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Inside New Disney World Attraction Tiana’s Bayou Adventure

Inside New Disney World Attraction Tiana’s Bayou Adventure

On July 17, 1989, Splash Mountain opened at Disneyland Park; three years later, a version of the same ride opened at Disney World. It was a problematic attraction from the onset — the ride had all the classic charm of other timeless Disney fare like Peter Pan’s Flight and Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, but this iteration was founded on a troubling principle.

The film the ride was based on, Song of the South, had been voluntarily removed from circulation by Disney three years before Splash Mountain ever opened. The film was widely known to be racist and was heavily criticized for romanticizing the plantation-era south in America, and for bolstering harmful stereotypes about Black people.

Now, over 30 years later, the uncomfortable subtext of Splash Mountain has been put to rest, and in its place splashes down something all-the-more charming, festive and fun.

Gone are the hillbilly-ish caricatures of Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear, as are all ties to its racist history. But the catchy music, cuddly critters and atmosphere of mischief and whimsy all remain in Tiana’s Bayou Adventure.

In this newly redone attraction, guests will ride along with The Princess and the Frog star Tiana — the first Black Disney princess — as she seeks to find a band of critters that can play for her at her Mardi Gras celebration. The ride features dozens of animatronic characters and creatures, including familiar faces from the 2009 animated film, along with new friends like Pawpaw the Bobcat, Gritty the Rabbit and a trio of Bayou Blackbears, to name a few.

Along the way, riders find themselves sidetracked by Mama Odie’s spell, which turns them tiny. It all leads to that familiar 50-foot drop, where in place of the once-foreboding vultures of Splash Mountain, guests now sing and dance with fireflies before being returned to human-size for the Mardi Gras party. The ride ends with a magnificent show scene of all the characters and critters dancing together.

“Just seeing Tiana in the park and having her take her place in a space that is so beautiful and historic and that has gone through many, many different eras and epochs, it is a gift and it is a lovely thing. It is the ushering in of a new one that I don’t think anybody thought would happen,” Tiana voice actress Anika Noni Rose told The Hollywood Reporter earlier this month.

Bruno Campos, Keith David, Jennifer Cody, Anika Noni Rose, Jenifer Lewis, Michael-Leon Wooley and Jim Cummings

Olga Thompson/ Disney Parks

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When asked about Tiana replacing the problematic Splash Mountain ride, PJ Harvey, who wrote the original song “Special Spice” for Bayou Adventure, said, “I applaud Disney for not doing a temporary move to address that, but a really permanent move. I think it’s rooted in love. It’s rooted in growth and I’m happy to be a part of something that represents that and something that will represent that for decades to come.”

“I think it says a lot that they chose that particular ride to replace with [Tiana’s Bayou Adventure],” said jazz musician Terence Blanchard, who was a major contributor to the ride’s soundtrack. “But at the end of the day for me, it’s just a general statement of us being here. You think about all of the efforts our civil rights leaders have fought for, have died for…this is a moment in time that I hope would make them proud.”

“Some people look at it as a simple thing. I don’t,” Blanchard continued. “This is the kind of thing that shapes hearts and minds for little folks. Hopefully we’re starting to build a generation that can do away with all this stuff, this bigotry and this hatred, that’s trying to infiltrate our souls right now. We’re doing the best we can to keep that at bay, but it’s a hard fight. I think [Tiana’s] goes a long way in combatting that.”

The actual ride layout is, of course, identical to the original Splash Mountain ride. Yet, in its place stands something with more charm and more character than its predecessor, an attraction that should make everyone who rides it feel happy and united.

Tiana’s Bayou Adventure officially opens at Walt Disney World on Thursday, alongside the official soundtrack release on all platforms. The ride will open later this year at Disneyland in California.

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