern Black Americans. Many of the stories are moral tales, much like those of Aesop’s Fables, though Harris was framing them in the plantation context.

Illustration of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby

Harris wrote his stories in a dialect that included his phonetic spelling of the Deep South African-American language of the time in which the stories would be told. The main character of these stories is Br’er Rabbit (“Brother Rabbit”), a trouble-making trickster, who is often attempted to be thwarted by Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear.

Walt Disney was a fan of the Uncle Remus stories, having grown up hearing them as a child in Missouri, and in 1939 he began negotiating with the Harris family for the film rights. Filming of the adapted short stories began in 1944, and in 1946 Walt Disney’s Song of the South was released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Disney’s Song of the South Atlanta World Premiere

The Song of the South

The film premiered in November of 1946 in Atlanta Georgia, which was the home of the stories’ original author. Though the film was a financial success, critics noted that the film would land Disney in hot water for what could be perceived as outdated depictions of African Americans.

Some claimed that the stories themselves romanticized a past that “never existed,” seemingly ignoring the origins of the tales themselves in southern Black culture (a culture which is just as worthy of preservation and celebration as other cultures through folktales). The insistence that these tales were in fact controversial prevented Song of the South from ever having a home video release. 

Walt Disney’s Song of the South Original FIlm Advertisement

Splash Mountain

Splash Mountain, the attraction based on the Song of the South film with characters from the Uncle Remus stories, opened to Disneyland Park-goers on July 17, 1989. The idea for the attraction emerged while trying to solve the problems that came with including a log flume ride in the Parks, bringing more Guests into the less popular Bear Country (home of the Country Bear Jamboree) and reusing neglected America Sings character animatronics.

Imagineer Tony Baxter and his team developed the concept of “Zip-a-Dee River Run”. The ride was a success with Park-goers for the colorful and fun theming, the integration of the beloved Academy award-winning song “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah”, multiple drops, and the picture of Guests taken at the climactic drop of the ride. In 1992, the ride was brought to the Magic Kingdom’s Frontierland in Walt Disney World, as well as Tokyo Disneyland.

Disney Parks’ Splash Mountain: One of The 3 Famous Disney Mountains, alongside Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Space Mountain

In June 2020, over 30 years after the ride‘s debut, it was announced that the Disneyland and Magic Kingdom attractions would be re-themed based on the 2009 film The Princess and the Frog featuring several characters including the beloved Princess Tiana. This seemed to be a lateral move as several of the show scenes in Splash Mountain mirror moments in the Princess and the Frog film.

Splash Mountian’s celebratory ending show scene featuring “Zip a Dee Doo Dah”

Splash Mountain’s Refurbishment

The journey down a river in Splash Mountain mirrors Tiana and Naveen’s river journey into the bayou. The animals singing along the shorelines to “How do You Do?” could easily be seen singing along with Ray and his fellow fireflies to “Gonna Take you There”. The dark plummet into the “Laughing Place” sequence with its glowing features could translate to the dark illusions of Dr. Facilier the shadow man in “Friends on the Other Side.”

The climactic climb to the top of the hill above the briar patch could be the climb to Mama Odie’s tree in the bayou with “Dig a Little Deeper”. And the great finale featuring a traditional southern riverboat could be changed to feature Tiana and friends singing “Down in New Orleans“.

That is why it was such a surprise when it was announced that the ride‘s new narrative would not follow the story of the film, but rather a new narrative that followed trumpet-playing alligator Louis losing his signature instrument in the swamp. Concept images were later released indeed depicting Tiana and Naveen in never-before-seen explorer-type outfits, rather than the looks seen in the film.

A Sinking Ship

However, the ride‘s final narrative remains to be seen. In August 2021, Vice President of Magic Kingdom Melissa Valiquette stated that due to the slow process of redesigning the ride, it was “going to be a little bit of time to reimagine Splash Mountain.” This perhaps indicates that the transition from the ride as Splash Mountain to the yet-to-be-named Princess and the Frog attraction will not be as seamless as it initially seemed it could or should be.

With the delay in the ride‘s new design, the beloved original attraction has remained intact, despite falling into disrepair due to neglect. Frequent breakdowns and evacuations have been reported in recent years, including some of the ride‘s logs sinking with Park-goers inside.

Pictured: Splash Mountain Log sinking into the ride’s shallow waters.

This is paired with many of the ride‘s animatronics and water effects; at various points in the ride, these have ceased to work properly in both Disney World and Disneyland. One cannot help but wonder if the attraction is being intentionally neglected by Disney in order to try and diminish the popularity of the beloved attraction before the major changes are instated.

This would parallel the experience of Park-goers who encountered frequent malfunctioning effects and even a boat sinking in Disney’s Jungle Cruise right before the ride‘s refurbishment, erasing parts of the ride that were deemed by some as controversial.

Pictured: One of Jungle Cruise’s famous Boats sinking with Park-goers on board.

What does the future of Splash Mountain hold? Is Disney intentionally letting its more controversial rides tank in preparation for the new? Only Disney’s Imagineers know. 

About Maggie Koch

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.