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Disney will overhaul Splash Mountain ride following criticism over connections to racist film

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Disney DIS, -1.60% will revamp the popular ride Splash Mountain at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, the company said Thursday, after facing criticism that the attraction was inspired by a racist film.

The ride will be completely overhauled and will be “rethemed” to be based the 2009 film, “The Princess and the Frog.” The announcement comes after a petition to redo Splash Mountain garnered traction online.

Theme park fans sought to get the ride made-over because of its connections to the 1946 film “Song of the South,” which has been widely criticized for its racist depictions of Black people and allusions to slavery. Splash Mountain featured characters and stories from the film. A Change.org petition to redo the log flume ride garnered more than 21,000 signatures.

Disney has never made “Song of the South”available on VHS or DVD in the U.S., and the company has declined to include it on its streaming platform, Disney+.

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“The retheming of Splash Mountain is of particular importance today,” Disney said in a statement provided to MarketWatch. “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.”

An artist’s rendering of the concept for the new version of Splash Mountain.

Courtesy of Disney

A spokeswoman for Disney said that the company has been working on “plussing” Splash Mountain, as Walt Disney referred to the practice, since last year. The company’s “Imagineers,” who create its theme park attractions, are still working on the conceptual design for the new ride. The designs will soon undergo preliminary reviews and the company will then create a timeline for the revamp.

“While this work takes time, we look forward to ramping up production as businesses start to recover from COVID-19,” the company said. Disney did not say whether the version of the ride located at Tokyo Disneyland in Japan would be overhauled.

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“The Princess and the Frog” was the first Disney animated film to feature a Black princess. While the film was less successful at the box office than other Disney films such as “Frozen,” the lead character, Princess Tiana, has remained popular among children and is frequently seen at meet-and-greet events and parades at Disney’s theme parks.

‘On the list of priorities given how much red ink the parks are hemorrhaging right now this is way down there.’

— Jim Hill, a theme park historian and blogge

Some travel experts have suggested that redoing Splash Mountain could be a draw for visitors. “This is a huge opportunity for Disney — new rides bring in customers,” Len Testa, president of travel website Touring Plans, previously told MarketWatch. (Testa noted that he had signed the petition regarding Splash Mountain.)

The new version of Splash Mountain will pick up where the film left off, the company said, and follow Princess Tiana and her alligator friend Louis as they prepare for their first Mardi Gras performance. The film’s setting in New Orleans and the bayous of Louisiana works well thematically at Disneyland, where Splash Mountain is situated adjacent to New Orleans Square.

While many fans clamored for a new theme based on “The Princess and the Frog,” others argued against the change on Twitter TWTR, -1.32% , saying that the film deserves a unique attraction.

And as calls for an overhaul of Splash Mountain grew in the wake of anti-racist protests sparked by police killings of people of color, theme park experts suggested that the coronavirus pandemic could stymie efforts to redo the popular attraction.

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“On the list of priorities given how much red ink the parks are hemorrhaging right now this is way down there,” Jim Hill, a theme park historian and blogger, told MarketWatch before Disney’s announcement.

Disney’s theme parks around the world were closed for months because of COVID-19. Walt Disney World in Florida is currently set to reopen in July, but the company said Wednesday that it had delayed its reopening of Disneyland in California, which had also been planned for next month.

The pandemic has already cost the company’s theme-parks division $1 billion in profit, and the company has said it would reduce capital spending to compensate.

Shares of Disney have been down 24% this year to date compared to a nearly 11% decline for the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.38% and a nearly 5.6% dip for the S&P 500 Index SPX, +0.33% .