Splash Mountain: Disney Pressured to Remove ‘Zipadeedoodah’

Splash Mountain
Disney’s Controversial 1946, half animated, half live-action, “
Song of the South,” from the collection of Joel Chandler Harris, was once in regular rotation. The film was re-released five times with the last being in 1986, a simultaneous 40th-year anniversary celebration and promotion for the then-new log flume Splash Mountain ride at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

In the past several decades, due to a growing cultural change, Disney has distanced itself from “Song of the South.”

The film has been locked in the Disney Vaults and is the only property not to be streamlining on Disney+. Disney’s Bob Iger professed in 2019 that it will never be.

The one remaining remnant was Disney’s Splash Mountain using the song “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” as Splash Mountain’s theme.  One could not tell that the ride was ever associated with the film with the exception of the song.

However, that might change due to a Change.org petition in the cultural zeitgeist wake of George Floyd. The petition wants to replace the “Song of the South”  theme with Disney’s “Princess & The Frog,” which features Disney’s first black princess named Tiana.

Ironically, at the time of the film’s release, it was considered to be a positive change in black stories and characters in Hollywood. Actor James Baskett won an honorary Academy Award to signify Hollywood itself was making advancements in positive portrayals of African-American’s in film. This made Baskett the first black actor to win an Academy Award and was highly praised in the media because people believed Hollywood did the right thing just after WWII. Baskett’s portrayal of Uncle Remus was one of Hollywood’s first attempts to have a black man as the starring lead in a non-comic role. “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” also won the Oscar for best original song. 

The purpose of the black man in “Song of the South” is to serve, sacrifice, and entertain the privileged, white child. Today, that appears to be still the case with Disney being pressured to remove “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” from Splash Mountain.

The same racism also goes for the song which has been covered by various popular artists including a 1963 Top 10 Billboard Phil Spector produced cover, to Doris Day to the Jackson 5 to the Hollies to Los Lobos, and even from Miley Cyrus as Hannah Montana in 2006.

However, the song is not so innocent since Hollywood composer Allie Wrubel and Ray Gilbert seem to have based it on blackface minstrel songs of Tin Pan Alley & Vaudeville. The song also has a tie to the Pre-Civil War racist song and character archetype, Zip Coon, who shared the tune with “Turkey In The Straw.” Zip Coon was the counterpart to the horrible racist stereotype of Jim Crow: the lazy country black man. Zip Coon was urban, educated and free, but portrayed as bumbling and stupid by blackface minstrels. These characters were all created by white people for white audiences. Just like Disney in the 40s, these characters that people deem today as horribly racist were invented by entertainers who viewed themselves as not racist because they had learned to sing and dance from black people. They thought they were doing Disney a favor with their cultural appropriation.

The same could be said of Atlanta Journalist and Folklorist Joel Chandler Harris, who people now view as a racist. At the time, he saw himself as a friend of black people and ahead of his time. However, there are many black academics and writers who view Harris’ collection of slave stories as important because they are still a record of black voices despite any unintentional racism from Harris’ part. 

There have been over 10,000 signatures on the Change.org petition so far. No word as of yet if Disney will respond to the pressure to remove the song, “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” from Splash Mountain.

By Alexander Campbell

Sources:

The Washington Post: Disney’s Splash Mountain ride is based on ‘Song of the South.’ Petitioners want to change that
The Hill: Disney fans petition for an update to Splash Mountain due to ‘racist tropes
You Must Remember This Podcast with Karina Longworth: “ZIP-A-DEE-DOO-DAH,” MINSTRELS IN HOLLYWOOD AND THE OSCARS (SIX DEGREES OF SONG OF THE SOUTH, EPISODE 3)”

Image by Cream_of_Wheat_advertisement Courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons – Creative Commons License

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