Disney has revealed new storyline details for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, the reimagined Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom and Disneyland. This shares all of the details, ‘company’ concept art, and commentary about the backstory of the attraction and Imagineering’s use of storytelling.
As previously shared, the reimagined ride will be named Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, and will bring guests into the world of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ film The Princess and the Frog. According to the company, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will open at Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World and Disneyland in California in late 2024.
During the D23 Expo in Anaheim last year, Walt Disney Imagineering shared more details about the reimagined ride, including a model showcasing how Splash Mountain would be transformed. See our Photos & Video of the Tiana’s Bayou Adventure Model, which offers a comprehensive look at the new exterior, queue, and on-ride details that’ll be added to the attraction as it becomes Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. (Note: that is specifically the Disneyland version of Splash Mountain. Minor changes, like the queue and log ride vehicles, are expected to differ.)
The latest backstory that Walt Disney Imagineering has shared concerns the queue for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. At a young age, Tiana developed a deep passion for cooking, and began to dream of one day owning her own business. Her father, James, taught her that good food brings folks together. During Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, we’re going to see where life has taken her following the success of Tiana’s Palace, a restaurant she had dreamed of owning and worked hard to accomplish.
Walt Disney Imagineering is creating an original, next chapter story for Tiana. Within the queue, guests will discover that she continues to grow her business with Tiana’s Foods, which is an employee-owned cooperative. Combining her talents with those of the local community, Tiana has transformed an aging salt mine and built a beloved brand.
The endeavor began when Tiana purchased the salt mine and the area surrounding the large salt dome from which it operated. With the help of her mother Eudora, Naveen, Louis, and fellow owners of the cooperative, Tiana revived the old salt mine and the surrounding land. In so doing, she grew a wide array of vegetables, herbs, and spices for her recipes.
This elaborate enterprise has turned the aging salt mine into a space that has come alive. Complete with a boutique farm and both a working and teaching kitchen, Tiana’s Foods is where Tiana and her colleagues create all sorts of new products that they are bringing to the world, including a line of original hot sauces.
Tiana wants to give a big thanks to her family and friends and the entire community for all the support they’ve given her by throwing an amazing party during Mardi Gras season. When it turns out there’s been a bit of a mix-up with the party preparations, Tiana invites us to meet her at Tiana’s Foods to help with the missing ingredient for the party.
When we arrive, we may see that Tiana spruced up the company’s facilities with vibrant art from local artists. Food for the party is being prepared and beignets are being loaded into crates for the celebration. All kinds of preparations are underway for the journey into the bayou with Tiana, along with new and familiar friends from the animated film.
Tiana’s Bayou Adventure picks up where the movie’s story left off. Tiana continues bringing people together with Tiana’s Foods, another treasured meeting place to spend time together and celebrate a diverse community. Tiana is also working with cooperative members to teach gardening and cooking to children of all ages, and inspiring other women to run successful businesses as the brand grows nationwide.
With the Tiana’s Foods backstory of the reimagined ride established, let’s turn to commentary offering our thoughts on how this sets the table for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, plus various ranting about the obsession with story and so forth…
I have a love-hate relationship with backstory. I love that Imagineering writes extensively to inform their storytelling, and you can find pages upon pages of internal lore and information about attractions old and new. Based on what I’ve seen, this phenomenon began during the Eisner era–you can find backstory for Pleasure Island, Typhoon Lagoon, and other additions from the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Although fans might think otherwise, Imagineering’s obsession with story is not a new thing. Fans simply have greater access to it, and usually before ever experiencing the attraction, because it’s used as marketing in the lead-up to new rides debuting. Perhaps WDI is employing more show writers as a result; I don’t know. It’s still nothing new.
When backstory becomes something for guests to stumble upon in queues, throughout lands, and elsewhere, it can be a great enhancement to the experience. At its best, backstory informs what’s already there, providing added texture and richness to what could be readily understood by context cues, visuals, etc. This type of backstory is basically icing on a cake that tastes pretty great without icing–meaning that it wasn’t necessary to begin with.
