“There’s magic in the air tonight, and anything can happen.” These lyrics open Disney’s 2009 feature The Princess and the Frog, and they’ll soon be true of one of the company’s most popular theme park attractions. Disney Parks recently announced that Splash Mountain at Disneyland and Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom will be re-imagined into a ride starring Princess Tiana. Here’s everything we know about the ride’s story, timeline, and creation.
Taking place after the events of the film, the ride will involve guests joining Tiana and Louis the alligator as they prepare for their Mardi Gras debut. The attraction will make use of Splash Mountain‘s basic foundation to remain a hybrid log flume/dark ride. Concept art (below) depicts Mama Odie’s home (a boat in a tree in a bayou) perched atop the ride’s big splashdown drop.
The project will be helmed by Imagineering Senior Creative Producer Charita Carter, who most recently co-led the creation of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Upon announcing the ride on the Disney Parks Blog, Carter said, “Like Princess Tiana, I believe that courage and love are the key ingredients for wonderful adventures. I am delighted to be a part of bringing this fun-filled experience to our guests.”
In the same announcement post, Disney Legend Anika Noni Rose, the voice of Tiana, Disney’s first African-American princess, said, “It is really exciting to know that Princess Tiana’s presence in both Disneyland and Magic Kingdom will finally be fully realized! As passionate as I am about what we created, I know the fans are going to be over the moon. The Imagineers are giving us the Princess and the Frog Mardi Gras celebration we’ve been waiting for, and I’m here for it!”
Disney Legend Tony Baxter, the Imagineer who created Splash Mountain, will come out of retirement to be an advisor on the re-imagining, as reported by The Orange Country Register. Baxter said, “The attraction will be one to be proud of. I look forward to being a part of a new adventure in Disney magic and fun.”
Scott Trowbridge, the Imagineer who helmed the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge expansions on both coasts, is also involved in the Princess and the Frog project according to his Twitter.
There is no announced timeframe for the transformation, though guests can continue to experience the current version of Splash Mountain upon the parks’ reopening following quarantine. For Florida, that’s July 11. For California, that was initially July 17, but is now postponed to a date yet to be determined. A reservation system is in place for ticketing in order to maintain a safe capacity.
(Note: With the exception of the official concept art above, visuals in this article are curated from screen grabs from the film, not provided by Disney. They do not indicate scenes to be featured in the attraction, though their vivid imagery and their likeness to existing set pieces in Splash Mountain certainly lend the imagination to some potential ride sequences.)
Splash Mountain opened in California in 1989 and Florida in 1992. In the Disney+ docuseries The Imagineering Story, narrator Angela Bassett describes Splash Mountain‘s creation as “challenging,” sharing how the Imagineers were tasked to “theme the interior of a mountain with characters from an old, problematic film named Song of the South.” The 1946 movie was adapted from stories written by Joel Chandler Harris in 1880 that had origins in African folklore. The film is known for its controversial representation of African-Americans, and has not been made viewable by Disney in several decades. While Splash Mountain distanced itself from the more directly problematic aspects of the movie (Bassett declares its completion as the Imagineers having “solved a complex logistical puzzle”), the ride still carried baggage from its heritage that recent events in a nationwide movement of racial justice have put into greater awareness. In the announcement post, Michael Ramirez, Disneyland Public Relations Director, remarked that “the retheming of Splash Mountain is of particular importance today. The new concept is inclusive – one that all of our guests can connect with and be inspired by, and it speaks to the diversity of the millions of people who visit our parks each year.”
The news comes just weeks after a viral Twitter thread from user @FreddyFromBatuu considered a similar idea. Disney said in its announcement that the project has been in development for a year, confirmed on Twitter by Imagineering Lighting Designer Maria Mondloch. Imagineering President Bob Weis even told D23 that Disney has “explored many new themes [for the ride] in the past,” inviting speculation for which ideas were considered and abandoned before this one.
