About two weeks after Disney announced that its popular theme park ride Splash Mountain—based on its highly controversial and locked-away movie Song of the South—would change its theming, reports surfaced that fans are scooping up what might be the last of the ride’s merchandise.
Disney said the retheming had been in the works for a year before the June 25 announcement, which came amid the momentum of the racial justice movement that brought renewed attention to Splash Mountain and its ties to Song of the South, which romanticized race relations in the post-Civil War era.
WDW News Today reported June 25 (the same day Disney announced the retheming) that Splash Mountain sales were spiking at World of Disney, the large merchandise store located in Orlando’s Disney Springs dining and entertainment center.
The outlet then reported Tuesday that Splash Mountain merchandise in the Magic Kingdom was a hot seller, with some park guests “leaving with large quantities” of plush animals, t-shirts and more, leading to an estimated hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales.
Tom Corless, CEO of WDW News Today, told Forbes that Splash Mountain is a “headliner attraction at [Disney’s] most-visited parks that people have fallen in love with,” adding that Disney has kept Song of the South off store shelves for decades, meaning many fans have never had the opportunity to legally purchase it.
“People don’t want to keep [Splash Mountain] because it’s some monument to racism,” Corless said, adding, “People say it’s a harmless attraction with a talking fox and rabbit….they are offended people are going to take this thing away from them when they think it’s not offensive.”
Disney did not respond to multiple requests for comment by Forbes.
Over $26 billion. That’s how much revenue Disney raked in for parks, experiences and products in its 2019 fiscal year, according to the company’s November earnings statement.
“White people have loved and laughed at caricaturing Black people for a very long time. Splash Mountain has been a part of that,” Stetson University Africana studies director and professor Susan Pepper-Bates told the Orlando-Sentinel. “Splash Mountain will feel very different if you are an African-American or a white person who knows anything about history.”
There are numerous petitions to “save” Splash Mountain on Change.org. One has over 75,000 signatures—while the biggest petition to change the ride’s theming has just over 21,000. Petitions that want Splash Mountain to remain the same vastly outnumber the ones calling for a makeover.
What to watch for
Disney has yet to announce a closing date for Splash Mountain. The Orlando-Sentinel reported that the ride’s makeover could take a few years.
By making over Splash Mountain to feature Tiana from the Princess and the Frog, Disney will showcase a Black princess in one of its parks rides for the first time in history. Although the redesign was a long time coming, Disney’s had to reckon with racist elements of its work over the decades. Upon the November 2019 launch of its streaming service, Disney+, “cultural warnings” were added to the beginning of classic animated features such as Dumbo, The Aristocats, Peter Pan and others. The films contain “outdated cultural depictions,” the warnings say, like the cigar-smoking crows in Dumbo led by Jim Crow, a direct reference to the South’s racist segregation laws. “Disney is a very old entertainment company with a library that goes back farther than most, and they are going to have things that don’t stand the test of time,” Corless said.