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Does Splash Mountain Need to be Rethemed to Something Less Offensive?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know it’s an interesting political time in the United States. Tensions are high. It seems that there is fighting on all sides of the political and humanitarian spectrum. It seems that everything that is race-related in the country is being brought into question, regardless of how long it has been in place. For example, recently Six Flags decided to drop their six different flags that represented the heritage of the state it was in. This is because one of those flags was Confederate. As a private business, they decided to back away from potential controversy rather than stick to their own heritage and tradition. Then I got something interesting from TPU reader Eric in my inbox about Disney’s Splash Mountain:

Hey! Love your site, read it like it’s a bible and have learned so much from you. Wonder if you’ve heard of any future plans for Splash Mountain, it’s current theme and state, or if this is a topic you’ve thought about yourself. No joke: Splash Mountain needs to be re-themed. It’s based off a film that inaccurately and offensively depicts the Reconstructive Era of the Southern U.S., Song of the South. It’s also in a HORRIBLE state on both coasts with broken lighting and non-functioning animatronics. Instead, theme it to The Princess and the Frog. This part of Critter Country can flawlessly fit into New Orleans Square at Disneyland. And can loosely fit either a Frontierland or Southern themed area (with Tom Sawyer Island and Mark Twain boat) at Walt Disney World.

Eric, thanks for the question. I enjoy questions that are a little outside the box and this also happens to be timely. I will say right off the bat that I have not heard any plans to re-theme Splash Mountain through the grapevine.  Considering they have re-themed Tower of Terror at Disney California Adventure (another attraction which was arguably iconic), I’d say anything is possible.

It’s also fair to mention that regardless of the current state of maintenance at any attraction (including Splash Mountain), that has nothing to do with it getting scrapped or refreshed. Sure, it is pointless to pour a lot of money into an attraction that has an imminent closing date, but you certainly can fix lighting, sound, and animatronics and it’s much cheaper and easier than starting from scratch.  While it’s certainly not an excuse, daily maintenance becomes harder and harder as park hours are pushed to 14 hours a day or more. That’s a different conversation for a different time, but routine maintenance becomes more of a priority when you only have a small window of time to get into each building every night after park close.

A “Princess and the Frog” re-theming? That actually sounds pretty cool. I know many purists will find that idea blasphemous, and that’s ok. But many of the scenes in the ride currently could be “jazzed up” (pardon the pun) what’s already there.  Many of the animatronics could be repurposed and even several of the sets could be easily modified and plussed to include characters from “Princess and The Frog.” But does it need to happen? Let’s talk about that.

 

For those of you who don’t know, Splash Mountain is based on a 1946 film called “Song of the South.” The movie is based on books written by Joel Chandler Harris in 1881 which centered around a fictional character named Uncle Remus. These books have become highly controversial since they were released over a century ago, thus so has Disney’s film adaptation to it in Song of the South.

Now the original stories written in the Uncle Remus books were not seen as controversial at the time. They were (and still are) a series of stories about fictional animals who got into trouble. The controversy lies in how the characters were represented and even the dialect the stories were written in. These tales were supposedly a form of folklore passed down by slaves at the time.

For example, one of those tales regards Br’er Fox, who creates a figure out of hardened tar and put clothes on it and refers to it as a “tar baby”. Br’er Rabbit then comes along and addresses the “tar baby” and then punches it and gets stuck when the figure doesn’t respond because it doesn’t have any manners.

Now here’s the question: one can certainly make a case for finding the original Uncle Remus stories offensive, and no doubt there are people who take issue with Disney’s “Song of the South” film adaptation. However, does Splash Mountain, as a stand alone entity, contain offensive material?

The reason I say that Splash Mountain should be judged on its own and not the movie is that Disney has gone to fairly considerable lengths to not let anyone see “Song of the South” in over 30 years. The Walt Disney Company has never released the film on VHS, DVD or any kind of digital format. The last time the film was re-released in theaters was 1986. Unless you can find a bootleg copy on the internet, even most hardcore Disney fans have never even seen the film, and if they do, many only remember parts of the movie.

So here is what I want you to do next time you ride Splash Mountain in any Disney park. Take a moment to look around you and ask yourself: does anyone riding this attraction find the attraction itself offensive? How many are old enough and may have seen the movie? Is there a public outcry to shut down Splash Mountain due to ties with questionable and potentially offensive racial undertones with the source material?  I’m going to bet that those numbers are minuscule if they exist at all. But who knows? It’s 2017 and people seem to be offended by all kinds of things these days. For better or worse, it’s the time we live in. Your thoughts?

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