The real-life Princess Tiana is rebuilding Disney’s Splash Mountain with the perfect New Orleans recipe to counter racism: Soul music, homegrown African-American art, and a bowl of piping hot gumbo. Imagineers reunite with Leah Chase of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant in New Orleans, Louisiana to assist with research and development (R&D) on fan-favorite attraction Splash Mountain, Disney Parks communications manager Anthony Armenia writes on Monday. Mrs. Chase was the inspiration for the character of Princess Tiana in Ron Clements and John Musker’s 2009 animated musical The Princess and the Frog.
Last year, Disney announced it was redesigning three popular attractions to remove elements still referencing Song of the South, a postwar musical criticized for offensive black vernacular, glorified depictions of Reconstruction Era plantations, dark imagery, and other overtly racist stereotypes. One such theme park ride that needed a major overhaul was Splash Mountain, an iconic log flume present in most major Disney Parks. Instead of Song of the South, Splash Mountain will feature prominent themes, characters, and locations from 2009’s The Princess and the Frog, a fairly progressive story inspired by Soul music and 1920’s New Orleans. The revamped boat ride will pick up where the movie left off, taking guests through teeming swamplands and a Mardi Gras celebration to remember “where everyone is welcome.”
The Chase family of New Orleans would wholeheartedly agree. Nothing could be truer about Southern Black hospitality. Creative executive and vice president of Inclusive Strategies for Walt Disney Imagineering Carmen Smith, senior producer for Walt Disney Imagineering Charita Carter, VFX supervisor for Walt Disney Animation Studios Marlon West, and national correspondent for ABC News Kenneth Moton sat with Leah Chase’s daughter and owner of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, Stella Chase Reese, to discuss the current direction of Disney’s Splash Mountain and other related attractions. Imagineers shared concept art for the new Princess and the Frog ride over Chef Dook’s special gumbo, to which Stella Reese mused, “The two coming together, music and food, brings joy and happiness to all.”
The announcement video from Disney Parks is right below:
Tiana and Naveen’s romance capitalized on the community aspect of Black hospitality to deliver a story worth memorializing. And unlike Uncle Remus’s tales of idealized slave labor and internalized racism, which only provoke considerable distress, such a progressive new message creates a safe haven for any and all riders regardless of skin color and racial history. And nothing could be more fitting for a theme park ride of Splash Mountain’s candor and distinction. If we’re going to reminisce on the past and recreate that experience for the digital age, why not a Disney movie that evokes joy and tranquility over institutionalized prejudice, fear, and exclusion?
Disney’s Imagineers hired New Orleans local, art educator, and Young Aspirations Young Artists Arts Center (YAYA) alumnus Sharika Mahdi to come up with original paintings to accompany Leah Chase’s beloved missive on life and love the Southern way; all four are currently featured on Disney Parks’s company blog. Disney is donating $50,000 to the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) for the pursuit of “joy and happiness” in the only manner Tiana and Nareen would have approved of: art and music. The Imagineers have been conducting intensive R&D all year through Zoom conversations and in-person trips, to complete their progressive reinterpretation of Disney Parks’s most contentious attractions.
The new iteration for the Splash Mountain ride is intended to be a communal experience. One less racist ride is one less stain on Disney’s past; anything to erase all the red in the company ledger, amirite?