An opening year has been revealed (leaked? announced? I’m not really sure) for the reimagining of Splash Mountain inspired by the Princess and the Frog that’s coming to Disneyland and Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. This post shares new info and recaps past “progress” on the project. Plus, my commentary on whether it’s possible for it to happen on this timeline, when Splash Mountain will likely close, and more.
To quickly recap, Disney announced that Splash Mountain will be rethemed to the Princess and the Frog at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. This announcement was made in June 2020–almost two years ago–and not much was revealed at that time. There was a single piece of concept art, a vague premise of the attraction, and quotes from Imagineers and other involved parties.
The new-look attraction 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. 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 ones along the way as well.
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 VP Melissa Valiquette said 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.”
On August 23, 2021, 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.
That update included a ~30 minute roundtable video included numerous individuals, including Charita Carter, Senior Producer for Walt Disney Imagineering. You can watch it in full for yourself below:
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.
Despite its duration, that was the only tidbit about the actual attraction that came from the roundtable. The rest was about Tiana’s cultural impact, the creative process behind the upcoming attraction, and Imagineers efforts to research New Orleans to tell a story that’s as authentic to the region as it is to the characters’ stories. There wasn’t much substance about the proposed ride.
— LIVEKellyRyan (@LiveKellyRyan) June 2, 2022
Fast-forward to today, June 2, 2022. Actress Anika Noni Rose, the voice of Tiana from The Princess and the Frog, appeared on “Live with Kelly and Ryan.”
During that interview, she mentioned that Disney’s Princess and the Frog ride is going to open in 2024. It was unclear whether this would be on both coasts, one version of the attraction, or even something different entirely. Even though this is coming from the actress who played Tiana and almost certainly has some degree of involvement with the project, it should still be taken with a grain of salt until/unless confirmed directly by Disney.
…which brings us to the commentary section of the post, where we’ll speculate wildly about the Princess and the Frog replacement for Splash Mountain.
From the sounds of it, this was an offhand remark rather than a carefully-scripted announcement by Disney PR that was meant to occur in a more “organic” way than the company announcing it directly. That there is no corresponding statement on the Disney Parks Blog or on the company’s social media channels suggests they weren’t prepared for this news to drop today.
I know some of you think Disney’s marketing department is incredibly savvy or manipulative, and that everything is a carefully crafted attempt at viral moments, but that’s not true. Just ask the now-unemployed Geoff Morrell, who leaked the opening date for Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind with a now-deleted tweet that tagged a parody account.
Sometimes apparent mistakes are just actual mistakes. Someone said something they weren’t supposed to say–no deeper explanation. The only difference is that you can delete a Tweet, but not a live television appearance. Also, it’s obvious when Disney tries to achieve faux organic virality–this news simply does not have the company’s fingerprints on it.
UPDATE: According to theme park journalist Scott Gustin, Disney has not confirmed the 2024 opening date for the overhaul of Splash Mountain into a Princess and the Frog attraction.
Here’s Disney’s statement: “We have already shared how we are bringing Tiana’s story to life at Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort. While timing has not been determined, we look forward to sharing more details during Essence Festival of Culture in New Orleans in July.”
This wouldn’t be the first time an actor associated with a Disney project prematurely leaked news–or an element of it. Way back in 2007, Anthony Daniels revealed that Star Tours 2 was coming soon.
It took another 2 years for it to even be announced, and 2 more years after that for it to open. Other leaks have come courtesy of voice actors, and they haven’t always been correct. We’d have another seasonal World of Color by now if that were the case.
This isn’t to cast doubt on the credibility of Anika Noni Rose. To the contrary, she’s undoubtedly involved with the reimagining, and has likely already recorded lines or had other involvement with the project. She didn’t just pull this out of thin air and then share it at random on a national television broadcast.
It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if, while recording her lines or consulting with Disney on the project, she asked when it would open, and an Imagineer or someone else with the company said something to the effect of, “we’re aiming for 2024.”
That’s probably the most plausible scenario, but that doesn’t make this announcement definitive as to timing for the Walt Disney World or Disneyland version of the attraction. While involved, it’s not as if she’s having daily meetings in Glendale or visiting the prep sites in Anaheim and Orlando.
To that point, is it a realistic timeline for the reimagined Splash Mountain to open by 2024?
Many fans are understandably skeptical, especially given that the cloned TRON Lightcycle Run still isn’t open and that project has been in progress for the better part of 5 years. Nevertheless, I think the reimagined Splash Mountain opening in 2024 is reasonable.
