With Black Lives Matter and all the changes happening in the country, calls for changing Splash Mountain shouldn’t come as a surprise. While die-hard Disney fans will point out that Walt fought to get James Baskett an Oscar and that “Song of the South” was supposed to help preserve southern folklore, most people haven’t seen the film in a long time, if at all, which strengthens the reason for retheming Disney’s flume thrill attraction.
It’s about Synergy
People love Splash Mountain in part because it’s different from every other attraction. It goes indoors and outdoors and provides an amazing drop that dwarfs those in Pirates of the Caribbean. However, it doesn’t do enough for the rest of the company. At best, it’s keeping the song Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah alive, but Disney has other avenues where it can use that song if it wants to continue to promote it. Other than that, Splash Mountain fails to provide the kind of synergy many other Disney attractions have.
Next door’s Winnie the Pooh is one of the company’s biggest merchandise sellers; in 2013, it was ranked third on the list of franchise money-makers according to Variety. On Splash Mountain’s other side, the Haunted Mansion had its own, admittedly bad, movie, and it has also spawned a series of better books and comics. Across the way, Tom Sawyer’s Island has pirates to synergize with Pirates of the Caribbean — both the attraction and the movie series. Splash Mountain needs to be rethemed to something that Disney can sell beyond the attraction.
The Princess and the Frog
A large contingent of fans would like to see Princess Tiana in place of Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear, and Brer Fox. They argue she would be a good fit as New Orleans Square extends itself into Critter Country. Because the story revolves around her turning into a frog, focusing on the animals in the swamp and using the movie soundtrack shouldn’t require too many changes in the other audio-animatronics, many of which were lifted straight out of the defunct attraction America Sings! without any structural or pose modifications. Would a clever overlay be enough to satisfy critics of the ride? As long as some effort was put into it, it probably would, but it might not be enough to satisfy fans. Disney has the capacity to make it work, but they couldn’t go halfway if they want a majority of people to be happy.
What Would Be Next?
A more important question is “What would Disney do with ‘The Princess and the Frog’ after it installed the overlay?” Disney’s princess line is already one of the most profitable merchandising segments in the company (ranked number one in the Variety article where Pooh Bear ranked third), would they see this as strengthening the line to create an even more powerful brand? If done correctly, the Briar Patch shop outside of Splash Mountain could be a haven for Princess and the Frog merchandise. But if Disney isn’t going to make a sequel or harness Tiana in other areas, is this the best use of the attraction?
The other issue is that changing Splash Mountain’s place of residence to New Orleans Square leaves Critter Country bereft of a major attraction. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is a happy, safe, caring journey into the Hundred Acre Wood. It’s beloved, but it isn’t enough to be a land unto itself. The Hungry Bear Restaurant could be changed to Tiana’s, and the shops on the other side could be rethemed, but what could they do about the bear stuffed with fluff and his friends? They could leave the three buildings as they are, but it would seem barren and the themes would clash in a way that Disney shouldn’t accept. There’s probably a way to designate that area as the Hundred Acre Wood and call it good, but it doesn’t feel like it would be enough.
A Good Idea
Retheming Splash Mountain is a good idea all the way around. It’ll be a PR win for the Disney Company. It could result in the sales of more product and movies, especially of an under-rated movie, and it gives the company something new to open, which always generates an influx of guests. Most importantly, it’s the right thing to do, and that should be the only thing that matters.
(Update: According to MarketWatch, Disney announced they will retheme Splash Mountain to The Princess and the Frog.
“The retheming of Splash Mountain is of particular importance today,” Disney said in a statement provided to MarketWatch. “The new concept is inclusive — one that all of our guests can connect with and be inspired by, and it speaks to the diversity of the millions of people who visit our parks each year.”)