I hate backstory when it’s necessary to explain away deficiencies, and engages in storytelling that would come as a surprise to the average visitor. If the backstory causes a reevaluation of the ride or land, it’s not good–it’s bad. That means the thing itself cannot stand on its own, or is at odds with its backstory.
The infamous example of this is Dino-Rama, with its “lipstick on a pig” backstory. As I’ve ranted dozens of times, that land is not good, it’s a dumpster fire. Some fans just love it because they are part of the in-group that supposedly “gets” Dino-Rama and why it’s “actually” good. (It is not.)
At this point, the backstory for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure could go either way. I don’t read the above details about Tiana’s Foods and think, “this is brilliant, I cannot wait to see how the story is resolved!” The thing is, I’m totally fine with that. Splash Mountain had/has a very long queue, and I think the case could be made that although beautiful, it passed up stage-setting opportunities that could’ve enhanced the attraction. (Not that it needed to do this–it was a classic attraction, regardless.)
One of the things I loved about Splash Mountain was all of the critters, totally unrelated to the story being told, that inhabited Chickapin Hill. Why were they there? What was their deal? They were not just anonymous animals that spontaneously gathered to watch Brer Rabbit’s attempt kidnapping.
In fact, the alligator band–The Swamp Boys–had a concert poster in the queue. It would’ve been great to know more about these critters, even if wholly immaterial to the attraction itself. While wholly unnecessary, it would’ve been added color, world-building details for the eager fan. (I also vividly recall inspecting all of the birdhouses as a kid, wondering who/what lived inside.)
I can’t say the Tiana’s Foods backstory does much for me. To the contrary, I actively dislike it and wish it were something different that actually “hooked” me. However, I’ve also learned not to criticize backstory prematurely. In this internet era, fans are thirsty for a constant trickle of information, and Disney largely obliges us. In the 1980s and 1990s, backstory leaked out after the fact, and was judged against the finished attraction, land, etc. Now, it comes out ahead of time and is judged on its own.
My big lesson about prematurely judging backstory came via the recent reimagining of Jungle Cruise. I’ll admit that I rolled my eyes at a lot of the backstory for that, and I was frankly concerned that Imagineering was getting way too heavy-handed with story for the sake of story on a ride that really didn’t need it. My fear was that it would bog down the attraction, overwhelm guests, and come across as contrived. There was just so much story in the lead-up to the reimagining.
The end result with Jungle Cruise was very different from that. Those backstory details are peppered around the queue, and there for the discovery of guests. That’s an asset, as it gives guests something to engage in that previously basic and sometimes very long standby line. You can uncover nuggets of information that illuminate and connect to other adventurous experiences, but are not the least bit necessary to enjoying the attraction.
As for the ride itself, the big change to Jungle Cruise is that they added a plethora of primates. It might as well be called Jungle Cruise: Monkey Madness. I’m sorry, but if you dislike that, you’re distinctly unpatriotic. Monkeys doing ape antics are awesome, and that’s just a fact. For all of the hand-wringing about changing Jungle Cruise, the end result is basically just that–more monkeys. Other stuff did change for ‘contemporary audiences,’ but the big discernible thing is the monkeys. It was a big win for lovers of simian shenanigans, which should be everyone.
With Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, the detail I’ve zeroed in on is the line that “there’s been a bit of a mix-up with the party preparations, Tiana invites us to meet her at Tiana’s Foods to help with the missing ingredient for the party.” I could be wrong, but this strikes me as an obvious MacGuffin. For those who aren’t fans of Alfred Hitchcock or Pulp Fiction (why not?), a MacGuffin is an seemingly-significant item that advances the plot and motivates the characters, but ends up being irrelevant or unimportant. Muppet Haunted Mansionalso uses this device, cleverly calling it The Great MacGuffin.
