Tiana is rolling down the bayou — again — not as a frog this time, but as a capable, well-heeled princess guiding Disney guests through Splash Mountain’s new “Princess and the Frog,” Mardi Gras-themed reimagining.
Disney Parks on Monday revealed the latest concept art for the log flume attraction that features the animation studio’s first Black princess along with her beloved frog-prince Naveen and trumpet-playing gator Louis joining the festivities. The ride’s narrative, as Disney previously said, will pick up where the 2009 animated film left off.
“We really want to keep a continuity between who Tiana is and what Tiana will be going forward,” said Marlon West, who worked on the original film and is the animation studios’ visual effects supervisor, in a video unveiled by Disney on Monday.
“The Princess and the Frog” project is largely being overseen by Carmen Smith, Imagineering’s vice president of creative development and inclusive strategies, and Charita Carter, the senior producer for Walt Disney Imagineering who was instrumental in the development of Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida. (A version of that ride is under construction at Disneyland.)
Those three creative minds discussed the revamp with Stella Chase Reese, whose mother Leah Chase, a “queen of Creole cuisine” inspired the Tiana character, who is also a restaurateur in the film.
In the video, the group sat down with ABC News’ Kenneth Moton at Dooky Chase’s in New Orleans. There, they revealed and discussed one of the first images from the attraction, featuring the princess lighting the way through the bayou aboard a boat rowed by Naveen. She’s wearing pants and “is ready for everything,” Carter said, as she hosts “the ultimate Mardi Gras party.”
“Tiana actually invites us as the guests to go on an adventure with her in the bayou,” Carter said. “And the fun thing about it is, we as the guests, we are active participants in this adventure. So she acknowledges us and just being the witty person that she is, she takes us through this amazing journey where we get to discover not only characters that we know and love from the film, but this is an opportunity to be introduced to some new characters. “
Guests ride the Splash Mountain attraction in April at Disneyland in Anaheim.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)
The ride, which culminates in a 52½-foot drop, will feature advanced audio animatronic figures and original music inspired by songs from the film. Creators said they immersed themselves in the Big Easy’s vibrant food and music culture by taking monthly trips there in order to build a believable world for the ride and bring the unique spirit of the town to park guests.
“It’s just like a real privilege,” Carter added. “We want our guests who are from all places around the world to say, ‘OK this is a really special place.’ But it’s also important for our guests who come from New Orleans to say, ‘Yes, this is my home. They did it. And they got it right.’ And that is why we are so diligent in our research and wanting to make sure that we are immersing ourselves in this amazing culture.”
Disney also commissioned New Orleans artist Sharika Mahdi, an alumna of the local YAYA (Young Aspirations Young Artists) Arts Center, and pitched her the ride’s concept without showing her their storyboards to see how she interpreted what they were saying and how Tiana and the ride resonated with her. Mahdi produced a multicolor print featuring Tiana that Disney Parks also shared Monday. In it, the ambitious royal is leading a critter-filled party while Naveen and Tiana’s childhood bestie Charlotte look on.
“We want to make sure that the story that we’re telling is authentic. We’re not the authenticators. It’s bringing the people of New Orleans into the story, helping us better understand it,” Smith said. “But also, when we think about how we look at the spaces that the ride will be filling, it is, ‘How do we take New Orleans and bring it to people?’ But also, being like a channel so that people say, ‘My God, that’s what New Orleans is all about? I have to get there.’”
Last year, amid the racial reckoning facing the country, Disney announced that its Imagineers would develop the all-new attraction, taking inspiration from “The Princess and the Frog,” at its flagship parks — the Magic Kingdom at the Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., and the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim. At the time, Disney said it had long discussed a Splash Mountain reimagining and cited the need for the ride to embrace a fresh, “inclusive” concept.
Disney has made a habit of tinkering with outdated cultural representations in several of its attractions, already altering or re-theming problematic portions of Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise rides. Splash Mountain, which opened in 1989, features imagery rooted in the dated and racist 1946 film “Song of the South,” which even former Disney CEO Bob Iger has denounced.
“Originally titled ‘Zip-a-Dee River Run,’ a reference to the popular song ‘Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,’ itself a work with connections to a minstrel past, Splash Mountain was born of another cultural era,” The Times’ game critic Todd Martens wrote last summer, “its themes chosen in part due to its location in Disneyland — currently Critter Country — and as a way to reuse audio-animatronics from America Sings.”
In the Anaheim park, Splash Mountain is adjacent to the park’s charming New Orleans Square, where patrons can buy Tiana’s famous “man-catching beignets” and greet the princess in person. It’s unclear if any of the ride’s original critters will return for the new attraction. Disney has also not yet announced a timeline for reopening nor a new name for the ride following the revamp.
Splash Mountain isn’t the only place Tiana fans will be seeing the hard-working princess. Disney+ announced that a “Tiana” animated series is in the works, and the creative team is also working on a bayou-inspired lounge for its Disney Wish cruise ship.
“Tiana wasn’t a one-time thing …,” Reese explained in the chat. “It means that Disney is committed to what was seen in ‘Princess and the Frog’ and bringing unity and bringing people together and actually letting everyone feel their worth, as my mother would say, and I think that’s what [Disney is] doing with Princess Tiana.”