Last week, the Mouse House announced plans to bring sentient robots to Disney Parks, removing the need for actors and performers to fill suits and require paychecks. The animatronic Groots are coming, and there’s nothing you or your Mickey Waffles can do about it. But while these robots are still a ways away—though the time before Disney robots become self-aware is closer than ever—Disney actually released some good robot news for a change. Earlier today, the company detailed the changes coming to “Splash Mountain,” a staple of Disneyland and World, alike, and, perhaps, the only remaining bit of evidence that Song Of The South ever existed.
Originally announced last year, Disney’s retheming of “Splash Mountain” will focus on The Princess And The Frog, the studio’s New Orleans-based animated musical. In a filmed roundtable discussion with ABC News’ Kenneth Moton, members of Disney’s “Tiana project,” including Carmen Smith Disney’s Creative Executive, Vice President, Inclusive Strategies for Walt Disney Imagineering; Charita Carter, Senior Producer for Walt Disney Imagineering; Marlon West, Visual Effects Supervisor for Walt Disney Animation Studios, and Stella Chase Reese, the daughter of Leah Chase, the basis for Tiana, discussed the re-theming, the film, and New Orleans. They also talked about Disney’s hefty $50,000 donation to the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA).
After discussing the cultural impact of Princess Tiana, The Princess And The Frog, and Walt Disney’s relationship with New Orleans, the conversation turned to the ride. While they didn’t talk about a sentient Louis the trumpet-playing alligator, you can expect Tiana and her friends to lead the log-flume adventure, introducing guests to old and new characters and inviting them to a Mardi Gras party. They also talked about updating the songs on the ride to fit the theme, which means au revoir, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” Here’s how Charita Carter describes the ride:
I can tell you as Imagineers, first of all, we are always interested in expanding our storytelling and advancing our storytelling techniques so with this particular project, the way that we are approaching our audio-animatronic figures would be an example of how we are looking to advance the storytelling and really just kind of change the game as well as the way we are approaching our scenic illusions and our visual effects so that we can create an immersive environment that is seamless for Guests.”
The change will surely irritate people insisting that they simply don’t want change coming to the Disney Parks, while selectively ignoring the changes that came to “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” (replaced by “The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh) or the unforgivable addition of Davey Jones to “The Pirates Of The Caribbean.” Frankly, it makes a hell of a lot more sense to theme Splash Mountain around one of Disney’s most popular characters than a racist movie that the studio keeps locked in the Disney Vault. But as we’ve already seen the backlash come and go, it’s worth remembering that only moments after the ride opens, the Disney reactionaries will probably move on to whatever worthless, bad-faith controversy they decide to stir up next.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” was re-themed as “The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh.” “Mr. Toad” was replaced by “Winnie The Pooh,” not rethemed. We regret the error.