Should Disney’s
Splash Mountain
Be Re-Themed?

Disney’s Splash Mountain
Will Be Re-Themed

Splash Mountain has been in the news this week. CNN had this headline: “Disney fans say Splash Mountain, a ride inspired by Song of the South, should be re-themed.” Newsweek had this: “Splash Mountain: Why People Are Calling the Disneyland Ride Racist.” There’s even an online petition to re-theme Splash Mountain to The Princess and the Frog.

Let’s take a look at what would be gained and lost if Splash Mountain were re-themed.

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, June 12, 2020

It didn’t take long for Disney to announce a new theme for Splash Mountain. Here’s the original Yesterland article from two weeks ago, but there’s now an update at the end.

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, June 25, 2020

Splash Mountain

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2019

Br’er Rabbit direction sign at Magic Kingdom Park

It’s no secret that Splash Mountain has characters, music, and story elements from Walt Disney’s Song of the South.

Through live action and animation, Song of the South put the Uncle Remus stories of Joel Chandler Harris on the silver screen in 1946, with U.S. re-releases in 1956, 1972, 1980, 1986…and then never again. Disney has never sold it in the U.S. on Laserdisc, Beta, VHS, DVD, or Blu-ray, and it’s conspicuously absent from Disney+.

Although Song of the South is often called racist, opinions about this vary widely. In any case, the movie is problematic—sufficiently problematic that Disney has locked it away from the public.

Splash Mountain

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2018

Log Flume at Disneyland

Splash Mountain

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2016

The big drop at Disneyland

And then there’s Splash Mountain. It’s not called the Song of the South ride. There are no references to a Reconstruction-era plantation or to Uncle Remus and other human characters in the movie. Although the movie had been in theaters as recently as 1986, the Imagineers at WDI were aware of issues as they worked toward the 1989 opening of the ride.

Splash Mountain does its best to avoid everything that people find objectionable about the movie, but it’s still “guilty by association.”

The biggest “star” of the ride is the ride system itself—a brilliantly designed log flume with a surprise at one point and exhilarating final drop.

Splash Mountain

Photo by Werner Weiss, 1974

Defunct America Sings at Disneyland

For its rural Southern show scenes, Splash Mountain relies primarily on animatronic figures harvested from a defunct Tomorrowland attraction, America Sings (1974-1988). These characacters are not from Song of the South, but they work well with Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox, and Br’er Bear because Disney Legend Marc David did the character design for all of them.

Splash Mountain

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2018

Alligators from America Sings at Disneyland

Splash Mountain

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2018

More America Sings characters in Splash Mountain at Disneyland

In fact, the America Sings characters worked so well that when Splash Mountain attractions were added to Magic Kingdom Park and Tokyo Disneyland—parks that never had America Sings—replicas of the characters were made for those parks.

Splash Mountain

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2019

Replicas of America Sings characters in Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom Park

Then there’s the music. “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” is from Song of the South, but it has taken on a life to its own. When people hear it, they think of Disney and Splash Mountain, not of a movie that most have never seen.

Splash Mountain

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2019

Br’er Rabbit in Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom Park

Splash Mountain

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2018

Briar Patch at Disneyland

The storyline of Splash Mountain is based on an animated sequence in Song of the South when Br’er Rabbit tricks Br’er Fox into throwing him into the briar patch, which is exactly what the smart little rabbit wants. The final drop throws guests into the ride’s briar patch—which is what the riders want.

The next scene is a riverboat—somewhat different at Disneyland and Magic Kingdom Park—with the America Sings characters not used in other scenes.

Splash Mountain

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2019

Zip-a-Dee Lady riverboat at Disneyland

Splash Mountain

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2019

Zip-a-Dee Lady riverboat at Magic Kingdom Park

So what should Disney do about the ties between its beloved Splash Mountain and its problematic Song of the South?

The first option is to do nothing. Guests love the ride as it is. Changing it would generate guest disappointment and anger. Of course, this is also the least expensive option for Disney. But the connection to Song of the South doesn’t go away.

