Yesterday was the final day of operation of Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom. After more than 30 years of operation, the world’s most famous flume ride closed permanently to be reimagined into Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. In this article, we’ll share some of our photos of the attraction, compiled from dozens of rides over the past few weeks.
Splash Mountain, set in Frontierland, was based on animated characters and stories from the problematic Song of the South movie. The film has been heavily criticized for employing racist stereotypes for some of the characters. The main characters featured in the Splash Mountain attraction are Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox, and Br’er Bear, with supporting appearances from Br’er Frog, Mr. Bluebird, Br’er Roadrunner, and more critters.
As told by legendary Imagineer Marty Sklar, Splash Mountain was conceived by Tony Baxter when he was stuck in traffic. The idea for Splash Mountain was pitched by Baxter as a way to drive crowds to Critter Country and save the animatronics from the former America Sings attraction. When it was designed, Splash Mountain had a different name – the Zip-a-Dee River Run, but Baxter says that executives from the movie studio pushed to have “Splash” in the name to promote the upcoming film titled Splash, and the name stuck.
While the name doesn’t reference the problematic Song of the South movie, the connection to the movie is undeniable and that very same connection is the reason that the ride’ is being closed permanently’s theme is being changed. Song of the South has been surrounded by controversy since its premiere in 1946 due to racist stereotypes, but in a 1987 piece by the LA Times, Disneyland officials said they were not concerned about the ride receiving the same criticism as the film it was based on because the attraction focused on the animated animal characters.
Nonetheless, the modern Walt Disney Company has decided that the attraction has no place in its theme parks, at least the parks that they own. Tokyo Disneyland has not announced any plans to replace Splash Mountain. In a March 2020 shareholder meeting, Disney CEO Bob Iger talked about Song of the South when a shareholder asked if it would be included in the Disney+ catalog. Iger said, “I’ve felt as long as I’ve been CEO that Song of the South — even with a disclaimer — was just not appropriate in today’s world…It’s just hard, given the depictions in some of those films, to bring them out today without in some form or another offending people, so we’ve decided not to do that.” Just a few months later, Disney would announce that Splash Mountain would be closed permanently.
On June 25, 2020, Disney Parks announced that they would be retheming Splash Mountain to a new concept – a Princess and the Frog-themed ride. The choice to retheme that attraction was sparked by Disney’s Diversity & Inclusion initiative to create rides and experiences that “speak to the diversity of the millions of people who visit our parks each year”. The announcement was made during a summer of civil unrest and Disney noted that “the retheming of Splash Mountain is of particular importance today”.
While the retheme was announced in Summer 2020, Imagineers would still need years to complete the plans, only making a closing date official for Magic Kingdom in December 2022 – just 51 days before the closure.
Before we jump into a look at Splash Mountain, here’s a brief description of what guests can expect from Tiana’s Bayou Adventure when it opens in late 2024 at Walt Disney World and Disneyland:
Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will take you on a journey inspired by the story and characters from the hit film, picking up where that story left off. In Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, you’ll join Princess Tiana and jazz-loving alligator Louis during Mardi Gras season as they prepare to host a one-of-a-kind celebration for the people of New Orleans. This scene is the thrilling moment you first drop into the bayou and encounter some friends both new and familiar.
As you can see here, fireflies will light up the night and invite you deeper into the bayou … almost like they’re waving you forward. What you can’t tell from this rendering is that beautiful zydeco music will fill the air. Zydeco is a special blend of rhythm and blues that was born in Louisiana, and when you hear it, you’ll feel like you’ve truly stepped into Tiana’s world.
Here you’ll find Louis, who explains where this amazing music is coming from. Tiana made some new friends out here – a band full of adorable critters, including an otter, a rabbit, a racoon, a beaver, a turtle and others. The band members sing and play instruments made of natural materials they found in the bayou. It feels like they may have a bigger role to play in this story … but we’ll just have to wait and see on that one.
Ok, as we eagerly await the future and Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, we wanted to take one last look back and say farewell to Splash Mountain. Here’s how Disney describes Splash Mountain:
Br’er Rabbit’s quest for adventure and his rival’s plot to do him in launch Walt Disney World guests on an action-filled journey with a thrill-packed, five-story “splashdown” finale on Splash Mountain in the Magic Kingdom.
Based on animated sequences in Walt Disney’s 1946 film “Song of the South,” the 87-foot high Splash Mountain boasts one of the world’s longest flume drops and promises guests a 40 mph descent — faster than any other attraction in the Magic Kingdom.
The attraction, which opened in summer 1992, occupies a 9.2 acre site next to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Frontierland. It features special effects that give the show its animated quality and heighten splashdown into the briar patch during the ride’s heart-stopping finale.
Splash Mountain stars a cast of 68 Audio-Animatronics characters — one of the largest groups of animated figures ever assembled in a Walt Disney World attraction.