Carmen Smith, Creative Development and Inclusive Strategies Executive at Imagineering, said, “We continually evaluate opportunities to enhance and elevate experiences for our guests. It’s important that our guests be able to see themselves in the experiences we create. Because we consider ourselves constant learners, we go to great lengths to research and engage cultural advisors and other experts to help guide us along the way. I am incredibly proud to see this work continue to move forward with great support from leadership across Disney.”
We at Rotoscopers have long been covering the evolving legacy of the Disney Revival, the era of Walt Disney Animation Studios roughly defined by 2007 through present day. At the period’s arguable peak were a string of powerhouse fairytales: The Princess and the Frog (2009), Tangled (2010), and Frozen (2013). They’ve each left their mark throughout Disney’s theme parks worldwide, the ultimate seal of approval any Disney film could hope for as being beloved by its audience. In fact, Frozen even followed a similar pattern as what The Princess and the Frog will pursue. In 2016, Frozen Ever After replaced the longstanding Epcot boat ride Maelstrom by utilizing its predecessor’s same structure and track layout.
Upon its release in 2009,The Princess and the Frog honored traditional animation in a computer-dominated industry. While it didn’t change the trajectory of hand-drawn animation and most of its successors were animated digitally, the film did set a precedence for a revival of Disney animation that went beyond any medium and spoke to something deeper: its DNA. It unleashed a wave of redemption that brought the studio to the height of its former glory, which had long been absent following an era generally accepted as experimental but less than stellar. The Princess and the Frog received Oscar nominations for Best Animated Feature and Best Song (for both “Down In New Orleans” and “Almost There”).
In the film’s supporting cast the audience found a collection of memorable Disney characters. Among those are Louis the alligator and Mama Odie the voodoo priestess. The actors who lent their voices to the characters shared in celebration about the announcement of a Princess and the Frog ride. Michael-Leon Wooley, the voice of Louis, said, “I think this is great news, or as Louis would say –– HALLELUJAH!” Jenifer Lewis, the voice of Mama Odie, remarked, “Voicing Mama Odie was a joyful creative experience. Recording Mama Odie’s song, ‘Dig A Little Deeper,’ by Randy Newman, must have taken a hundred takes, because I wanted it to be perfect. The image of Mama Odie, in the fairy godmother role, truly reflected the New Orleans Black bayou tradition of the revered wise woman. I am thrilled that The Princess and the Frog is being honored for the joy it has brought to millions of Disney fans.” Lewis can be heard elsewhere in the Disney parks as the voice of Flo the showcar on Radiator Springs Racers at Disney California Adventure.
While the Splash Mountain re-imagining is by far the most significant project attached to The Princess and the Frog in any park to date, it is not the first. When the film first debuted in 2009, both American coasts hosted Tiana’s Showboat Jubilee!, a multifaceted live production that made use of the parks’ riverboats to stage a New Orleans-inspired spectacle. Since 2016, Tiana has helped Goofy find his confidence in the stage show Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire at Magic Kingdom. At Halloween time, the Sanderson sisters from Hocus Pocus enlist Doctor Facilier’s help to summon sinister shadows for an All Hallows’ Eve celebration at Cinderella Castle. Perhaps the most fully realized entity so far is Tiana’s Place, a full-service restaurant onboard the Disney Wonder cruise ship. Another restaurant inspired by the film is currently in development for “Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge,” a new resort under construction at Walt Disney World.
Many of the Audio-Animatronics figures from Splash Mountain are actually older than Splash Mountain itself. Much of the animal cast is left over from America Sings, a robotic show that celebrated America’s Bicentennial at Disneyland over the course of 1977-1988. It is yet to be seen if they will be repurposed yet again for the new Princess and the Frog attraction.
Splash Mountain also exists at Tokyo Disneyland, though Disney has not mentioned any changes to that version of the attraction.
The decision to set the story of the new attraction after the ending of The Princess and the Frog continues a trend also followed by Frozen Ever After of continuing a film’s story rather than retelling it. Since Disneyland’s opening in 1955, most rides based on classic Disney films simply reiterated the events of the movie guests already knew (or, in the case of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, imagined a, um… alternate version of its events). With no sequel or adaptive media to speak of for The Princess and the Frog since its 2009 release, this offers families the chance to see what happens next for the first time.