In any case, “the missing ingredient” could be an ideal MacGuffin because it would allow Tiana and guests to encounter a bunch of different animals–the current critters in Splash Mountain, like The Swamp Boys, that were created for the attraction and are totally divorced from the source material–and sing or do whatever with them. Given the short turnaround time and concept we’ve already seen, I’ve already gone on record to say that I think a lot of what’s inside Splash Mountain is staying up, and I’m going to double down on that here.
We already know that Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will pick up the story of The Princess and the Frog after the final kiss, joining Tiana and Louis on a musical adventure as they prepare for their first-ever Mardi Gras performance. During this celebration, guests will hear original music inspired by songs from the film. Tiana is leading the way and guests will be able to encounter old friends and make new friends along the way as well.
Encountering “new friends” strongly suggests to me that at least some of the original characters from Splash Mountain will be making appearances. In order to make that work, the attraction necessarily needs to be set after the movie. Regrettably, The Swamp Boys were not featured in The Princess and the Frog.
Of course, that’s merely speculation on my part, and could be totally wrong. Even if it is, my perspective on this still stands–that the missing ingredient is most likely a MacGuffin. The Tiana’s Foods angle could be played up in the queue for the astute observer, but wholly immaterial to the ride itself.
Given the “musical adventure” preparing for Mardi Gras while encountering friends setup, that seems like a strong possibility. Otherwise, there is going to be a lot–too much–story being told throughout the ride. As much as Imagineering loves “story” these days, I don’t think they’ll make that mistake.
Many fans have wondered why Tiana’s Bayou Adventure isn’t simply revisiting the story of The Princess and the Frog, its villains and music. After all, that could make sense with the existing ‘pacing’ of Splash Mountain and its climactic lift hill. This is a fair point, and definitely seems like the less risky approach.
With that said, I vehemently (but respectfully) disagree with those of you who think that. I am very glad that Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is not simply a “book report” style attraction. Retelling the movie in CliffNotes fashion often falls flat, and makes the guest feel like passive observers rather than active participants.
This is something Imagineer Tony Baxter has ranted against for years, and you’ve probably heard his thoughts on it if you’ve heard him speak at a D23 event or on a podcast. If he’s truly an advisor on Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, I suspect he would’ve pushed hard against the reimagined ride doing that.
Personally, I will take the potential gamble of the “missing ingredient” narrative device and something fresh. This approach does have higher potential risk than simply retelling the movie, but it also has greater potential reward.
Ultimately, it’s interesting to hear details about Tiana’s Foods and how that’ll play out in the queue for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. Even though the broad strokes of this story does absolutely nothing for me, it also doesn’t worry me. There’s a lot of backstory that I wouldn’t care for if only reading a synopsis, and yet, works well in its actual setting and for the purposes of establishing a backdrop or jumping off point for the attraction itself.
My hope is that this is the case with Tiana’s Foods. I’d personally prefer the queue become a Spinal Tap-style documentary about how Princess Tiana met The Swamp Boys, helped reinvent the group, and they all became the first female-led boy band. (The plot of the ride could be a caper about their disappeared drummer!)
That is, sadly, not what we are getting. The Tiana’s Foods setup not appealing to me at this point also doesn’t mean it’ll be poorly done or uninteresting. I’m in full ‘wait and see’ mode with Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. It’s a high stakes project, and both Imagineering and company executives undoubtedly understand this and are going to do everything in their power to ensure that the end result delivers.
Thoughts on the Tiana’s Foods backstory for the queue? Disappointed that the backstory isn’t a Spinal Tap-style documentary about The Swamp Boys and Tiana? Do you agree or disagree that the missing ingredient is likely a MacGuffin? How much of the current attraction (e.g. random musical critter AAs) are you expecting to appear in the reimagined version? Excited for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure? Expectations regarding the Splash Mountain reimagining timeline? Think they can finish it by late 2024? 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.