To begin the 11-minute adventure, guests climb aboard eight-person logs (hollowed out by sharp-tooth beavers, as the story goes) to travel the canals of the flooded mountain.
Soon, they join Br’er Rabbit, who is looking for some fun on a “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” kind of day. But his antagonists, Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear, are scheming to catch the happy-go-lucky hare and put an end to his carefree rambling.
To bring the classic Disney story “Song of the South” to life, wizards at Walt Disney Imagineering — the company’s creative design and engineering division — created a magnificent mountain chock-full of backwoods swamps, bayous and waterfalls.
As guests proceed on the log ride, they meet the show’s stars and a number of critter characters who help weave the tale of “Song of the South.” Against the advice of Mr. Bluebird, Br’er Rabbit leaves his briar patch home in search of adventure. Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear seize this opportunity and begin their legendary pursuit of the rabbit.
Along the way, the guests’ boats dip and turn through brilliantly colored scenes featuring musical selections that include “Laughin’ Place” and “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” one of Disney’s most familiar tunes.
Spooky caves, hollowed trees and skulking silhouettes of Br’er Rabbit’s pursuers lend mystery and magic to the show as the story unfolds.
At first, the clever rabbit outsmarts his bumbling pursuers, but as guests proceed along the winding flume ride, they soon discover Br’er Rabbit is heading for trouble.
The rollicking adventure is loaded with twists, turns and splashes of excitement. It culminates when guests, tucked into their flume logs, plunge over the top of a steep spillway, whizzing from the mountaintop to a briar-covered pond five stories below.
From the start, guests are drawn into the Splash Mountain legend when they enter an old critter building — part barn, part silo. From there, they wind their way to a secret passageway leading to the Critter Cave.
After meeting Br’er Frog, who begins to narrate the tale of Splash Mountain, guests board their flume logs to complete the exciting journey.
Along with the special effects and state-of-the-art animated characters, the attraction features one of the biggest animated props ever. The showboat in the rousing final scene is 36 feet wide and 22 feet high and carries 12 animated characters singing “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” as the ship rocks in time to the music.
Splash Mountain is located in Frontierland’s west end, between Pecos Bill’s restaurant and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
Splash Mountain is located in Frontierland next to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Magic Kingdom. The attraction features an iconic facade with the climactic drop in full view of guests. The front of the attraction is dynamic with multiple viewpoints for guests on nearby walkways and flume logs circling the “mountain” – all at different points in the ride experience. The iconic facade is topped by a tree stump atop Chickapin Hill.
The main entrance to the ride is an unassuming barn, hidden from the main walkway by the Frontierland Station for the Walt Disney World Railroad. A sign in front of the station informs guests of the Splash Mountain entrance, and Br’er Rabbit is sat atop a stack of furniture and barrels.
A short walk down some stairs or a ramp takes you to either the Lightning Lane entrance on the left or the standby entrance on the right. Near the standby entrance are carved statues of the main characters in the attraction – Br’er Fox, Br’er Bear, and Br’er Rabbit.
For riders who don’t reach the 40-inch height requirement, a small playground is available under the railroad station and strategically placed along the only exit path from the ride.
A significant portion of the queue is outdoors, especially in the summer months when the attraction is more popular. The fact that you get wet makes gives the ride more seasonality than other attractions. Typically, when the weather dips below 65-70°, wait times start to drop as well.
The outdoor portion of the queue winds beneath tall trees, and offers some foreshadowing of the story for the attraction thanks to a few “most wanted” posters for Br’er Bear and Br’er Fox. There is also signage that foreshadows some of the logistics of the attraction just as the large drop and that it’s a water log flume ride.
Guests eventually enter the indoor portion of the queue via a rather unassuming barn and hallways that briefly route outdoors to allow guests in wheelchairs to bypass the staircase that leads up to the rest of the queue. Guests walk through the upstairs portion of the barn before entering the caves and caverns that define the majority of the ride and “mountain”.
The first character that we’re introduced to is Br’er Frog, who is the narrator of the ride and takes over for the Uncle Remus role from the Song of the South movie. We don’t get to see Br’er Frog in physical form, rather he is seen as a shadow seated on a chair.
A winding walkway slopes down to the load area, which is revealed through “windows” in the cave walls and gets guests excited for the ride ahead. Framed photos continue the foreshadowing from the outdoor portion of the queue, painting Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear as characters not to be trusted.
In more recent years, Disney installed safety videos overhead in the queue to prepare guests for boarding.
Guests load into the flume logs in groups of 8, with two riders per seat in the four-row boats. A dip into the flume out of the load station quickly enters the first of three lift hills for the ride as we pass Br’er Frog – now seen as an animatronic before entering the briar patch pool seen from the exterior of the attraction. A second lift hill runs through a barn before guests continue the “second-level” turn around the mountain.
