Disney’s Song of the South entered theaters on November 12, 1946. James Baskett starred as Uncle Remus, a Black man telling stories about Br’er Rabbit to a pair of young white children just moved to the South post-Civil War. The mix of animation and live-action is a tribute to Disney’s imagination but the portrayal of Uncle Remus —which earned Baskett an honorary Oscar in 1948— was problematic to say the least.
The terms used, the voices of the animated characters, and Uncle Remus’s status as a “Magical” Black person all led to the NCAAP calling it out for derogatory stereotypes embodied throughout the movie. After supposedly locking Song of the South in its vault in 1970, Disney re-released the movie in 1972 for a clamoring audience that made it the most successful re-release for the studio (at that time).
In 1986 another re-release was done to celebrate its fortieth anniversary, but Song of the South never made it to a home media release in the United States. Current Disney head Bob Iger does not anticipate releasing the controversial film on their Disney+ streaming service any time soon, though other problematic shorts and films are available on the streaming service with warnings about their possible inclusion of outdated depictions of certain races.
This brings us to Splash Mountain, the Disney World water ride that first opened to the public in 1989. The ride features animatronic versions of Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Bear, Br’er Fox, and a host of other characters from Song of the South re-enacting the animated portion of the movie as riders glide by on a log flume. It’s long been a spot of contention that while the movie is seen as problematic, Disney has no problem allowing a themed ride based on Song of the South to remain in parks for more than 30 years.
This year, a petition garnered enough attention and signatures to get Disney to sit up and listen. (I’m sure current events helped that along quite a bit.) According to the petition begun by Alex O.:
There is a huge need for diversity in the parks and this could help fill that need. Princess and the Frog is a beloved princess movie but has very little representation in the parks. Tiana could be one of the first princesses with a thrill ride, as well as giving her a much deserved place in the parks. The framing of the ride is such that it could be easily changed to tell the story of Tiana while not compromising too much of the ride/costing a fortune in remodeling for Disney. This change could kill two birds with one stone, remove the offensive stereotypical theming the ride currently has and bring a much needed diversity to the parks. As well as a much bigger merchandising opportunity for Princess and the Frog.
Alex is a smart person for bringing dollars into the equation for the House of Mouse. So today, June 25, 2020, Disney announced an overhaul of the ride that incorporates the first Black Disney Princess, Tiana from The Princess and the Frog, into Splash Mountain. According to CNN:
Disney added that the new ride — which the company has been working on since last year — will pick up the story of “Princess and the Frog” after “the final kiss” and will join Princess Tiana and her trumpet-playing alligator Louis “on a musical adventure.” It will feature “some of the powerful music from the film as they prepare for their first-ever Mardi Gras performance.”
“Tiana is a modern, courageous, and empowered woman, who pursues her dreams and never loses sight of what’s really important,” Disney said on Thursday. “It’s a great story with a strong lead character, set against the backdrop of New Orleans and the Louisiana bayou.”
No timeline has been released for the change but work is underway.
Header Image Source: Disney