Hell, Yes, Disney Should Overhaul 'Splash Mountain'
Across the world, people are demanding that monuments associated with colonial oppression and racism be torn down -- and apparently Disneyland is no exception. Fans are calling on Disney to overhaul their Splash Mountain ride, which is full of animatronic characters from the
controversial racist 1946 movie Song of the South. Some Disney afficianos, on the other hand, are outraged at the outrage. There are already several YouTube videos dismissing the controversy. After all, it's just a fun ride featuring harmless cartoon characters, right?
Well, not exactly. First of all, the top comment on that video features the famous aphorism: "Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it." But there's a big difference between learning about history and enjoying a log ride full of robotic cartoon characters. It's highly doubtful that anyone is spending their time on Splash Mountain somberly reflecting on the horrors of slavery. Secondly, there's a weird disconnect between Disney restricting access to the movie Song of the South while celebrating its characters in theme parks all over the world. Why even have a ride featuring characters no child could possibly recognize? You may as well fill Splash Mountain with the California Raisins and Joe Camel.
By maintaining the cartoon elements of Song of the South, which blended animation with live-action segments set on a Southern plantation, Disney seems to be suggesting that those characters are somehow divorced from the movie's controversy. You can literally still buy Song of the South plush toys at the Disney Store. But this isn't totally accurate. The movie was based on the written work of Joel Chandler Harris, who penned books about the fictional Black storyteller Uncle Remus and his yarns featuring the wily Br'er Rabbit.
But these stories didn't just pop into Harris' head, he essentially stole them from slaves while working on a plantation during the Civil War, taking Black American folklore and repurposing it for white audiences. Like the story of the "Tar Baby," in which Br'er Rabbit is trapped in a doll-shaped clump of tar. The tale that features prominently in both the Disney movie and the ride originated with Black slaves has added layers of allegorical significance considering that tar, "was used as a police technology under slavery."
Another big part of Song of the South that somehow survived Disney's erasure of the film is the Oscar-winning song "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah." It plays at the end of Splash Mountain as you're wringing the water (and, let's be honest, child urine) out of your clothes. But it too can't be separated from the movie's disturbing history. The song was inspired by another earlier song called "Zip Coon." Which, you have to admit, isn't great. The song was featured in minstrel shows featuring a character also named Zip Coon, a "dandy" who was used "to demonstrate that black men, especially those living in northern cities, should be enslaved, not gallivanting around towns pretending to be white men."
This ride isn't some unimpeachable work of art that shouldn't be modified. The only reason why Disney chose Song of the South as the theme for Splash Mountain back in the 1980s was that it allowed them to recycle animatronic characters from a shuttered attraction. Also, apparently the only reason why they called it "Splash Mountain" was to promote the mermaid comedy Splash starring horny Tom Hanks. And it's not as if Disney parks have never removed problematic monuments in the past -- they could just stick all the Br'er Rabbit junk in the same room where they keep that Bill Cosby statue.
Top Image: Walt Disney