As of today Splash Mountain is closing for refurbishment at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, and this has a lot of folks upset. Not me, though; I think Splash Mountain is a terrible ride, regardless of how it’s themed. But I am happy for this change.
I’m someone who absolutely loves Disney. I enjoy the movies and have visited Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and Disneyland Paris all as a teenager or adult. Yeah, I take my kids to Disney and get to share this love with them, but I’ve also spent time defending Disney adults because I think the magic can be for all ages.
So it comes as a surprise to me that I find myself having to say something against my fellow Disney lovers, all because a certain ride is getting refurbished.
Why Did They Close Splash Mountain?
Before we jump into it, I thought I’d catch up anyone who isn’t familiar with what’s going on. Maybe you’ve been living under a rock, I don’t know. Anyway, back in June of 2020 Disney announced they’d be refurbishing the ride and changing the theme.
The ride, which is already set in the bayou, will be transformed into a Princess and the Frog themed experience. According to Disney’s press release, Walt Disney himself planned and opened New Orleans square in Disneyland back in 1966, making Princess and the Frog not just a natural choice to fit the area, but one Walt would likely have welcomed.
In Disneyland, this will mean an expansion of New Orleans square since Splash Mountain is technically in Critter Country, but since it’s located on the edge of the two regions it makes perfect sense as a transition between “civilization” in New Orleans and the “wild” of critter country. Something that plays off the Princess and the Frog characters and movie plot beautifully.
Splash Mountain is located between adventureland and frontierland in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom so the theme doesn’t fit quite as well. That being said, nothing says adventure like boating around the bayou!
Why’d They Change It?
I’m shocked to find out that so many people don’t know what the Splash Mountain ride was originally based off: Song of the South. This Disney film dates back to 1946 and is one of those live action with hand drawn animation style films, like Mary Poppins.
Unlike Mary Poppins, though, it doesn’t exactly hold up over the years. The most common criticism of the film is that, among other things, it perpetuates harmful stereotypes of Black people and glorifies slavery.
It’s very important to note here that Song of the South was never released on home video in North America due to its reception and criticism.
I mean really, if a Black ex-slave singing “zip-a-dee-do-da” about how wonderful his day is on the plantation doesn’t gross you out you might want to re-evaluate your morality.
Swapping to Princess and the Frog does two things:
1. It shows a positive step towards celebrating Black cultures rather than exploiting them so every child, not just the white kids, can feel like they belong at Disney and 2. It’s an easy, logical swap from a business point of view for the park’s area that can be used to sell merch related to the still popular movie.
When Did Splash Mountain Originally Open
This is the other thing that gets to me: This isn’t some Walt Disney imagineered ride that’s been there since the park opened. Splash Mountain opened in Disneyland in 1989 and in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in 1992.
This ride is only as old as I am!
Why Are People Mad About Splash Mountain Closing for Refurbishment?
People are mad about Splash Mountain closing and being refurbished because they feel something important to them is being stripped away. Most haven’t seen Song of the South, and thus feel an attachment to the characters, song, and theme that’s divorced from the racism connotation in their eyes.
This, unfortunately, is a bit of a fallacy, because you can never really remove that context from the characters. It could easily be argued that some people are plain old racist (this post does a great job of explaining how the right has coopted this issue), especially when they’re also replacing the characters with ones from the only film featuring a Black princess.
This is further proven by the lack of similar backlash when other rides like Tower of Terror, California Screamin’, and even Space Mountain got re-skins.
Some folks are legitimately bothered because they enjoy the ride and don’t want to wait through the lengthy refurbishment time (approximately a year or more) for it to re-open. Although I don’t agree, that’s valid.
Why Splash Mountain is a Bad Ride Anyway
OK, on to my next point: who cares if Splash Mountain closes or changes. While I’m glad to see Disney starting to make amends for their racist past, I am perfectly content to never, ever ride that ride again in my life.
You’re probably thinking: ok that’s subjective, and you like the Matterhorn so what do you even know about good rides? Fair, but let’s talk about Splash Mountain for a second here.
It Started as a Way to Attract People to Bear Country land in Disneyland
Imagineer Tony Baxter came up with the idea for the ride as a way to attract folks to Bear Country, an area in Disneyland that was otherwise underused. In fact, the only thing there was the (now closed) Country Bear Jamboree!
Baxter also had the genius idea to reuse some of the animatronics from America Sings, an attraction that had already been closed. His solution? Theme the ride after Song of the South.
Thus Zip-a-dee River Run was born.
This theme helped convince imagineers to take on the project of a log ride, since they felt it was too generic for Disney Parks. In essence, they needed a way to shoehorn a generic water ride into the park without losing any Disney magic. A steep bill for imagineers, if you ask me.
The name was later changed to Splash Mountain to help market the 1984 Disney film Splash, a movie I hadn’t heard of until researching this piece.
OK so Disney wanted a water ride named after a forgettable movie to attract people to the sad corner of the park using reused animatronics and themed after a movie they wouldn’t even release on home video, got it.
It’s a Generic Thrill Ride
Strip away the theme and there isn’t much there when it comes to Splash Mountain. Maybe that’s why people are so upset to see it changed, honestly. I mean really… You go up, you go down a few smaller waterfalls, and then the big drop pummels you down into a splash.
There isn’t much different about this ride than many of the ones at a fair or other big theme parks.
Doesn’t Feel Safe
This is a big better in Disney World because of the seatbelts, but the version of Splash Mountain in Disneyland relies on gravity to keep you in that seat. You feel like you’re going to fly out as you take on that drop.
To make things worse, they allow little kids on the ride, but tell parents to hold onto them. I was terrified my twins would fall out!
We survived, of course, because physics make the ride safe. But it’s not a great experience.
You Get Wet
Disneyland and Disney World are not wet parks. You don’t expect to get soaking wet when you go for the day. On top of that, you usually have a bunch of stuff with you: camera, merch, ears, $100 backpacks, you get the idea.
There’s no good place to put these items while you’re on the ride, at least not at Disneyland. I can’t remember what it was like in Disney World so I’ll hold off on that specific criticism for now.
If you’re someone who likes to dress up for the parks Splash Mountain is a great way to ruin your outfit, hair, and makeup, too.
Regardless, you’ll be walking around the park wet for the rest of the day. Or at least until you dry. That’s no fun, especially in the evening.
It’s Too Scary
This is very personal since I don’t like rides that drop. Splash Mountain is way scarier than it should be, especially for kids. It does an amazing job of building tension as you creep up and all the critters warn you… But it’s a little too amazing.
As someone who hates roller coasters, this ride wasn’t fun at all for me.
I respect that there is a severe lack of thrill rides at Disney parks, especially Disneyland and Magic Kingdom. I suspect a lot of the love for Splash Mountain is that those thrillseekers, my own son included, have limited options.
My Personal Attachment to Splash Mountain
Before leaving on a negative note, I want to add my own horse in this race. Splash Mountain does have a personal connection for me in a way that it does for a lot of other adult Disney fans.
First of all, it’s the favourite ride of two of my kids. Last time we were in Disneyland my son, then 10, used the single rider line to ride it three additional times apart from the family. My daughter, now 10 but 7 when she last visited, adores the song “Zip-a-dee-do-da”.
I love the silly photos that come out of it, and I absolutely adore my pink Briar Rose ears and backpack.
For this reason, the closing of the Splash Mountain will affect our travel plans. We’ll be holding off any Disney trips until it re-opens with the new theme so the kids don’t miss out on their favourite ride.
Until then, let’s all look forward to seeing what the imagineers do with the new theme!