Officially shutting down the popular ride was the latest move in a long-simmering controversy that became a touch point in the culture war over the “woke” direction of the Walt Disney Co. — and the latest Disney attraction fans can wistfully categorize as “gone but not forgotten.”
The log flume attraction, which opened in 1992 in Florida, is based on “Song of the South,” a 1946 film set in post-Civil War Georgia that has been under fire since its release. Disney CEO Bob Iger said in 2020 the movie would never appear on the company’s streaming platform, noting that he had long felt that it “was just not appropriate in today’s world.”
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Splash Mountain will become Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, based on the animated film “The Princess and the Frog,” which featured the company’s first Black princess. Disney announced the change in the summer of 2020 as the country faced a larger racial reckoning.
Disneyland’s version of Splash Mountain, which opened in California in 1989, has not yet closed, but it will undergo the same transformation. Both updated versions are scheduled to reopen in late 2024.
Some fans tried to mount a “Save Splash Mountain” campaign, even emergency opponents of the switch to enlist the help of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). others acknowledged they would miss a classic but were looking forward to a new chapter for the ride. Still others argued that it was past time for the original to go, given its source material.
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While closing Splash Mountain was more controversial than most Disney changes, other closures and re-imaginings have also caused consternation. Some rides have been torn down to make room for new attractions. Others have been renovated with new storylines, designs and characters. Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will still be a log flume ride, following preparations for a Mardi Gras celebration.
“When you’re in charge of Disney, you have to make decisions where you know nobody’s going to be totally happy,” said David Mumpower, who has written three books about Disney rides and attractions. “It’s an impossible challenge because you have to think about the past and show reverence to it. You [also] have to think, ‘What would somebody born today want to do?’”
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When it opened in 1989 with Disney-MGM Studios — the park that is now known as Disney’s Hollywood Studios — this ride took visitors through scenes from famous films, from “Alien” to “Casablanca” to “Singin’ in the Rain,” according to official Disney fan club D23. A live-action twist featured a tour guide and hijacking of the ride vehicle by a gangster or bandit character. It closed in 2017 and reopened in early 2020 as Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, which carries riders through a cartoon world.
Quincy Stanford, a project manager at Disney news and tips site AllEars.net, said the Great Movie Ride is one of the main attractions that the site’s readers miss.
“Great Movie Ride is one of those that did create this cult following,” she said. “They loved riding it; it was a different riding experience every time because it had the live actor element.”
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At Walt Disney World, Epcot’s World Showcase highlights countries around the world. Norway’s offering featured this boat ride showcasing the country’s seafaring history, with a heavy emphasis on adventure. There were also trolls, an exciting backward plunge and a scenic fishing village.
“There’s nothing else like it; there never was,” said Mumpower, who has also written about closed Disney rides for the Disney guide MickeyBlog. “It was like a really weird ride that didn’t fit with anything else at Epcot, but it fit perfectly with the Norway pavilion.”
After opening in 1988, the ride closed in 2014. Its replacement, Frozen Ever After, opened in 2016 using the same track.
“I’m still salty about Maelstrom — and I think Frozen Ever After is amazing,” Mumpower said.
Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
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A stormy night, a rickety elevator and a “Twilight Zone” theme provide a lead-up to a thrilling 13-story drop in this fan favorite.
The original ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida, which opened in 1994, remains unchanged, but the version that opened in 2004 at Disney California Adventure closed in 2016. It reopened the next year as Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout!
“That’s one of the ones that had a massive uproar, a major reluctance to be changed when it was announced,” Stanford said. But she said fan reaction since it reopened has been positive, especially since it fits into an Avengers Campus land that opened in 2021: “People rode it, and a lot of people like it better. There’s certainly a contingent of people who prefer the original Tower of Terror.”
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This overhead transportation system connected Tomorrowland and Fantasyland at both Disneyland and Magic Kingdom. At Disneyland, the gondola system opened in 1956 and closed in 1994. The Magic Kingdom version opened in 1971 and closed in 1999.
“For the very small me, that was like the greatest thing about Disney, was they had things in the sky that could take you from place to place,” Mumpower said. “Seriously, to this day, I kind of look up in the sky sometimes and look for the gondolas.”
The first version of the ride, based on the 1949 film “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad,” opened at Disneyland in 1955 and remains in place. But at Magic Kingdom in Florida, the ride featuring two separate tracks opened with the park in 1971 and closed in 1998. It was replaced with the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
An unusually dark experience, Mr. Toad included a train collision and journey to hell. Still, Stanford said, readers often say they miss it.
“For the people who went to Magic Kingdom between the ’80s and the ’90s … that ride’s their nostalgia,” she said. “Get the Winnie the Pooh out of here. I want to go to hell.”
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The Disneyland ride operated for nearly 30 years, from 1967 until 1995. It traveled inside several attractions in Tomorrowland, a future-and-space-themed part of the park.
“Although the PeopleMover was Walt Disney’s response to an outdated Tomorrowland, it eventually came to be considered too tame over time,” the Walt Disney Family Museum says on its website.
The PeopleMover was replaced by the high-speed Rocket Rods, which opened in 1998, but the replacement closed in 2000 — a swap Mumpower describes as a “fiasco.”
“What they thing to do there makes it worse,” he said. “If you thing to replace something, the next thing better be awesome.”
This ride has gone through several iterations, but fans miss the version that opened in 1983 featuring a red-haired host called Dreamfinder with a purple dragon named Figment.
A new ride called Journey Into Your Imagination came along in 1999, and the ride changed again to become Journey Into Imagination With Figment in 2002.
But Stanford said the original is “a massive one that people still talk about” when it comes to wrinkles that have been changed.
“They’re just like, ‘Give us the original ride,’” she said. “’Why did you change it in the first place?’”