Much has been said about the refurbishment of the iconic Splash Mountain log flume ride at Disneyland in California and Walt Disney World in Orlando. The overhaul will remove the original theming and replace it with a story experience based off the Disney movie The Princess And The Frog.
The ride will apparently be renamed Tiana’s Bayou Adventure in reference to the titular princess from the movie. Frankly, while the name describes the ride well, the name also sucks.
To lose the words “splash mountain” from the title is to throw away an iconic piece of Disney parks identity. From a park-wide perspective in the cases of Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom, Splash Mountain helped unify the park with Space Mountain in Tomorrowland, Big Thunder Mountain in Frontierland and – in the case of Disneyland – the Matterhorn. It’s one of the iconic ride names at Disney and it seems a shame to get rid of it.
Obviously, a big part of the refurbishment is to distance the ride even further from its Song Of The South theming origins, a movie that has aged so badly Disney barely acknowledges its existence. You won’t find it streaming on Disney+ any time soon, that’s for sure.
The Splash Mountain ride as it stands features characters and songs from the movie but tells its own story. The links to the movie are there but they are tenuous.
That’s not to say the re-theming to The Princess And The Frog is a bad thing. Splash Mountain has barely changed since it was first built back in 1989 (Disneyland; 1992 for WDW) and is due for a major overhaul of the animatronics anyway. The past few years have seen the ride closed more frequently suggesting the ride systems might need some extra TLC. To take that opportunity to refresh the ride to an entirely new theme is not a bad idea, even if the change is at least partly driven by politics. It’s a two birds with one stone approach which makes sense from a park operations perspective.
In recent years the links to Song Of The South have seen more calls to change Splash Mountain. It might be woke politics or virtue signalling at work, but at least the re-theme to The Princess And The Frog makes sense for a water ride.
But do we have to lose the name? Why not “Tiana’s Splash Mountain”? “Princess Tiana’s Splash Mountain”, although that’s becoming a bit of a mouthful. “New Splash Mountain”? “Splash Mountain 2”? I personally like “Mount Splashmore” but there’s probably a copyright on that one.
The connections between Song Of The South and the ride Splash Mountain are so thin that while the movie might be considered racist the ride experience certainly is not. Why throw away an iconic name when the name itself is not part of the issue?
Some would argue that the name Splash Mountain is simply guilty by association and that changing the name is the only way for the attraction to fully wash its hands of its Song Of The South roots. But those people are wrong. To them I would say the name isn’t clinging to the past – you are. The name reflects the nature of the ride experience itself and has nothing to do with the theming.
If we remove the problematic source material, let’s imagine such a re-theme happening to another iconic attraction. What if Space Mountain was re-themed and suddenly became Buzz Lightyear’s Cosmic Adventure? It might be popular with kids and even the overlay might be accepted, but traditionalists would be outraged at the thought of the name Space Mountain disappearing. It would be sacrilege in the church of Disney.
The name Splash Mountain is part of the fabric of Disney parks. It’s an icon for what it is, not where its theming inspiration came from. Most people who ride it have never seen Song Of The South so to them the name has little to no association to the movie. Splash Mountain is an entity unto itself.
It’s an iconic name partly because of its simplicity. Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is actually a very bland ride name and doesn’t hold the same excitement of Splash Mountain. The words themselves suggest adventure. A splash is fun and exciting. A mountain is something to be conquered. The new name lacks any of that energy. It’s both specific and generic all at the same time, and that’s not a good thing.
So I say keep the words Splash Mountain in the name. It’s possible to be progressive without sacrificing traditions, particularly those that are synonymous with a product. Regardless of the theming it will always be Splash Mountain to long-time park visitors so Disney might as well embrace it.