Splash Mountain is a log flume with some dark ride scenes at Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland, and the Magic Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort, based on the characters, stories, and songs from the 1946Disney film Song of the South. Although there are variations in the story and features between the three locations, each installation begins with a peaceful outdoor float-through that leads to indoor dark ride segments, with a climactic steep drop into a "briar patch" followed by an indoor finale. The drop is 50 feet.
The plot behind Splash Mountain is a composite of several Uncle Remus stories. The different versions of Splash Mountain feature similar stories, albeit with small differences. Each ride presents scenes taken from the animated segments of Song of the South, telling the story of Br'er Rabbit and Br'er Turtle, the Protagonists a mischievous heroes who leaves his home in search of adventure. Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear, the antagonists of the story, are determined to catch the villains, but are repeatedly tricked into letting him free. The sharp-witted Br'er Rabbit avoids a snare trap (as described in "Br'er Rabbit Earns a Dollar a Minute") and uses it to trap Br'er Bear instead. Br'er Rabbit continues on his journey to find his "laughing place". Out of curiosity, his foes follow but only for Br'er Rabbit to lead them into a cavern of bees. Br'er Fox eventually catches Br'er Rabbit in a beehive and threatens to roast him. Br'er Rabbit uses reverse psychology on Br'er Fox, begging the fox not to throw him into the briar patch (as described in "The Tar Baby"). Naturally, Br'er Fox throws Br'er Rabbit into the briar patch (represented by the ride's picturesque flume drop); Br'er Rabbit escapes uninjured, remarking, "I was born and raised in the briar patch!" The other animals rejoice to have Br'er Rabbit back home, while Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear are last seen narrowly escaping the jaws of Br'er Gator.
The idea for Splash Mountain was originally conceived in the summer of 1983 by Imagineer Tony Baxter while stuck in rush hour traffic on his way to work. He wanted to attract guests to the often-empty Bear Country land, with the only attraction as the Country Bear Jamboree (which later the Disney Land one closed in 2001), plus a souvenir shop, and make use of the Audio-Animatronics from America Sings, which was also receiving poor attendance. It was Dick Nunis who insisted that the Imagineers create a log flume for Disneyland, but the Imagineers were initially unenthusiastic about it, insisting that log flumes were too ordinary a theme park attraction to include in a park like Disneyland. While trying to solve the problems of including a log flume, bringing people into Bear Country and reusing the America Sings characters, Baxter then thought of Song of the South.
Construction began at Disneyland in April 1987. By that time, Splash Mountain, whose budget had risen greatly to $75 million, had become one of the most expensive projects created by Walt Disney Imagineering. According to Alice Davis (wife of the late Marc Davis), when America Sings closed in April 1988, production of Disneyland's Splash Mountain had gone far over budget. The only way to recover was to close down America Sings and use the characters from that attraction.
Baxter and his team developed the concept of Zip-a-Dee River Run, which would incorporate scenes from Song of the South. The name was later changed to Splash Mountain after then-CEO Michael Eisner's mostly-ignored suggestion that the attraction be used to help market the film Splash. The characters from America Sings were used in many scenes, though all of the main characters were specifically designed for Splash Mountain.
Dave Feiten was then brought in to animate and fix story and staging problems. Feiten then moved nearly all of the animatronics to new locations and then took out 10 animatronic figures and removed them from the ride completely to improve the show. A version of the popular attraction was planned for Disneyland Paris, but was scrapped due to budget reasons and the cold weather in Europe.
The planned Grand Opening on July 17, 1989, didn't go quite as hoped for. Early riders made up of company executives were getting quite soaked rather than lightly sprayed, and so the ride opening date had to be delayed for months so that the boats could be re-designed to hold less passengers, to build them lighter and to re-design the bottom and bow to make them less likely to splash so much water aboard.
In 1991, construction began for the Splash Mountains at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom and Tokyo Disneyland. On July 17, 1992, soft openings began at the Magic Kingdom. The two Splash Mountains officially opened within a day of each other in October 1992: the Tokyo attraction opened on October 1, and the Magic Kingdom attraction opened the next day.
In January 2011, Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom received lap bars for safety reasons. They received lap bars for the two or three people to share. Meanwhile, Tokyo Disneyland received individual lap bars, which makes the height restriction 5 inches shorter than the other two versions.
