Splash, slavery, and South… what do all of these words have in common? Splash Mountain. You’re probably thinking, “how does slavery and the South go with Splash Mountain?” We’ve all ridden this happy ride, singing along to zip-a-dee-doo-dah while awaiting the well-known drop into a splash of water at the end. But have you ever realized the message about slavery that’s lodged in between? Don’t worry if you haven’t, because most people haven’t either; by the time you’re done reading this article, you will. It is important to know the the truth behind Splash Mountain as well as real slave tales so everyone knows what slavery is and how it has affected our world today.
While many rides at Disneyland are based off of stories, many of those stories consist of singing princesses, talking animals, and adventuring heroes. You’d never think that Disney would base such a magical ride on something as cruel as slavery–Splash Mountain to be exact. Splash Mountain is based on the popular–however, not for good reason–1946 film, Song of the South. This animated film focuses on a little white boy named Johnny, the main character, who is visiting his grandmother’ plantation in the south of the United States. Here, he meets Uncle Remus, a worker on her plantation. Throughout the film, Uncle Remus tells Johnny stories of Br’er Bear, Br’er Rabbit, and Br’er Fox who represent the slaves and their experiences of living on plantations. We might have lost you there; many people have never even heard of Song of the South, since it is banned and not available on home video. The film had become very controversial upon release because of how people thought it offensively portrayed African Americans and the glorified depiction of plantations. Tony Baxter, an imagineer for Disney, was the first to come up with the idea of Splash Mountain, although it was called Country Bear Jamboree at first–and there were no logs or splashes involved. Imagineer Dick Nunes was the one who thought of a log-flume ride for Disneyland; however, the idea was shot down as it was thought to be too typical for a theme park. Dick was persistent on making a log-flume ride, so he decided to
make the ride similar to Song of the South since it would incorporate the previous characters of America Sings–a ride which used animated characters to sing about history–and fit into what Disneyland called “Bear Country Land.” At first the ride was going to be called Zip-a-Dee River Run but later changed to Splash Mountain. Now let’s bring in the characters from Song of the South. Br’er Rabbit, who represents a slave, is leaving his home for adventure. The entire journey of the ride consists of Br’er Rabbit being chased by Br’er Bear and Br’er Fox (who represent white people trying to punish him); ultimately, Br’er Rabbit tricks Br’er Fox into Fox’s own trap of throwing Br’er Rabbit into the Briar Patch, and Br’er Rabbit returns back home–which is when the log drops down the hill into the water. Thus came the result of Splash Mountain whose message is about slavery.
You may think Splash Mountain is based off of fake slavery tales, but do not be fooled when someone tells you they are real. I am guessing you never would have thought that Disney could have based a ride off of slavery but they did. The movie that the ride is based on were true slave tales. They were told by true slaves and then retold and retold as they got passed along through regions and generations. African Americans were taken and sold into slavery just because of the color of their skin. They did not do anything wrong that would get them in trouble, just that they were black was too much and made the whites feel like they needed to do something to show they are more superior. A woman named Sarah Ashley who is 93 was born in Mississippi. She had to pick 300 to 800 pounds of cotton and walk it to the cotton house. If they were unable to walk to the cotton house they would get whipped until and blister formed. If that did not work the white men on horses would come around and hit the blisters with a paddle and it would burst the blisters open. The white men also never fed the slaves, so they would steal food and hide it so that they could eat it when needed. Slaves had to go through harsh times and all of what you hear people did to them was real. Some of the most well known slave tales were the Trickster Tales. These tales explain the way that the slaves used their power to do less work. The slaves would act as if they were dumb and did not know how to use certain tools making the take longer to complete the task at hand. One of the most famous trickster tales which is what splash mountain is based on is Tar Baby and the Br’er Patch. This story tells the story of how Br’er Rabbit outsmarts Br’er Fox. Br’er Fox makes a tar baby because he know that Br’er Rabbit is very friendly and will go up and talk to it.
When Br’er Rabbit touches the tar baby he gets stuck. This is exactly what Br’er Fox and that made it so that Br’er Fox could hurt Br’er Rabbit. All of a sudden Br’er Rabbit tricks Br’er Fox into thinking that he does not want to go into the Br’er patch, but he really does. Br’er Fox does not know that Br’er Rabbit is lying and throws him into the patch. Little does he know that Br’er Rabbit grew up in the patch and he just set Br’er Rabbit free. This is exactly what the slaves would do to their owners to get out of doing a lot of work. They would trick their owners into thinking that they could not do anything. For example, the owner would show the slaves how to use a hoe for gardening and the slaves would pretend as if they did not know how to use it. They really knew how to use it though because that tool originated from where they came from. Slave tales are a real thing and we know this because Splash Mountain was made after one of these tales.
People all over the world come to California to go to Disneyland and most of them do not even know the history behind their favorite ride. All of the tales behind this ride that were originally from the film are stories from slaves that were passed around from one group to another, eventually even making it to present day because of Splash Mountain. It is so eye-opening to us to be able to listen and see the stories that portray the lives of actual slaves who went through all of the torture that they did. Hopefully from this article you could have gained insight on why Splash Mountain tells these trickster tales and what they actually mean; so next time you go on this ride, think of the real reason behind it and tell everyone the true history of Splash Mountain while waiting in line!
Article by Deanna Frack and Kaitlyn Vannucci
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“Uncle Remus Tales.” The Wrens Nest RSS, http://www.wrensnest.org/about_stories.php
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