Rewriting The Magic – My Thoughts On Splash Mountain

Last Thursday, the good folks at Disney announced that a classic ride was going to be rethemed. Splash Mountain, currently themed to the movie Song Of The South, was going to be rehauled to a Princess And The Frog theme at an unspecified future date.

This announcement sparked controversy, as is the case with every single change Disney ever makes to the parks, though this one has some serious connotations.

For my thoughts on change in the parks, and I suppose in general, I invite you to read this post from last year: https://jennifermorash.com/2019/08/07/how-winnie-the-pooh-taught-me-to-let-go/ Actually, you should read it, it’s probably my favourite past post.

History Of Splash Mountain

Splash Mountain debuted at Disney Land in 1989, and at Disney World and Tokyo Disney in 1992. The California version reused animatronics from the America Sings attraction and was located in Critter Country near its border with New Orleans Square. In Disney World, they placed it in Frontier Land, while Tokyo Disney also placed their version in a Critter Country area.

Splash Mountain combines the traditional Disney dark ride in a boat system with a log flume, and follows the adventures of Br’er Rabbit and his encounters with Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear. Most of the ride is slow, taking the rider through scenes with a few smallish drops, but comes outside at the end for the big drop.

Song Of The South

Released in 1946, Song Of The South is a combined live action and animation film based around the Uncle Remus books by Joel Chandler Harris. It takes place in Georgia during the Reconstruction Era.

The plot more or less centers around Uncle Remus, a freedman, telling stories to a wealthy young white boy staying at his grandparents’ plantation for the summer. Those stories are the animated segments.

I will make one clarification in the movie’s defense, and only one: it does not depict outright, actual slavery, as some people assume it does. It isn’t stated anywhere in the film that it takes place during Reconstruction, but it does, according to the book. It’s easy to think that it does, however, and that alone can be damaging.

That said… this movie is quite horrendously racist. It glorifies the relationship between black plantation workers and their white “employers”, picturing it as this idyllic utopia where master and worker were both just as happy as could be.

Moreover, it makes use of an African American dialect as interpretted by white men, which was neither accurate or complimentary. It takes traditional African American folk tales (the Uncle Remus tales were originally that before being transcribed into a book) and appropriates them for the use of white men.

The film is beautiful visually for its time, and I admit does have a charm if you view it without the lens of history, but at its core it is racist and really offensive to both black people and supporters of black people.

Back To The Mountain

So, like I said, Splash Mountain took its theme only from the animated segments, so you only see animatronic animals having a grand old time. There is nothing racist or particularly problematic in the ride itself. I think that may be part of why some people find it hard to understand why others find it so offensive.

It’s not what the ride shows that’s the problem, it’s the fact that it is based on a movie so problematic that Disney has completely pulled it from the public. It has not, and never will be released on DVD, Blue Ray or on Disney Plus. The only way one can watch it is to track down an old VHS copy. Given how much Disney likes to play on nostalgia for older films, that should tell you something.

Moreover, it’s showing a set of once beloved folk stories and twisting them into propaganda for white supremacy. Or at least showing the end result of that. I don’t think for a moment that the talented imagineers who initially designed and built the ride meant to do anything of the sort, but ignorance isn’t a good excuse to keep something that isn’t right.

New Theme

The announcement has stated that the new theme is going to be the Princess And The frog movie, with Disney’s first black princess. This is a movie that took the old fairy tale and gave it a closer to contemporary twist. It doesn’t take place during the present day, but it isn’t medieval times, either. To be specific, it’s in 1926 New Orleans.

The ride is going to follow a story that begins after the final kiss of the movie and follows Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen as they prepare for a Mardi Gras performance. Details are, at this time, pretty scarce.

Arguments and Counter-Arguments

I’ve been hearing a few arguments over and over against this retheming. I’ve answered a lot of them in various places, but I want to address them here. Actually, this is why I wrote this particular blog, I just wanted to go into the background above first.