All of the rides feature the same scenes and a nearly identical layout. The story of Splash Mountain "Br'er Rabbit Leaves Home" is told in the dark ride segment on the meandering river. The flume converts to a roller coaster-style track in complete darkness to transition to "The Laughing Place" caverns. After Br'er Rabbit is captured, the logs ascend up the attraction's predominant hill into the "Tar-Baby" segment (although it is important to mention that Disney chose to replace the tar baby itself with a hive of bees). Br'er Rabbit, now captured by Br'er Fox, tricks the villain to throw him into the briar patch; the drop itself mimics Br'er Rabbit's fall. The log descends down a fifty-six foot drop into a briar patch before continuing back into the mountain, where numerous Audio-Animatronics animals sing a rousing chorus of "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah."
Guests enter the queue in front the main drop viewing area. The queue winds past the Critter Country sign into the main entrance where a number of machines with cogs and gears dominate. Various thoughts and sayings from Uncle Remus are featured on signs throughout the queue, which winds around a barn structure and reaches the loading area.
Passengers ride aboard six-to-seven-seater logs with six single-file seats. The last seat in each log is larger and allows room for larger guests or an adult and a small child, thus allowing the capacity to be seven in each log. The log departs the loading area and ascends two conveyor-type lifts before floating gently through scenery designed to evoke the feeling of a river in the southern state of Georgia. The homes of the three main characters and aged farm equipment are incorporated into the landscape, along with an instrumental version of "How Do You Do?" emanating from hidden speakers along the waterway.
Before the logs enter the indoor portion, snoring is heard emanating from Brer Bear's cave. The snoring is a tribute to the original entrance to Bear Country (the former name of Critter Country) where a bear named Rufus was heard snoring from a cave.
After a short drop down "Slippin' Falls", guests enter the indoor portion of the attraction, where various Audio-Animatronic animals, such as geese, frogs, and opossums sing the attraction's first musical number, "How Do You Do?". Br'er Rabbit, seen outside his Briar Patch, tells Br'er Turtle that he's leaving home in search of his Laughin' Place. Br'er Bear follows him, ending up being attacked by bees as Br'er Rabbit laughs at his misfortunes in the surreal Rainbow Caverns, where characters sing "Everybody's Got a Laughin' Place."
Br'er Fox then manages to trap Br'er Rabbit in a beehive. The mood turns ominous as two mother characters sing the "Burrow's Lament." The logs begin climbing up the final and longer conveyor lift belt, passing beneath two vultures that taunt guests and tell of foreboding danger. Shortly before the attraction's climactic drop, Br'er Rabbit is seen alongside the hill, about to be eaten by Br'er Fox.
But Br'er Rabbit outsmarts Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear by tricking them into throwing him into the briar patch (where he was born and raised). Riders are sent down the final drop into the briar patch, mimicking his fall. The top half of the drop is highly visible from the adjacent areas of the park. An on-ride photo is taken as the log begins to fall, and it can be purchased after disembarking from the ride. From the top of the hill, riders looking toward the splashdown point will notice a full pond of water ahead of them.
The log then 'dives' under the water into an underground runout. The collective weight of the riders generally determines the degree to which they get wet here. An indoor segment follows the drop, after which the logs make a final entrance into a section of the mountain named "Doo-Dah Landing", where a full cast of Audio-Animatronic figures sing "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" and the respective fates of Br'er Rabbit (reclined happily at home) and the antagonists (fending off a hungry Br'er Gator) are seen.
Before the return to the loading area, riders are given a preview of their picture that was taken on the final drop via an overhead screen. Professor Barnaby Owl, an overhead Audio-Animatronic, calls the riders' attention to the screen as he remarks on their expressions. After disembarking from the log, riders enter a "dark room," where they preview their on-ride photograph before exiting to Critter Country. An orchestral swing arrangement of "Sooner or Later" can be heard along the exit path.
