Why Disney Decided To Make A Ride Based On Their Most Controversial Film: The History of Splash Mountain

Splash Mountain has been the subject of a lot of controversies recently due to its connection to Song of the South, a film that is consistently accused of racism ever since its initial release but even more, as time continued.

So why did they decide to build this ride in the first place?

By the time the ride was built this film was already permanently locked inside the Disney Vault. The controversies related to the film had continued to grow since its initial release. While the animation is considered to be among the best of its era, the live-action portions faced consistent allegations of perpetuating negative stereotypes of Black Americans and false ideas about slavery and the post-slavery south.

Disney greatly limited how this film was released in the US, but still planned on building a ride based on it in Disneyland.

Disneyland in the 1980s was looking to solve a lot of problems. America Sings, an attraction designed for the bicentennial of America had long outlived its place in the park. It did not fit in its land, Tomorrowland, and the bicentennial it was built to celebrate had long since passed. But its animatronics held a significant place in Disney history.

America Sings was the final built ride designed by Imagineer Marc Davis, he had been an Imagineer since the opening of Disneyland and an animator before that. Imagineering, specifically Tony Baxter, wanted to ensure the last works of such a significant Imagineer were preserved.

Disney also wanted more thrills in their park, and a new water attraction, something Disney had attempted since its early days but never actually executed up unto this point.

The way to do this was to break Song of the South out of the Disney Vault.

Marc Davis, designer of the America Sings animatronics had also designed the three main animated characters of Song of the South, Brer Rabbit, Fox, and Bear. They were probably his three most similar characters to the America Sings style, making it easy to incorporate them into the larger storyline of Brer Rabbit.

The main controversial elements with the original film relate to the live-action portions featuring inaccurate portrayals of a post Civil War south, presenting a former slave in a happy setting, not properly representing the struggles of being a sharecropper, which is the job Uncle Remus is assumed to have, although the exact job and time of the film are left vague. The portrayals of the animated characters also were accused of featuring negative stereotypes of African Americans, specifically in the voice acting.

Disney in creating Splash Mountain attempted to distance itself from Song of the South as much as possible. Both of its proposed names, Zip-a-Dee-Run the initially planned name and the eventually used name Splash Mountain (named to cross-promote the Disney live-action film Splash) did not reference its source material at all.

The voice acting was rerecorded for the attraction in a similar manner to the original voices, but not as over the top. Significantly, Jess Harnell, who also voiced Roger Rabbit in Roger Rabbit's Cartoon Spin would record Brer Rabbit.

Some scenes in the story would also be slightly altered to avoid racist connotations.

This ride was not built to give Song of the South a place in the Disney Parks, but to solve a few problems Disney was having at the time.

Keep in mind in the 1980s Disney did not have the number of successful animated properties they do now. They had struggled since the death of Walt Disney and the Disney Renaissance had yet to start. Finding a water ride that would fit in Critter Country (formerly Bear Country) and incorporate America Sings animatronics was a nearly impossible task that using the basic outline of Song of the South accomplished.

This ride ended up bringing a less controversial version of the story to a whole new generation, taking on a life of its own beyond Song of the South, and being built in two additional parks.

Given the current conversations happening throughout the United States regarding racial prejudice and false narratives of the past, this ride has rejoined Song of the South in controversy, with an announcement being made that it will be rethemed based on the Disney princess film Princess and the Frog.

Disney brought a controversial film into their parks in the least controversial way possible. It was done to save a different piece of Disney history, and it remains as the last real public remnant of Song of the South. It holds a strange place in the present. The animatronics, at least in the Disneyland version are historic, but its future remains unclear. This new version will reuse a lot of the existing attraction, but the fate of individual pieces remain up for debate.

We hope you enjoyed the look into the history of Splash Mountain and be sure to check out the rest of Disney Parks History here. What ride or attraction should we do next? Be sure to let us know in the comments below.