For one thing, the lethargic pace of TRON Lightcycle run is deliberate. At first, Disney moved at a snail’s pace on that to spread CapEx costs out over multiple fiscal years. Then came the closure and uncertainty about travel thereafter, which resulted in a pause and slow restart.
However, if the company wanted that roller coaster finished 2 or even 3 years ago, they could’ve made it happen. They didn’t, so it didn’t. At this point, work has accelerated on TRON Lightcycle Run and the timeline has moved forward. Again, by choice.
The point is that TRON Lightcycle Run is a poor comparison because it’s prolonged timeline was deliberate from the outset, and not a showcase of how slowly construction necessarily occurs at Walt Disney World or Disneyland. (Just look how much faster they hustle when DVC contracts can be sold!)
There are also a slew of recent ride reimaginings that showcase just how quickly Imagineering can move. The best examples here are Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout at Disney California Adventure and Frozen Ever After at EPCOT.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout took less than a year in total, with most of the exterior transformation occurring while Tower of Terror was still operational. Once the Hollywood Tower Hotel went vacant, the Collector took up residence in only 5 months. Without question, that’s the fastest turnaround time for Imagineering in recent memory–and the results were shockingly good.
Converting Maelstrom into Frozen Ever After took a bit more time, but still occurred in under two years. That attraction might be the better comparison, as both are boat rides that will require new staging, the replacement of numerous show scenes, and more. (I’d be curious to hear from accountants about the depreciation rules for new builds v. renovations, as I suspect that comes into play with all of these projects.)
As a much lengthier attraction, reimagining Splash Mountain probably will be a more involved process than those for Mission Breakout or Frozen Ever After. Still, those illustrate what can be accomplished in a couple years or less.
Our expectation with the Princess and the Frog attraction is 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.
In addition to those, it’s likely that there will be advanced Audio Animatronics and scenic illusions based on the roundtable video above. 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.
This is also reminiscent of both Mission Breakout and Frozen Ever After, which use a mix of screens and Audio Animatronics.
All of these things are fabricated and staged off-site, and then installed inside the attraction when the time is right. It’s not like Imagineers have to wait for Splash Mountain to close, and then go inside and start building a bunch of AAs and screens with hammers and chisels (or whatever tools are used for making that stuff–I’m not a scientist). In other words, construction crews don’t need to wait before starting work on the Princess and the Frog ride. That work has already begun.
As for when the attraction closure will begin, my expectation is that one or both Splash Mountains go down in January 2023 during what would normally be the ride’s winter refurbishment. The attraction is currently in rough shape with many broken effects and Audio Animatronics, suggesting that not much was fixed during the last refurbishment. That was probably intentional–a limited refurbishment budget for a ride with a limited shelf life.
However, I don’t think the downtime starts this summer or even during the holiday season. Splash Mountain is too popular of an attraction this time of year, and one that provides very necessary capacity. I wouldn’t expect it to close in Magic Kingdom until after TRON Lightcycle Run opens, and my prediction for that Walt Disney World roller coaster’s debut date remains unchanged.
Given the underlying reasons for the Splash Mountain closure, I would not expect a “long goodbye” or a line of tribute merchandise. However, I do expect an announcement at the D23 Expo (or even before that) that provides a closure date and timeline to indirectly incentivize unofficial farewell trips.
It also remains entirely possible that the Disneyland version closes first. From a logistics perspective, starting there is more convenient and would likely facilitate a smoother and speedier transformation at Walt Disney World. However, I’m not sure if the optics of staggering the projects makes that approach less desirable. (At the very least, I’d expect closure dates to be announced simultaneously.)
Ultimately, it’s hard to say what will happen with 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! 😉 ) or when it’ll occur. Even the leaked/revealed/announced opening year could end up being wrong.
Moreover, everything in the commentary section is entirely speculative and also could end up being very wrong. The only thing I’ll add is that–contrary to some “rumors” that have made the rounds recently–this project is happening. While the scale, scope, and timeline are still subject to change, the reimagining itself is not.
Honestly, I’m hopeful that the 2024 opening year ends up being wrong. Not because I want Splash Mountain to stick around longer or because I enjoy the sight of construction walls. Rather, because the Princess and the Frog and Splash Mountain both deserve something special. Something that isn’t rushed and done on the cheap. Here’s hoping this reimagining gets the creative talent, budget, time, and all other resources it needs to be a huge hit.
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Thoughts on the Splash Mountain reimagining? How much of the current attraction (e.g. random musical critter AAs) are you expecting to appear in the reimagined version? Excited for “Splash Mountain ~ Voyage of the Log with Princess and the Frog: New Adventures with Princess Tiana!“? 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.