Since Walt Disney’s first attraction park, which opened in 1955, developed into multiple theme parks around the world, Disney’s brand has continued to evolve, spreading magic and joy through television and film. In this day and age, Disney’s allure no longer overshadows the brand’s questionable portrayal of different racial and social minorities. Accepting the feedback that came its way, Disney appears to have matured, recognizing and addressing its racially insensitive mistakes from earlier storylines, plots, and characters.
Via the Disney Park blog, on Jan. 25, Walt Disney Imagineering Executive Carmen Smith announced the company’s plan to revamp the Jungle Cruise Ride, which exists in the Disney parks located in Anaheim and Orlando, to remove the racist depictions of indigenous people. In a statement, Smith explained that “it is our responsibility to ensure experiences we create and stories we share reflect the voices and perspectives of the world around us.”
As of now, park guests who board the Jungle Cruise Ride’s boats are guided by a comedic skipper on their journey through well-known rivers around the world. During the ride, visitors observe animatronic depictions of native people, as well as animals indigenous to South America, Asia, and Africa. Some critics of the ride are concerned with the stereotypical depictions of the native people, as they are currently portrayed as violent, with one native person referred to as a “headhunter.” Other critics like Len Testa, co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, believes the ride has “always had more than a whiff of ‘Great White Hunter’ in its depictions of the local natives,” and that the audio played for people waiting in the ride’s line “might as well be called ‘British Colonialism’s Greatest Hits.’”
After renovations, the attraction will contain updated animatronics and a new storyline. Disney hasn’t released an exact timeline for the reconstruction of the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland or Disney World, but claims it will come within the year. At Disney’s international theme parks in Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, administrators do not plan to revamp their attractions because they do not obtain any hurtful stereotypes like the rides in Anaheim and Orlando.
The Jungle Cruise renovation is not the first time Disney has had to remove negative depictions on their attractions due to progressive cultural norms. During the 1990s, park engineers reworked the Hall of Presidents attraction to include discussions regarding America’s history of slavery. In 2018, Disney revamped a scene on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride that displayed the famed pirates auctioning off women into slavery. And more recently during the Black Lives Matter Movement in the summer, Disney announced its endeavor to re-theme Disneyland’s Splash Mountain log ride. The Splash Mountain attraction currently exhibits characters and a storyline from the 1946 film Song of the South, which critics condemned for its racist depictions of Black people.
Disney continues to address its faults in many aspects of the brand’s business, including its earlier films and television material displayed on Disney+. With a public spotlight on Disney+, the streaming service has taken actions to add warnings for racist stereotypes that appear in its older films. Its twelve-second warning, which cannot be skipped, notifies viewers that “these stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now. Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it, and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together.” There’s substantial support among the company’s customers who are pleased to see Disney avoid the usual path of burying uncomfortable topics. The brand has received immense support in response to addressing issues that some believe to be long overdue.
Economic analyst Rick Munarriz, who works with the Motley Fool, wants to remind people that Walt Disney fully embraced change, building room to progress into the company’s blueprints. While there are many who welcome these renovations, there are still people who are concerned with the effects these changes could have on the classical aspects of the parks. However, like Munarriz, many people stand by their belief that “a theme park is not a time capsule.”
(Sources: NPR, Los Angeles Times, NY Times, Market Watch, Bloomberg, Forbes, Vox, & Quartz)