It’s at the top of the mountain that we are introduced to the first of a few songs that play throughout the attraction. The music heard in this outdoor section is a banjo-heavy version of “How Do You Do?”. Guests float past a garden and “Critter Exlir” wagon that promises to sell you concoctions that cure fleas, flat feet, and fur balls.
Further upstream, small critter homes are seen in the trees and the critters can be heard singing.
We eventually float past both Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Bear’s homes – they are revealed to be neighbors.
A drop down Slippin’ Falls sends us into the indoor show scenes and sets us along the journey with Br’er Rabbit as he prepares to leave his home in search for his own adventure. A few critters welcome us to the world of Splash Mountain as we pass through a fishing hole before turning the corner to find Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear waiting to follow Br’er Rabbit as he leaves home.
Time to be movin’ along.
More critters such as a drumming porcupine and harmonica-playing raccoon start warning that Br’er Rabbit might be headed for trouble. Two rabbits are seen tending to a stoop and garden as an animation of Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear chasing Br’er Rabbit is seen on a wall in the distance.
The first trap for Br’er Rabbit doesn’t exactly go as planned, with Br’er Fox trapping Br’er Bear as Br’er Rabbit escapes. An animatronic of a hopping Br’er Rabbit has been broken in recent years but was said to be the most expensive character animatronic of the ride.
As we turn the corner again, we get a song change to “Everybody Has a Laughing Place”, which is perhaps the second-most popular song on the attraction behind “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah”. Around the corner is a hallway of critters, starting with Br’er Frog and an alligator.
We then pass Br’er Roadrunner’s house where he talks about visiting the Laughin’ Place that Br’er Rabbit is searching for.
Pansy, Poppy, and Petunia possums can be seen overhead before we turn the corner to see that Br’er Rabbit has thwarted Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear once again by tricking them into a tree with bees in it as a fake “Laughing Place”.
The log flume drops in a drop-and-dip effect that has a unique feeling, almost like an old wooden roller coaster hill. Br’er Bear is seen with a beehive on his nose as Br’er Rabbit laughs as he thinks he has outsmarted the duo. As it turns out, Br’er Fox has a beehive of his own to trap Br’er Rabbit.
Another short drop takes us to flooded caves where frogs, turtles, and even some gophers are found. When the ride was working properly, the turtles would be “propped” up by a stream of water, but that hasn’t worked in some time.
There would also be jumping water effects that would make the area feel more alive. One of the fun gags in this room is a gopher that pops out of the ceiling and makes a noise that sounds like “FSU”. Dubbed the FSU gopher by fans, legend has it that an Imagineer added the nod to Florida State University as it was their alma mater. Here’s a look at the famed FSU gopher.
Continuing through the caves, we see that Br’er Fox has trapped Br’er Rabbit with the beehive seen in the previous scene. Things aren’t looking great for Br’er Rabbit, but perhaps he has one more trick up his sleeves.
Before we get to the final lift hill, the “Boothill Boys” vultures are seen above our heads. As their species might suggest, these are the undertaker characters of the ride and set an ominous tone for the dark lift hill that only has red eyes in the blackness of either side of the boat until you nearly reach the peak of the hill.
Once you near the top, you see Br’er Rabbit tied up, ready to be roasted, and the shadow of Br’er Fox as Br’er Rabbit tries desperately to convince Br’er Fox to let him, and ultimately us, go. We meet the same fate as Br’er Rabbit and we’re tossed 52.5 feet into the Briar Patch in the iconic, climactic drop where “you may get wet”.
The deceleration zone is where the waves will catch up with you and you will get wet. After surviving the plunge, a leisurely u-turn directs us back into the mountain and another iconic scene for the finale when “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” plays as animals sing and play along. From The Gator Boys playing the banjo to a turkey and frog playing other instruments, the scene contains one of Disney’s most popular pieces of music. Also, the Zip-A-Dee-Lady riverboat is one of the largest moving props created for an attraction and contains a cast of singing animals led by a pig on the organ.
In the closing two scenes, we can see that Br’er Bear tried to go after Br’er Rabbit in the Briar Patch, but got stuck. As Br’er Fox tried to pull him out, a gator grabbed ahold of Br’er Fox’s tail and the “villains” of the ride seemingly met a just fate. In the final scene of the attraction, we’re back out in front of Br’er Rabbit’s briar patch home where he and Mr. Bluebird determine that it’s best for Br’er Rabbit to just stay put in the briar patch. As we turn the final corner to the load/unload station, a few quotes are painted on the wooden panels as a farewell to gets and a near guarantee that you would be humming songs heard on the attraction for the rest of your day.
Splash Mountain closed permanently on January 22, 2023 at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.
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