Earlier in June, a petition titled “Re-theme Splash Mountain to Princess and the Frog” was released onto Change.org. This petition points out the ride is based around the 1946 movie Song of the South—a movie that Disney considered too racist to put on its streaming service Disney+.
The petition reads: “Disney parks should be a home for all to enjoy regardless of race, age, whatever your background may be. The classic log flume ride Splash Mountain is featured in Disneyland, Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland. While the ride is considered a beloved classic it’s history and storyline are steeped in extremely problematic and stereotypical racist tropes from the 1946 film Song of the South.”
The petition concludes: “While the ride’s storyline is not an exact version of the movie plotline it is derivative from it, the characters, the songs, and locations are all main features of the ride. Disney has removed Song of the South from its library, refusing to share it on DVD or their streaming services. The best next step to remove all traces of this racist movie would be to re-theme Splash Mountain into a Princess and the Frog themed ride.” [sic]
Among the criticisms levied at Song of the South, which has not been released by Disney on any platform since the late 1980s, is that all of its black characters are shown as perfectly content working in plantations for white employers.
Though the movie is actually set after the Civil War, meaning that the main character Uncle Remus (played by James Baskett) is not technically a slave, many have found themselves troubled by the power dynamics between Remus and the rich, white plantation owners.
Others, meanwhile, have criticized the movie for its use of stereotypical black dialects, its use of the “magical negro” trope, and an animated sequence that sees Br’er Fox create a “tar baby” to capture Br’er Rabbit. One of the stories told by Remus, meanwhile, has the moral that it is better to stay in the situation you are in than to run away and try and find freedom.
The movie was picketed at the time of its release in 1946, with protestors seen with signs featuring slogans like, “The Song of the South is slightly off-key because Disney says it’s wrong to be free.”
More recently, Bob Iger, the former Disney CEO, has said the movie is “not appropriate in today’s world” in 2019.
Though Splash Mountain is based on Song of the South, the ride exclusively features the animated characters like Br’er Fox and Rabbit–there is no reference to Remus, the “tar baby” or Aunt Tempy, the maid character played by the first black Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel.
However, despite the fact that Splash Mountain rounds off the racist edges of Song of the South, many feel that if the film is deemed racially problematic, then it should not be celebrated in any way. Plus, with Princess and the Frog featuring the first black Disney Princess, re-theming the ride around that movie would be a powerful statement from the Mouse House.
Film writer Karina Longworth, whose Hollywood history podcast You Must Remember This dedicated a whole season to Song of the South, said of this to Rolling Stone: “The ride itself is sort of a bastardized version of the film, so it’s easy for Disney to distance itself from it, but it’d also be extremely easy for them to rebrand it. They wouldn’t have to do much, just take out a few animatronics and change the music.”
She also added that Splash Mountain is not the only way Disney has profited from Song of the South without releasing the movie. She said: “Even after not officially releasing the video itself on home video, Disney has recycled what they find acceptable about the movie and recycled them, like sing-alongs and shown them on the Disney Channel and things like that.”