When the Disney Parks Blog announced plans to re-theme their Splash Mountain attractions at both the Disneyland and Walt Disney World resorts, the decision was met with a range of emotions from cheers of "zip-a-dee-doo-dah" to those who didn't heed the Splash Mountain Medley's lyrics and kept their frowns turned upside-down.
An online petition calling for the removal/re-theme of Splash Mountain circulated the inter-webs in early June and garnered a high volume of support. Disney's announcement later that same month indicated the serendipitous timing of such a change was purely coincidental as Imagineers had been hard at work on the re-theme for nearly a year at that point. While I feel that the layover truly had been in the works for quite some time, as mockup sketches let alone ride concepts take many months to plan, I do believe the timing of the announcement played in to a cultural demand for the change to occur which... by the way... was an awesome thing for Disney to do. Though the ride itself doesn't deal with the Song of the South's controversial portrayal of race relations during the Reconstruction-era, the characters and thematic elements portrayed on the ride allow for those ideologies presented in the movie to live on alongside the Disney experience; and that doesn't feel very satisfactual.
On June 25th, 2020 (or March 117th, depending on your preferred calendar) reactions spilled in from all corners of the Disney-verse as excited fans of the last hand-drawn Disney film, which notably featured the very first black Disney princess, joined longtime proponents of Splash's demise in jubilant uproar while diehard devotees of the zany, black-lit, Eisner-era log flume attraction were definitely not put in their laughing place. In their announcement, Michael Ramirez, Public Relations Director, Disneyland Resort, shared the first details of this new attraction stating, "We pick up this story after the final kiss, and join Princess Tiana and Louis on a musical adventure – featuring some of the powerful music from the film – as they prepare for their first-ever Mardi Gras performance." (to be honest, my first reaction after reading this was "soooooo... No Dr. Facilier then?!)
Check out the full official Disney Parks announcement here: New Adventures with Princess Tiana Coming to Disneyland Park and Magic Kingdom Park
In the Louisiana Bayou, Tiana pursues her dream of opening the finest restaurant New Orleans before becoming entangled in Dr. Facilier's voodoo when the newly-amphibious Prince Naveen mistakes her for a princess and the two exchange a smooch hoping to better their situations. Spoiler alert: an hour and thirty-eight minutes later, everyone becomes enamored by this new courageous princess, the beautiful songs, the memorable characters, the art... it truly belongs in the ranks of the classics and is yet another in a long line of Disney masterpieces. What more could an imagineer hope for in an I.P.'s pedigree while on their quest to determine the next big Park attraction's subject matter?
New Orleans, obviously the backdrop for The Princess and the Frog, is a place that inspired Walt himself so much that he added an $18-million taste of the French Quarter to his original Park as it became Disneyland's first new land when "New Orleans Square" was opened in 1966. In one of Walt Disney's final public appearances, a dedication ceremony involving New Orleans mayor, Victor H. Schiro, on July 24th christened the new land as Mardi Gras bands welcomed guests to the only land to open without any attractions as it exclusively featured shopping and dining experiences, including the One of a Kind shop, where guests could buy rare antiques and Mademoiselle Antoinette’s Parfumerie, which welcomed guests to create their own exclusive blend of perfumes.
Today, New Orleans Square boasts some of the company's most expansive offerings, making it a tremendous candidate to receive larger-budget E-ticket attractions. It's home to two iconic attractions already in Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion, offers a premium in-Park sit-down dining experience in Blue Bayou, hosts the resorts most premium experiences in Club 33 and the Dream Suite, and holds one of the Park's most touching hidden gems that serves as a constant reminder of Walt's historic presence and connection to this 160-acre playground, a telegraph that plays a portion of Walt's opening day speech presented in morse code, “To all who come to Disneyland, welcome. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future.”
