Last summer, Disney dropped the big news that a classic attraction was getting a major overhaul. On June, 24, 2020, the company announced that Splash Mountain at Walt Disney World and Disneyland would be re-themed with a story inspired by the 2009 animated film “The Princess and the Frog” and its star, Princess Tiana. Since then, Walt Disney Imagineers have been hard at work developing the attraction and shared new details and concept art on Aug. 23 to kick off Disney’s first-ever World Princess Week.
To discuss the new developments, Walt Disney Imagineers Carmen Smith and Charita Carter joined ABC News national correspondent Kenneth Moton, VFX supervisor for Walt Disney Animation Studios Marlon West and Stella Chase Reese at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant in New Orleans. The restaurant, now owned by Reese, was founded by Reese’s mother, Leah Chase, one of the inspirations for Princess Tiana, who runs a restaurant in the film.
The Story Behind Disney’s New ‘The Princess and the Frog’ Ride
In a video shared on the Disney Parks blog, Carter, a lead Imagineer on the project, explained the premise of the new attraction, which takes place after the film’s final kiss, and brings guests into the story as “active participants,” with Tiana acknowledging them directly.
“Tiana actually invites us as the guests to go on an adventure with her in the bayou,” Carter said.
The ride will feature well-known characters from the movie, like Naveen and Louis the alligator, and will also introduce new characters, Carter said. The new ride will also debut some original music inspired by the film’s iconic soundtrack and will culminate in what Carter called “the ultimate Mardi Gras party.” It’s safe to assume Splash Mountain’s famed five-story plunge will play a role in the new ride’s climactic moments, too.
New concept art shows an in-command Tiana, dressed in pants and boots, leading the way from the bow of a boat, with Naveen manning the oars and Louis in the water alongside them. Guests bring up the rear in a log-shaped ride vehicle like those currently in use on Splash Mountain.
The attraction will also feature new state-of-the art technology that Carter said will “advance the storytelling and really just kind of change the game.” Audio-animatronic figures, scenic illusions and visual effects will all combine to create an “immersive environment” for guests.
More Inspiration for Splash Mountain’s ‘The Princess and the Frog’ Reboot
Beyond the original “The Princess and the Frog” film, Imagineers are also “digging deep into the culture of New Orleans to tell a story that’s as authentic to the region as it is to the characters’ stories,” according to the Disney Parks blog.
“New Orleans is a place of music and food,” Reese said during the panel discussion. “The two coming together, music and food brings joy and happiness to all.”
Visual artist Sharika Mahdi, an alumna of the YAYA (Young Aspirations Young Artists) Arts Center in New Orleans, was commissioned to create original paintings to further inspire Imagineers working on the attraction. Revealed this week, the first in the series gives another sneak peek at the sort of musical scenes guests could see on the new ride.
Continuing Tiana’s Story
“This [the new attraction] takes place after ‘The Princess and the Frog,’” said Marlon West, who worked on the original film. “But we really want to keep a continuity between who Tiana is and what Tiana will be going forward.”
Disney’s first Black princess, Tiana continues to be represented broadly across Disney’s theme parks, experiences, merchandise and entertainment offerings, including in a new series, “Tiana,” coming to Disney+.
“The history of Tiana coming to Disney — the first Black princess — it’s profound,” Moton said. “It’s important for young Black and brown children, but for all races to see this diversity on the screen.”
Beyond the screen, Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Wonder cruise ship is home to Tiana’s Place, an immersive onboard dining and entertainment experience. Disney Cruise Line’s newest ship, the Disney Wish, will feature a casual lounge, The Bayou, themed to “The Princess and the Frog.” The Bayou, which will serve drinks, coffees and beignets, will also feature live entertainment. Tiana will also be part of a new interactive experience on the Wish, Disney Uncharted Adventure.
At Walt Disney World, a Tiana-themed playground has opened at EPCOT during the park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival, and guests can spot Tiana in a princess cavalcade at Magic Kingdom park. And at Disneyland Resort, Tiana appears in Disneyland Park’s New Orlean’s Square and at Disney Princess Breakfast Adventures, a character dining experience returning to Napa Rose at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa.
Additional details, including an opening date for the re-themed attraction and a closing date for Splash Mountain, have yet to be revealed. Splash Mountain, the popular log flume ride that opened in 1989 at Disneyland and 1992 at Walt Disney World, has been the subject of ongoing controversy due to its characters and storyline, which are based on the racist 1946 film “Song of the South,” a film Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger called “not appropriate in today’s world.”
The Splash Mountain reboot follows other recent overhauls to iconic Disney attractions Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean to address racist depictions and outdated cultural references.
What do you think of the plans to replace Splash Mountain with “The Princess and the Frog” ride?
Brooke Geiger McDonald is a theme park journalist covering all things Disney and Universal. When she’s not screaming on the newest roller coaster or critiquing the cheese served with her Mickey pretzel, she’s busy breaking the latest theme park news on Twitter and Instagram.