From "Snow White" to "Black Widow," one secret to the Disney brand’s decades of ongoing success is presenting both classic and modern storytelling, while allowing stories to evolve naturally over time. The most recent result of this approach is the reimagining of the Jungle Cruise and Splash Mountain rides at the Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort in California and Florida.
“As Imagineers, it’s our responsibility to ensure the stories we share reflect the voices and perspectives of the world around us," said Carmen Smith, executive for creative development and inclusion strategies at Walt Disney Imagineering. “It’s important that guests be able to see themselves in the experiences we create, so we continually evaluate opportunities to enhance and elevate experiences.”
To accomplish that for the Jungle Cruise, Imagineers created a new storyline overlay for the classic attraction — one of 11 remaining “opening day” rides at Disneyland. Racially insensitive and culturally outdated elements were replaced with a more modern interpretation of the fan-favorite jungle adventure. For Splash Mountain (part of Disney’s iconic “mountain range”), Imagineers took a different approach, with plans to update the ride’s theming entirely, removing all references to the 1946 Disney film “Song of the South” in favor of depicting 2009’s “The Princess and the Frog.”
According to Susana Tubert, Imagineering creative director, Imagineers followed two guiding principles when refreshing the Jungle Cruise in both parks: sustain the lighthearted comedic tone that guests expect and look for opportunities to bring an “inclusive brush stoke” across the attraction that would feel relevant and authentic.
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As Imagineers, it’s our responsibility to ensure the stories we share reflect the voices and perspectives of the world around us.
Diversity and inclusivity were introduced through new characters based on the backstory of Alberta Falls, the Jungle Navigation Company’s proprietor, including an artist from Mexico, a botanist from Nova Scotia, a Japanese entomologist and Alberta’s cousin (a bird watcher).
“As part of creative development, we introduced characters from around the world and took a thoughtful approach to ensure accurate representation of cultures in our story,” said Chris Beatty, an Imagineer who led creative development of the enhancements in Florida. "We're excited to include new adventures that stay true to the experience we know and love, while adding more humor, more wildlife and an interconnected story.”
When the Jungle Cruise reopens on July 16, 2021, in Disneyland (and is completed later this summer in Florida’s Magic Kingdom), guests will learn that Alberta’s friends — led by Felix, a skipper known for his bad luck — had an unfortunate encounter in the hippo pool and were subsequently chased up a tree by rhinos. Not only that, their boat was commandeered by chimps who’ve gotten into their belongings, including Felix’s map, which, according to Imagineering executive creative director Kim Irvine, is the map for the opposite park’s attraction — and clearly the reason why he got lost, she joked.
“I’m excited for our guests to experience the updates to a true classic,” said Jo Anne Smoot of the Magical Tripcations agency. “This is a unique reimagining in the sense that teams from Disney World and Disneyland collaborated on the expanded storyline.”
Another new addition — or subtraction, as the case may be — is Trader Sam’s “Gift Shop,” where Sam takes items from the Navigation Company’s Lost & Found and gladly sells them back to explorers who’ve lost them along the rivers. The controversial Trader Sam animatronic, however, is "out of the office" permanently.
Imagineers approach the challenge of retheming an attraction by first determining how they can elevate the experience and/or tell a fresh, relevant story. This was especially important with Splash Mountain, which, despite being one of Disney’s most popular rides, is based on a movie that many guests find problematic.
“The longstanding history of updating attractions and adding new magic is a continuous process that Imagineers are deeply passionate about,” wrote Michael Ramirez, public relations director for Disneyland, in the Disney Parks Blog. “The retheming of Splash Mountain is of particular importance as the new concept is inclusive — one that all 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 updated attraction will keep the same track layout — including its 50-foot, water-soaked drop — but refresh the storyline to incorporate its new “The Princess and the Frog” theme and engage a broader range of guests.
Magical Tripcations agents Jessica Daniel and Beccy Alldredge both say their kids are very excited about the Splash Mountain changes. Plus, Alldredge noted, "The Princess and the Frog" theming especially makes sense in Disneyland, where the attraction is next to New Orleans Square — the location of the movie.
Imagineers want all guests to feel welcomed, so they’re constantly looking to enhance stories while ensuring a more accurate representation of the people and cultures in the stories they tell, according to a statement from Walt Disney Imagineering. With the updated Jungle Cruise and Splash Mountain attractions, they accomplish both.
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