Now that we're all on the same page as to what a treasure New Orleans Square is and its importance to the parks, I can finally discuss its future and why The Princess and the Frog is the perfect attraction to replace Splash Mountain (at least at Disneyland).
Imagine, if you will, an idilic night of a 2025 Disneyland. I understand this doesn't work the same at WDW but, follow along with me... Once you get through the stroller gauntlet in front of the Indiana Jones queue, you emerge onto a stone path drenched in lamp light outside of the Pirates entrance. The Mark Twain blares its whistle as it emerges from a billowing cloud of steam and it slowly passes you by down a moonlit Rivers of America. It's a magical night indeed because, just as you make your way around the Pirates queue and head into the French Quarter, a stranger asks if you'd like to take their reservation at Blue Bayou (they've just been invited to Club 33 but don't be jealous, you didn't even have dinner plans and now you're eating at Blue Bayou) by President of the Walt Disney Company, Josh D'Amaro (mark my words, this will happen). You take your seat and take in the eternal night of the bayou as you see the fireflies dance in the distance and hear the chirping of the crickets and the banjo plucking away in the background and then someone ruins the moment by yelling, "throw me a bread roll" and Kyle over at table three literally does and his significant hits him on the arm and holds the menu over their face in embarrassment.
With a belly full of Jambalaya and half a Monte Cristo (I knew you couldn't finish that) you head back out onto the French Quarter to a live band playing some upbeat jazz as Jack Sparrow and Redd dance and stumble across the grounds around them. The Mark Twain is heading out on another voyage and the Mansion is looking beautifully serene as the stars twinkle behind its clean, unforthcoming facade. The path darkens as you move away from the the home of the happy haunts. Treetops gradually close in around you and the fireflies provide ambient light as they play amongst the trunks and dance between the leaves. You're completely enveloped by magnificent trees and their draping branches and, as you turn a final corner, the path opens up to the sound of rushing water, a faint saxophone riff, and, similar to the Millennium Falcon effect, you see Mama Odies boathouse nestled perfectly in a cypress tree atop Disneyland's newest attraction as a log full of guests rushes down the side of the mountain.
The Princess and the Frog is an absolutely perfect addition within the Disneyland berm but I tend to agree with the complaints that it doesn't work inside the Magic Kingdom quite as well. While it may not provide as harmonious of a journey leading up to the new attraction at Walt Disney World, there is much more available land surrounding the attraction for the Imagineers to create an immersive bayou environment to nestle the ride within. Most of those that I've seen express their disappointment with Disney's decision to remove their favorite mischievous rabbit from the Florida park site the awkwardness of a bayou in the middle of a frontier. However, the dilemma the company faces, from a business perspective, is creating two separate re-themes of an existing attraction would be preventatively cost-ineffective. And, truly, what I.P. would thematically fit within a pre-existing log flume attraction in a frontier setting better? Tiana brings a positive and empowering female presence inside both theme parks and provides an I.P. that Disney wants to push in the 21st century or... you know... at least from a movie they can stream on Disney+ (Tiana: 3, Bre'r Rabbit: 0) Maybe the perfect idea exists but, especially now with the recent and rampant monetary effects of COVID on the company, both parks will be receiving the same thematic changes to a ride drenched in controversy.
While we don't have much of the details of what this makeover will truly bring to the Parks, I imagine that, like the expansive new Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, the Imagineers will have no doubt meticulously mapped out every detail from the transition into Tiana's bayou, to a hidden Facilier headstone somewhere, and I'm guessing/hoping it mimics, in some ways, what i've laid out here.
You can be assured that this swampy backdrop will look gorgeous as it bakes in the coastal sun but that its real beauty is made to come alive at night. The experience, at least at Disneyland, is nearly seamless from the moment guests emerge from beneath Tarzan's Treehouse all the way through Tiana's Boogie Down at the Bayou Bash (attraction name trademark pending) and, hopefully, culminates in a beignet, or six, at a yet-to-be-announced Tiana's Palace