Disney rebrands 'Splash Mountain' ride with first black princess


Los Angeles (AFP)

"Splash Mountain" rides at Disney theme parks will be rebranded with a film featuring the company's first black princess, it said Thursday, after petitions drew attention to the log flume's racist history

The popular "Splash Mountain" attractions at Disneyland and Disney World are based on the controversial 1946 film "Song of the South" -- a movie long accused of peddling racist tropes about the post-Civil War South.

They will be "completely reimagined" to tell the story of 2009's "The Princess and the Frog," which starred an African-American Princess Tiana.

"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," Disney said in a statement.

The move comes at a time when historic statues and monuments are being removed across the country, as Americans grapple with the legacy of racism.

Vast nationwide anti-racism protests followed African American George Floyd's death in police custody last month.

Disney said the "retheming of Splash Mountain is of particular importance today," but emphasized that it had been working on the changes since last year, and has a long history of updating attractions.

For instance, a scene depicting women on the auction block was recently removed from Disneyland's "Pirates of the Caribbean" attraction.

"It is important that our guests be able to see themselves in the experiences we create," said Carmen Smith, creative development and inclusive strategies executive at Walt Disney Imagineering.

No timeline was given for when the changes at Disney's California and Florida parks will be completed. Both are currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Disney World in Orlando is set to reopen mid-July, while the return of Disneyland near Los Angeles was indefinitely postponed Wednesday.

"Song of the South," best known today for its Oscar-winning tune "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah," has never been released on home video in the United States. It was excluded from Disney's recently launched streaming platform Disney+.

In March, then-CEO Bob Iger said that "even with a disclaimer" the film was "just not appropriate in today's world" and likely to cause offense.

The animation is accused of glorifying the plantation world of the old Deep South, and crudely stereotyping its black characters.

An online petition calling the film's history and storyline "extremely problematic," and demanding the "Splash Mountain" ride be rebranded, drew over 21,000 signatures.

The ride's new storyline will be set immediately after the "final kiss" of "The Princess and the Frog," Disney said.

Anika Noni Rose, who voiced Princess Tiana, said it was "really exciting to know that Princess Tiana's presence in both Disneyland and Magic Kingdom will finally be fully realized."