If you were planning a trip to the most magical place in the world anytime soon, don’t expect a ride on Big Thunder Mountain. As of yesterday, Walt Disney World’s Orlando theme part shut down operations on one of their most popular rides, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Located in the heart of Frontierland, the miner’s ride is a staple in the theme park, but not without controversy. And as the resort recently reopened a revamped Thunder Mountain following scandal and backlash, they might have their eyes set on a new ride to revamp and deescalate the vast racial controversies strewn throughout the company’s expanding parks.
Now owning and operating 12 theme parks across the globe, it’s not unusual for Disney to temporarily close rides for updates and maintenance. When Big Thunder Mountain Railroad closed its queue yesterday, the company stated the goldrush coaster would remain closed through Friday, February 18th. Scheduled to reopen on Saturday, February 19th beginning at 9 am, Walt Disney World resort will welcome guests back to the beloved ride, that is of course as long as the time frame doesn’t change.
The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is one of the original rides opened in Disney’s Florida park. The roller coaster has been operational since September of 1979. One of four of its kind, the ride is also found in California’s Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris. While Disney announced the rides’ planned closure in December, we can’t help but wonder if the scheduled maintenance will also produce a ride revamp, much like other controversial rides have overgone over the years.
It’s no secret that Disney has been revamping rides that have been accused of being racially offensive in a fervent matter over the years. Other rides like Splash Mountain in Walt Disney World and Disneyland, which is based on a film, Song of the South, have been widely criticized as allegedly racist. The park did confirm plans to make changes to the ride but admitted the ride will remain open for the foreseeable future, exclaiming the overhaul would take time. Similarly, the Jungle Cruise rides at both Disneyland and Disney World will be undergoing major updates to remove “negative depictions of Native people.”
To understand the controversy surrounding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, a dive into the history of the popular ride at Disney is needed. As Disney wrote the lore, the tale states that sometime in the late 1800s, gold was discovered on Big Thunder Mountain in the American Southwest. Overnight, a small mining town became a thriving one as mining reigned prosperously. But unbeknownst to the miners, the mountain was a sacred spot to local Native Americans and was cursed.
As Disney has a long-spanning history of depicting Native American characters in ways that have been accused of stereotypical and dehumanizing depictions the company has faced backlash in recent years. Recently, Disney’s Peter Pan has come under heavy scrutiny for its allegedly caricatured depictions of Native Americans with red skin and black footprints. Similarly, 1995’s Pocahontas is often blasted for its allegedly Native American stereotypes as well. While Pocahontas did not showcase the same types of alleged racism strewn throughout Peter Pan, the film allegedly falsely romanticized the relationship between the Powhatan tribe and the early English settlers.