Disney has released more details about the upcoming reimagining of Splash Mountain inspired by the Princess and the Frog that’s coming to Disneyland and Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. In this post, we’ll share new concept art and story details shared by Imagineers working on concept who discussed some behind-the-scenes inspirations.
At the time of the original announcement, not much was revealed about the reimagined Splash Mountain. The new-look ride will pick up this story after the final kiss, and join Princess Tiana and Louis on a musical adventure — featuring some of the powerful music from the film — as they prepare for their first-ever Mardi Gras performance.
Disney was silent about the project for over a year following the announcement. Then, during an August 2021 appearance on the Orlando Sentinel‘s Theme Park Rangers podcast, Magic Kingdom Vice President Melissa Valiquette suggested it could be years before the Splash Mountain reimagining is completed at Magic Kingdom. “The sequence of these things is that sometimes the decision can be made many many months, even years, before any of that will be seen onstage. So it’s going to take us a little bit of time to reimagine Splash Mountain,” she said.
“When we are reimagining a new attraction or a new area of our parks, this can be a lengthy process. There’s a lot of work that goes into it,” Valiquette explained. “I’m in a lot of meetings right now around Splash Mountain, and of course, our guests haven’t seen any changes yet. That’s going to take some time.”
Only a couple of weeks later, in honor of World Princess Week (?), the company shared more details on the Disney Parks Blog. This featured the above new concept art, which shows Naveen and Louis joining Tiana on her latest adventure, hosting a one-of-a-kind Mardi Gras celebration where everyone is welcome.
During this celebration, guests will hear original music inspired by songs from the film. Tiana is leading the way and theme park fans will be able to encounter old friends and make new ones along the way as well.
Additionally, Imagineers recently gathered at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant in New Orleans – founder Leah Chase was one of the inspirations for Princess Tiana – to talk about Tiana’s impact over the past decade and the creative process behind the upcoming attraction, including the technology Imagineers are using to bring it to life.
Generations of the Chase family welcomed Imagineers while Chef Dook cooked up some of their famous gumbo. The group sat down with Leah’s daughter, Stella Chase Reese who shared that “the two coming together, music and food, brings joy and happiness to all.”
In the ~30 minute roundtable video above, Kenneth Moton, National Correspondent for ABC News joins Stella Chase Reese, Owner of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant and daughter of Leah Chase; Carmen Smith, Creative Executive, Vice President, Inclusive Strategies for Walt Disney Imagineering; Charita Carter, Senior Producer for Walt Disney Imagineering; and Marlon West, VFX Supervisor.
During that roundtable, Imagineer Charita Carter stated that Disney will “advance the storytelling and really just kind of change the game” when it comes to the advance Audio Animatronics and scenic visuals utilized in the reimagined ride.
Imagineers are researching New Orleans to tell a story that’s as authentic to the region as it is to the characters’ stories. From the food, music, art and architecture to the diversity of its people and their traditions, there is much from which to draw inspiration. The team has done virtual research trips through Zoom and this was their first of many in-person research trips to get the story right.
One of the early sources of inspiration has come from Sharika Mahdi. She’s a visual artist, art educator, and alumna of the renowned YAYA (Young Aspirations Young Artists) Arts Center located in New Orleans. Mahdi was commissioned to create a series of four original paintings to inspire Imagineers, one of which (below) was revealed today:
In terms of commentary, the most interesting aspect of all of this to me is the new concept art and Disney’s statement that “fans will be able to encounter old friends” in the reimagined Splash Mountain (or whatever it ends up being called–my vote is still for “Splash Mountain ~ Voyage of the Log with Princess and the Frog: New Adventures with Princess Tiana!” A ride name can never be too long! 😉 )
This quote plus the band in the shadows above Louis in the concept art suggests to me that a lot of the existing Brer Critter Audio Animatronics will be reused. That makes sense–a lot of those Audio Animatronics themselves are recycled from America Sings at Disneyland and had nothing to do with Splash Mountain’s source material. Going forward, they’ll likely be given new life as part of an “expanded universe” for the Princess and the Frog.
To me, this seems like a savvy move all around. It’ll allow redevelopment costs and budget to be allocated towards other components of the project, potentially shorten the construction timeline, and might blunt some of the fan outrage. Those ‘supporting player’ musical critters are beloved and themselves totally noncontroversial, so that seems like a win all around.
It’s also reassuring that Carter indicates Imagineering will “change the game” when it comes to advanced Audio Animatronics and scenic illusions. Although it’s a brief and vague statement, that instantly calls to mind Na’vi River Journey at Animal Kingdom, which melds Audio Animatronics and practical sets with screens and other effects. Splash Mountain already has dozens of AAs, so it’ll likely avoid all of the pitfalls that make Na’vi River Journey underwhelming in spots.
Beyond that, the Parks Blog post and roundtable further reinforces our belief that the timeline for Splash Mountain’s reimagining is pretty long. The Imagineers mention that this is the first of many research trips to New Orleans, which is something that would occur fairly early in concept development.
This likely serves as a subtle message to fans that it’s going to be a while before the reimagining comes to fruition. (It’s odd to me that many research trips are necessary in the first place given that those occurred for the film itself, and this is being built in castle parks, but whatever.)
As a reminder, Disney still has not released an official timeline for the Splash Mountain reimagining at either Magic Kingdom or Disneyland.
Thus far, we have two pieces of concept art in the course of a year. As we’re seeing with Tron Lightcycle Run and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind (which will probably open in 2022 and 2023, respectively), this is likely to be a protracted process.
Readers have asked for rumors or insight about timeline for Splash Mountain, and I’ll copy and paste what I’ve said in past comments: the only thing I’ve heard—over 6 monthsago—is that the plan was to reimagine Splash Mountain at Disneyland first, with Walt Disney World’s going down towards the end or even after that project.
Even at that point, it sounded like the timeline for these projects was years out. Suffice to say, I’d be surprised if Walt Disney World’s Splash Mountain closes during the first half of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary celebration, but again, things could change and priorities shift.
The only thing I’ve heard about the Splash Mountain reimagining is that very vague and potential sequence of the two projects. Normally, one year after the announcement of a project with this scope and scale, there would be no shortage of rumors. Third party contractors and vendors would be involved and permits would potentially be filed—there would be rumblings and insight to be gleaned.
Ultimately, it’s hard to say what will happen with the Princess and the Frog inspired reimagining of Splash Mountain or when it’ll occur. It’s easier to make educated guesses about the timeline for Walt Disney World, where the 50th Anniversary running through early 2023 and new attraction openings lined up to occur through that summer. Accordingly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Splash Mountain close in January 2023 and reopen in Summer 2024 at Magic Kingdom, being the headliner addition that year. That’s a guess–not rumor–and one that could (literally) be off by years, so don’t put much stock in it.
Thoughts on the new Splash Mountain concept art? Pleased that it sounds like some of the musical critters that perform in the current incarnation of the attraction will appear in the reimagined version? Expectations regarding the Splash Mountain reimagining timeline? Keep the comments civil, as this is not the place for politically-charged arguing, culture wars, antagonism, personal attacks, or cheap shots. We will be heavy-handed in deleting any comments that cross the line, irrespective of viewpoint. You are not going to change anyone’s mind via the comments section on this blog, nor are you going to change Disney’s priorities. If you wish to shout your outrage into the internet abyss, that’s why Facebook was invented.