Riders board eight-passenger logs, seated two by two. Logs are now equipped with lap bars for safety reasons following a January 2011 renovation. The log departs the loading area, where Br'er Frog provides introductory narration. The log ascends a dual-chain lift that deposits riders in a small pond at the bottom of the big drop. After a right turn, logs enter the barn and climb another lift to the space behind the visible mountain, before floating gently through scenery designed to evoke the feeling of a river in the Southern United States, particularly Georgia, where Song of the South was based. The homes of the three main characters, aged farm equipment, stagecoach wagons, and ale barrels are incorporated into the landscape, along with a country instrumental version of "How Do You Do?" emanating from hidden speakers along the waterway. After passing Br'er Bear's cave, the logs descend down the Slippin' Falls drop and cross back under the flume. The logs then enter the show building containing the indoor portion of the attraction, where various Audio-Animatronic animals including geese and frogs sing the attraction's first musical number, "How Do You Do?". Several vignettes establish the story of a restless Br'er Rabbit leaving home and being pursued by Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear.
Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear see Br'er Rabbit telling Mr. Bluebird that he's going to his Laughing Place. Br'er Porqupine warns him of the danger ahead, but Br'er Rabbit continues on. "Everybody's Got a Laughing Place" begins to play after Br'er Bear springs Br'er Fox's rabbit trap. The logs continue onward past a roadrunner who asks to be taken along to the Laughin' Place, while opossums sing the song from overhead. The logs reach a dark tunnel followed by a "dip-drop" into the Laughin' Place. Bees attack Br'er Bear while Br'er Rabbit laughs with joy, unaware that Br'er Fox is behind him, preparing to drop a beehive on top of him. The logs then go over another short drop, and head further into the cavern scenes. There, geyser-riding turtles and laughing, singing bullfrogs, and dancing water fountains guide the log to a dark area in which Br'er Rabbit has been caught by Br'er Fox in a cave of stalactites and stalagmites. Two vultures (this time wearing top hats) taunt riders as they begin their ascent up the final lift. A scene to the left side of the flume shows Br'er Fox menacing Br'er Rabbit, with Bre'r Rabbit pleading not to be thrown into the briar patch.
At the top of this third lift hill, the log descends the drop at a 45 degree angle, reaching a maximum speed of 40 mph, into a tunnel underneath the Frontierland walkway. After another outdoor flume segment, the log coasts back into the mountain, where critters at "Doo Dah Landing" are singing "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" in celebration of Br'er Rabbit's return, while Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear attempt to fend off Br'er Gator. At the end, Br'er Rabbit sings with Mr. Bluebird, telling guests that he learned his lesson. After exiting the log, riders can tap their cards or MagicBands to save their ride photo.
Splash Mountain at Tokyo Disneyland is very similar to the Florida version of the ride, with a few exceptions. The ride's layout is a mirror image of Florida's owing to the attraction's location on the opposite side of the river. The secondary characters are altogether different and the show scenes are in different orders. The Tokyo version also lacks a mill or barn-like structure on the second lift (although it is used as the main entrance to the ride queue). Instead, the logs venture into a cave-like opening to begin the second ascent. Another difference from the Florida version is that the Slippin' Falls drop takes place in a dark cave, making the final drop the only outdoor one.
Splash Mountain at Disneyland features music in a jazzy "big band" meets orchestral style, fitting the attraction's proximity to New Orleans Square.
"How Do You Do?" - Recorded specially for the ride in 1988 by The Floozies, a 29 piece band from Oregon. The backing track of 'Bom, bom, bom, bom...' that can be heard coming from the bullfrogs in accompaniment to the lyrics sung by the Geese was sung by 13 of the 29 members. Walter Steven "Sim" Hurgle (b. 1963) is the band's lead vocalist, and his voice can be heard singing most of the words, while his fellow band members provide harmony and backing vocals. One of the bullfrogs is voiced by veteran voice actor Thurl Ravenscroft.
"Ev'rybody Has a Laughing Place" and "Burrow's Lament" - These songs are sung by Elisa, Georgia and Castell Newton, three sisters from California who worked for The Walt Disney Company at the time of the ride's construction. Castell and Elisa sing the words, while Georgia was responsible for the high pitched, operatic 'ahh's' in the background, which were removed upon the song changing from "Sooner or Later" to "Burrow's Lament". The vultures above the third lift hill are voiced by Edward Conor and John Kelfreese, employees of The Walt Disney Company.
"Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" - A choir consisting of over 75 cast members was used to record this last score, recorded in the company's Burbank studios in 1987. Jess Harnell sings a solo as Br'er Rabbit as the logs take their final turn back into the station.
In addition, several other songs from Song of the South are heard as instrumental tracks, playing on a loop near the attraction and in the queuing area. These include "That's What Uncle Remus Said", "Sooner or Later", "All I Want", "Who Wants to Live Like That", and "Let the Rain Pour Down." The loop only features songs from the film and lasts about 25 minutes.