  1. It doesn’t fit the theme of Frontier Land!

This one is, technically, true. Louisianna isn’t exactly the western frontier. However, you know what else isn’t the western frontier? Reconstruction Era Georgia. The funny thing about this one is that it never even crossed my mind that the current Splash Mountain is a bit out of place until this issue came up. And the Disney Land (no announcement at this time about Tokyo Disney) will have a very fitting area for it. There’s loads of critters in that movie and, well, New Orleans Square is right there.

  1. There’s no waterfalls in Louisianna.

It’s true that the bayou isn’t exactly known for its waterfalls, but there actually is one in the movie. I only realized this today, though, while listening to the audio description of the end credits animation, but Tiana and Naveen do go over a waterfall there. Also, there is no reason that it needs to be a naturally occuring waterfall. Until we know where the drop portion fits into the story, I think we just have to trust Disney.

  1. But the ride isn’t racist.

Maybe, maybe not. I would say that being based on a very racist IP (intellectual property) does make it racist, but even if the ride shows no racism, it doesn’t change the fact that there is a ride at Disney that is extremely hurtful to a lot of people. Can you look me in the eye and tell me that you’d like to see people being hurt so you can keep your favourite ride? Can you look them in the eye?

  1. But it’s a classic.

So was Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. So was The Scary Adventures of Snow White. So was Horizons. Those are all either gone or changed into something new, as are many other attractions. Walt never intended the parks to stay the same. Change is hard, but it’s going to keep happening. I get it, guys, I do. I loved Horizons and Mr. Toad quite dearly. I miss them. But I let them go. You can, too.

  1. Disney is just doing this to placate people.

Firstly, is that such a bad thing? If there is a public outcry for fixing something wrong, is it so bad to fix it? Secondly, while I think the surge in the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of George Floyd’s murder may have spurred them to make the announcement, Disney stated in the press release that this has been in the works for over a year, and I believe them. There’s concept art, guys. Detailed concept art. You can’t whip up plans this detailed in that short of a time. I think they would have waited longer to announce it without recent events, but the plan was already there. This was going to happen.

  1. I’ll never get to ride my favourite ride again.

Yes, you will. I don’t think this is going to happen for awhile. Disney already has some enormous projects under construction, others that were announced but had their start delayed, and a whole bunch of lost revenue. There was no date or even vague time frame with the announcement, I don’t think that this thing is going to start being rethemed until at least 2022. Probably 2023. You may not want to go to the parks yet in our current Covid situation, but if you’re a diehard Disney fan you could likely get down there to say goodbye to Br’er Rabbit before the change begins.

Almost There

Whew. This has been a long one, but I’m almost done with my soapbox speech. Clearly, I’m in favour of this change. Actually, I’m excited about it. I’ve always loved the mechanics and ride system of Splash Mountain, and hated its theme. I saw Song Of The South as a child, though I couldn’t tell you what year. It must have been in its final theatrical run in the 80’s, as Disney used to re-release its old films to theatres every now and again before the rise of home media. Once I got old enough to understand what lay beneath that movie, I’ve been super uncomfortable with this ride. Did I ride it? Yes. Did I have fun? Yes, that drop is fun. Did I feel guilty? Yup.

This is a good thing. This is a right thing. The Princess And The Frog is a wonderful movie, and not just because it finally gave us a Princess that black kids could look at and see themselves in. It’s just plain great, and the music is fabulous.

And, hey, maybe now we’ll have beignets and mint julips in the Magic Kingdom, like they do out in California.

Want to follow or interact with me on social media? Find me on Twitter by following @jennifermorash or head over to https://www.facebook.com/jennifermorashblog. I post blogs every Wednesday.

Disney Planning Resources

The world isn’t feeling very magical right now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t plan and dream about magic in the future.

I’m sure my regular readers know me well enough to know that this means that we’re going to talk about Disney. Well. That and the title.

Are you planning a Walt Disney World trip for after this storm has passed? Are you feeling just a bit lost or overwhelmed? Here are some resources for you. Some are niche, some are general. All are ones I have used myself, and still check out for entertainment.