The second option would be to eliminate the tie-ins to Song of the South. The current story involving Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox, and Br’er Bear and the briar patch would be replaced, but the rest of the huge cast of critters designed by Marc Davis and the show scenes they inhabit would stay. Splash Mountain would have its own mythology, backstory, and sense of place, and those would not involve Song of the South in any way. Sadly, this would probably also mean different music.

Splash Mountain

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2018

Chickapin Hill at Disneyland

The third option, as suggested by fans, would be to re-theme Splash Mountain to Disney’s The Princess and the Frog (2009). Disney has done major re-theming—keeping the ride system but changing the “show”—before, including Maelstrom at Epcot into Frozen Ever After and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney California Adventure into Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: BREAKOUT!

The Princess and the Frog is a wonderful movie, and it should have a Disney theme Park presence—not only a ride, but also Tiana’s restaurant. However, shoehorning it into an existing log flume mountain would seem to be an awkward stretch. The movie’s setting is New Orleans and the bayous beyond it—not mountains, caves, and waterfalls. Also, it would be a shame for Splash Mountain to lose its delightful show scenes with the Marc Davis critters.

The fourth option would be some sort of a hybrid, keeping the Marc Davis characters, but also having Princess Tiana and other characters from the movie interspersed with them. The stories and styles wouldn’t match. This is probably the worst option.

The fifth option would be to consider an entirely different IP, such as A Goofy Movie (1995), which even includes going down a waterfall.

But no matter how creative WDI is with any of the options other than the first one, it’s likely the guest reaction will be, “I liked it better the way it used to be.”


UPDATE – JUNE 25, 2020

On June 25, 2020, the Disney Parks Blog published an announcement that began with this paragraph:

Today we are thrilled to share a first glimpse of a project Imagineers have been working on since last year. 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. We 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.

The announcement did not mention Splash Mountain at Tokyo Disneyland. That could mean it will remain unchanged because Japan is a different country and culture. After all, Disney released Song of the South in Japan on LaserDisc in 1990, after it had been locked away in the United States. Or it could just mean that the company that owns Tokyo Disneyland has not yet made a decision.

Concept art showed Splash Mountain with Mama Odie’s tree at the top—and no briar patch at the bottom. There was no concept artwork for the interior.

Splash Mountain

Artist Concept Only © Disney

Splash Mountain reimagined to The Princess and the Frog

The Princess and the Frog doesn’t have anything about floating in logs, but, then again, neither did Song of the South. Also, the ride’s story will take place “after the final kiss” in the movie, so guests can follow Tiana and Louis on an adventure that wasn’t in the movie. The Imagineers can make the new theme work with the mountain, caves, and logs.

A lot of questions come to mind.

Dr. Facilier and the voodoo spirits could provide a deliciously terrifying section in the ride—but given when the ride’s story takes place, how can they be worked in?

Does this mean the end of the Marc Davis-designed America Sings characters ? Although they have served well in two different attractions, they really don’t belong in Tiana’s world.

Will there be traditional animatronics, perhaps with Disney re-skinning existing animatronics, as when Superstar Limo became Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue! at Disney California Adventure? Or will there now be more reliance on projections and video displays?

Will Splash Mountain keep its name? Or will it become something like Princess Tiana and Louis’s Log Adventure? Even if the name changes, guests will still call it Splash Mountain—which is a great name for a log ride.

Splash Mountain has had a 31-year first act with its original show scenes and story. Now it has a future that will combine the wonderful log flume experience with the memorable characters, atmospheric settings, and catchy music from The Princess and the Frog. As long as Disney does not try to do the transformation on the cheap, Splash Mountain will have a great second act.


For more about Splash Mountain, Song of the South, and a 2013 conversation about them with Jim Korkis, please continue to:

Who’s Afraid of Song of the South?


Who’s Afraid of the Song of the South? [ISBN: 978-0984341559] is available from Amazon:



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Updated June 25, 2020.