Animators took over 80 hours to synchronize each figure. To re-wire and test each figure took an additional three months before the attraction could open, as programmers were tasked with having to make characters "forget" their old America Sings settings and then perform with a decent level of realism in accordance with the new settings. Each character can carry out 45 seconds of movement and dialogue before a loop function restarts the sequence from the beginning.
The ride features the same songs heard at the Disneyland attraction, which are variations of the three songs found in the animated segments from Song of the South, though the attraction does not present these songs in the same order as the film. Because of the ride's location in Frontierland, the soundtrack features a country feel, with banjos and harmonicas as the primary instruments, and also because of Florida's close proximity to Georgia, where Song of the South is set. "Burrow's Lament" is the only exception, using an orchestral track with timpani drums originally recorded for the Disneyland version.
In the order heard in the attraction's ride-through segments:
Songs from the film heard as instrumental tracks in the queuing area include "That's What Uncle Remus Said", "Let the Rain Pour Down", "Sooner or Later", and the opening theme from the film. Traditional songs like "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" and "Goober Peas" are also played in a bluegrass style. The loop lasts about an hour, and includes different orchestrations of the three main songs heard in the ride as well.
Like in Florida, the main melodies consist of banjos, fiddles and harmonicas. The vocals, however, are completely different between the two parks. Compared to the Magic Kingdom attraction, the specific verses sung within the show scenes are in different orders and the choruses and back-up vocals are arranged with different harmonies. Additionally, dialogue and lyrics in Tokyo are Japanese for "How Do You Do?" and "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah", but English for "Ev'rybody's Got a Laughin' Place". In both instances, "Burrow's Lament" is heard as an instrumental track with timpani drums (a take that was originally recorded for Disneyland, but never used), with dramatic orchestra and choir.
Despite being released on CDs attributed to the Magic Kingdom or Walt Disney World in general, as well as often bearing specific track attribution (such as "from Walt Disney World's Splash Mountain"), the country-western style soundtrack actually found at the Florida and Tokyo parks has at least managed to surface on the 2003 Walt Disney World CD entitled "The Official Album/Where Magic Lives". Banjos are heard for over halfway through the 7:57 length, as well as at the end. It is a very different musical arrangement when compared to many other "Walt Disney World", "Disneyland", or combination "Walt Disney World/Disneyland" CDs labeled as "The Official Album". The Disneyland ride does not incorporate this particular country-western themed soundtrack. Fan-credited versions of the country-western version from the Magic Kingdom have also surfaced as MP3 downloads online. Tokyo Disneyland versions have surfaced also, but have been harder to locate.
The Official Album of Disneyland and Walt Disney World (1991 CD)
"Ev'rybody Has a Laughing Place", "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah"
Mother Possum: BJ Ward (Disneyland version; she does not appear in the Walt Disney World version)
Mother Rabbit: BJ Ward (Disneyland version; she does not appear in the Walt Disney World version)
In popular culture
Despite Disney's great attention to detail and audience management, the monitoring represented by both security cameras and the strobe cameras have not proven wholly successful at eliminating one of the most salacious phenomena of the Splash Mountain experience. Hoping to make illicit use of the in-ride photographs that Disney later sells to ride patrons, some riders briefly expose themselves (e.g., a woman baring her breasts) during the descent. Collected on a website called "Flash Mountain" in the mid-to-late 1990s, the shots continue to circulate online. The "Flash Mountain" controversy at both Disney parks was used as a segment and was seen on TMZ on May 5, 2009.
To celebrate the opening of Disneyland's version in 1989, a special was made called Ernest Goes to Splash Mountain. The late actor and comedian Jim Varney returned to play the title role of Ernest in the special. This time, Ernest is busy on becoming the world's first "Splashronaut" (a play on the words "splash" and "astronaut").
In an episode of The Simpsons featuring a parody of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom Sawyer (played by Bart) and Huckleberry Finn (played by Nelson) go down a waterfall in their raft, after which their photo is taken to be sold as a souvenir. In a reference to the "Flash Mountain" phenomenon mentioned above, the manager spots a photo of a woman flashing her ankle and tells the photographer to get rid of it, which he does by slipping it into his shirt to keep for himself.