Pammie Plus Parks

Let me start with the disclaimer that I write articles for this one, and Pammie is a friend of mine. Some bias exists, but both the writing and the friendship came about after I discovered the greatness that is Pammie. So that totally negates it, right?

You can find Pammie on youtube, and also at http://www.pammieplusparks.com which is where you’ll find the stuff I wrote. Pammie focuses on plus sized, accessibility, mobility, sensory and cognitive issues around travel and, more specifically, central Florida themeparks. She is a ray of sunshine and positivity.

Will Save For Travel

Erm. Again: this is a friend. But she still has some great things to say, and I am convinced I’d feel the same even if she weren’t someone I went to college with. She does travel in general, but is a huge Disney fan and so you’ll find that, too. You’ll learn all about how to budget for travel. She’s also just an awesome person.

You can find her at her youtube channel of the same name, and her blog is at http://www.willsavefortravel.com which is where most of her material can be found. It’s super useful.

Ivy Winter

Moving out of the territory of plugging my friends is Ivy Winter, who you can find on youtube. It’s a small channel, but she talks a lot about solo trips, as well as travel with anxiety, so if that is something that relates to you, this is a great place. She also cohosts the Tomorrowland Transit Authority podcast with fellow youtuber Rob Plays, who isn’t a great resource for trip planning but is an awesome one for fascinating videos on the esoteric history of the parks and is more than worth checking out.

Christine is warm, encouraging and smart. Bonus: she hosts a monthly, Disney-themed bookclub.

The Disney Food Blog

This is probably the largest of the resources I use in terms of subscribers. Largely, as the name implies, they talk about food at Disney, and food at Disney is far better than you think it’s going to be. They also do a lot of general tips and tricks that are almost mandatory viewing.

You can find them on youtube under DFB and at http://www.disneyfoodblog.com

All Ears

Found at http://www.allears.net and on youtube under All Ears.net, this is another one with lots of tips and tricks, from how to score fast passes to all the best Mickey shaped foodstuffs (spoiler: there’s a lot of them). I also like that they do a lot of long-format videos, which is useful right now when we desperately need things to watch. Plus, the website has a section for reviews of rides, shows and places to eat, so you can see what other folks think.

So, got any suggestions of your own? Feel free to leave links in the comments below.

In the meantime, keep on being kind to one another, and we’ll seeya real soon.

Want to follow or interact with me on social media? Find me on Twitter by following @jennifermorash or head over to https://www.facebook.com/jennifermorashblog. I post blogs every Wednesday.

How Winnie The Pooh Taught Me To Let Go

So, let me tell you a story. If you are a regular reader, bear with me for a bit, I’ve told this one before. I promise, there is a payoff for this.

As a child, I spent a lot of time in the children’s hospital for eye surgeries. This meant that one, or both eyes were covered up with bandages and eyeshields for weeks, even months at a time. Once the sight in my right eye went, which happened very early, it really only took a left eye surgery to have the same effect. On top of this, this happened before my reading comprehension was good enough for chapter books, though I find it hard to comprehend a time when I couldn’t read chapter books.

Now, my father was a very busy man. He is the sort of man who worked very, very long hours at a good job to provide his family with the things he didn’t have growing up. As a child, I don’t remember very many mornings when he was still at home when I woke up for school because he left so early, and often returned around six. On top of this, when I was in the hospital, he would often come to see me after work rather than going home. I also had an older man for an eye doctor who didn’t quite understand that little girls should actually get a lot of sleep, so thought that after ten in the evening was a perfectly acceptable time to come check my eye out, and Dad would often stay for these appointments.

Somehow, on top of all of this, Dad did something for me. He made me my very own audio book. He could have gone out and bought me one, and I did own several. But instead, he recorded himself reading The Wind In The Willows on a cassette tape, because these were the days of yore when dinosaurs roamed the earth and compact discs had not yet been invented, let alone mp3 players or smart phones with more memory than an entire room of enormous computers had back then.

I treasured that tape. To my young self, it was the greatest story ever told, especially the part about Mr. Toad. Who, for some reason, said “Poop poop” quite a lot in relation to his early model automobile and his reckless driving of said motorized conveyance. I laughed and laughed hearing my father’s voice reading that.

