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Disney closes iconic 33-year-old theme park ride that it now calls racist

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Photo by Joseph Prezioso/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Fans of the iconic Disney theme park ride Splash Mountain have a little over a month to take one last ride. Disney will close Splash Mountain permanently on January 23 because, the company says, it promotes "racial stereotypes."

The ride, which opened in 1989, is based on the 1946 Disney film "Song of the South." The film has fallen out of favor in recent years because, critics say, it offers a racially insensitive depiction of Reconstruction in the American South just after the end of the Civil War.

"I've felt, as long as I've been CEO, that 'Song of the South' was – even with a disclaimer – was just not appropriate in today's world," Disney CEO Bob Iger said at a shareholders' meeting in March 2020, when the ride closure was first announced.

For years, activists have attempted to cancel "Song of the South" permanently. In 2019, a Change.org petition gathered over 21,000 signatures denouncing the film and demanding that Disney close Splash Mountain as well.

However, fans of the ride created their own counter-petition, which gathered nearly 100,000 signatures.

"Splash Mountain has never included depictions of slaves or any racist elements and is based solely on historical African folktales that families of all ethnicities have been enjoying for nearly a century," the petition read in part.

The petition creators also questioned the motives of those trying to cancel Splash Mountain.

"It is absurd to pander to a small group of 'Disney haters' that dont (sic) understand the story," the petition stated.

"Modifying Splash Mountain will not change history and will only encourage the 'easily offended' to continue making desperate attempts at finding offence in additional attractions," the petition concluded. "To change them would be to remove a bit of our art history from the world and to be ashamed of it."

Those pleas ultimately fell on deaf ears, and Disney moved forward with the plan to end Splash Mountain and replace it with a new ride based on "The Princess and the Frog," which features a black heroine named Tiana from New Orleans.

The new ride, entitled Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, will be in better keeping with Disney's commitment to "diversity" than Splash Mountain, the company stated.

"With this longstanding history of updating attractions and adding new magic, the re-theming of Splash Mountain is of particular importance today," a company statement said. "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."

Carmen Smith, Disney's senior vice president of, among other things, "inclusive strategies," is anxiously awaiting the new ride, especially its unique music, zydeco, which Smith described as "a special blend of rhythm and blues that was born in Louisiana."

"Like so many musical genres, zydeco brings together the sounds and styles of many cultures," Smith wrote.

"We wanted that spirit reflected in this scene (and throughout the attraction) so that all our guests feel welcome to join in the celebration. It’s emblematic of what we’re always striving for with our attractions – bringing people of different backgrounds together through timeless Disney stories."

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