Then, in 1983, we went to Disney World. Lo and behold, they had a dark ride there called Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride based on the book, the Disney movie based on the book, and the imagineer’s nightmares. Seriously, you got hit by a train and wound up in hell on this thing. I did not find it frightening at six/seven years old (my birthday fell on this little adventure). I was delighted. I had to ride it with my daddy. I did. I am fairly sure “Poop poop” got repeated a lot.

We rode in these old-fashioned cars that ran along a track in the floor, though I don’t think I entirely understood what the track meant, and thought I was driving if I had the steering wheel, though simultaneously comprehended that I was in no danger. I was an odd child. I loved that thing. It was one of my favourite rides.

On every subsequent trip, I rode it. And always with my Dad. If I ever sat with my Mom or sister, I don’t remember it, and I’m pretty sure that never happened. I got to go down there twice more as a child and teen. And Mr. Toad was for Dad and I.

And then, it happened. I was probably about 29 when I returned for the first time since I was fifteen. My parents had divorced by then, but my Dad and step mom took me down along with my step niece, who was eleven at the time. I’m pretty sure the decision to take me had a lot to do with having a responsible adult to share a room with her so the two of them could get alone time. I didn’t, and don’t care. I would do any amount of babysitting for a free trip to Disney World, and she was a good kid. But this was before the days when I obsessively followed Disney news, so imagine my shock to find that Mr. Toad was gone.

In it’s place? Winnie the freaking Pooh. Now, I’d always liked the old Pooh movies and books well enough, but even before this travesty of a ride removal, I had not been pleased with the newer material. Eeyore smiled sometimes. Eeyore should not ever smile. But this? This was one step too far. I hated that ride. That ride had taken away something I loved, so I hated it. I’m not sure that I actually thought through the connection, though. I just thought it was stupid.

I returned to Disney World this year, this time with my Mom. Just the two of us on a fantastic mother-daughter trip. It had been fourteen years since the previous trip, and it was a blast. On our very first day, we rode the Winnie The Pooh ride. I mean, it wasn’t our first stop or anything. To be honest, we rode it while waiting for our fast pass to one of the roller coasters.

But, you know what? I liked it. The Heffelumps and Woozles were not being portrayed as actually being Pooh’s friends. No smiley Eeyore that I am aware of. The bouncing with Tigger part is fun. It’s an adorable, nostalgic ride.

So what changed? I had, I suppose. I hadn’t realized it, though. Somewhere in that fourteen year period, I learned that sometimes, progress means that you have to leave some things behind. Those may be things you quite enjoy, even things that you love. True, you should never let go of what you love for no good reason. You wouldn’t leave a good relationship that made you happy just because it’s been five years and there might be something new out there. But you also shouldn’t always stay put in the same place in life. You may have to leave a job you enjoy if you’ve gone as far as you’re going to get in it and want to continue to grow. You may have to leave your best friend behind when the time comes to go off to university. You may have to say goodbye to one of your favourite Disney attractions if you want them to continue making new things that are exceedingly cool.

No, I guess I hadn’t been thinking these things when I got on the ride, but I also didn’t get on expecting to hate it. I expected to feel very little, though. I expected it to be a time sink to get out of the heat and crowds. Instead… you know what? I quite like that ride, now. It isn’t one of my favourites, it never will be. But I like it. Also, I never have to feel guilty for riding Mr. Toad with someone other than my Dad. That ride will always be ours. Even if I go to Disneyland in California, where a version of it still exists, it won’t be ours and I won’t feel guilty, because Dad and I in that old-fashionned car with my little hands on the steering wheel that I thought was actually controlling the car lives in my memory.

And a cute Winnie The Pooh ride lives in Disney World. A ride that taught me to let go and embrace change, even if I didn’t realize it at the time.
Want to follow or interact with me on social media? Find me on Twitter by following @jennifermorash or head over to http://www.facebook.com/jennifermorashblog. I post blogs every week on Wednesdays.