Last night I touched upon a little bit of the history behind Splash Mountain’s creation. I’d like to talk a bit now about the actual ride experience, and some of the storytelling techniques present in the attraction. I’m not an expert at any of this stuff- so if anyone has anything to contribute/correct please chime in. We’ve all ridden the ride- so I’ll focus less on the basics of the story and more so on the why behind it. Daveland has the best lit photos of the ride’s interior I’ve seen, so I’m going to be pulling heavily from that site. I tried to make the photos small for space reasons... click on any photo for the full size version.
Everyone’s first view of Splash Mountain is something like this (but with water and logs and music and strollers everywhere)-
This whole structure is very loosely inspired by Chickapin Hill as seen in Song of the South-
I’m not quite sure what the cabin on the left was intended to be (besides a beautiful aesthetic), but the structure as a whole captivates anyone that sees it. Having the riders drop out of site is intriguing- it creates a ‘wait! Where did they go!’ and for younger visitors, a slight fear since you can’t see how far you’re actually dropping. It added kinetic energy and excitement to that whole half of the park Placing the tree on the top of the mountain was initially pitched by Tom Morris (or at least, he says it was) to act as a weenie (another old school Imagineering principal), and worked to give the structure a far more defining presence than the Knott’s ride that inspired this one-
You enter through the side of the Mountain into something inspired by an old cabin, with unattributed Uncle Remus quotes from the film on the walls. After passing through the cabin portion of the queue you enter the mountain portion you enter the load area.
See those windows on the top right? That’s the attraction’s control tower. Keen eyed tourists will notice the ‘Flood Gates open 1989’ sign hanging inside, if they look close enough (pictured above).
The initial part of the attraction an instrumental version of ‘How Do Ya Do’ plays while you traverse the outside of the Mountain and pass Brer Rabbit, Br’er Fox, and Br’er Bear’s homes. Bruce Gordon likened this part of the ride to the opening bayou portion of Pirates of the Caribbean- it works to remove the visitor from the troubles of the rest of the park and into the world of the attraction. The first drop takes you into the show building, and outside Disneyland’s berm. Having you drop ‘into the action’ distracts from the transition, and gives riders a bit of thrill to lift their mood just before the singing starts. The initial scene is mostly populated by the old America Sings geese, but has a few wonderful vignettes I think are absolutely charming. Sadly, due to maintenance issues, this scene hasn’t been properly staged for years with animatronics either missing or malfunctioning, and inconsistent lighting issues.
Something worth noting- one of Dave Feiten’s stated goals while cleaning up the attraction’s staging prior to reopen was to give people’s eyes somewhere to rest- every scene should have a clear focus, and there needed to be downtime between scenes to allow riders time to imagine and immerse in the world.
As you go around the corner we’re introduced to our antagonists, Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear. One is obviously depicted as cunning, while the other aloof. It’s also the first of many Br’er Butts throughout the attraction.
This little vignette is directly lifted from this scene from Song of the South-
The next little bit of the attraction introduces us to Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Turtle, singing about how they’re leaving the Briar Patch.
The ‘How Do You Do’ portion of the ride then transitions into a new version of the song with ‘Do’s’ sung instead of actual lyrics. The Splash Mountain Medley that’s been frequently released has a bit of audio in it that I don’t believe is in either version of the ride-
A while back I remember reading somewhere that that audio was to be used in the pre opening staging of the ride- not sure how true it is, but it’s fun to speculate.
The similarities between Marc Davis’s design work for Song of the South and America Sings are really remarkable. These baby possums that were initially from America Sings look almost exactly like the ones in the film, all it took was a costume change.
The next bit is the Hitchhiking Alligator, singing yet another version of How Do You Do.
On the right we see Br’er Rabbit quite amused with himself.. Just before we get a view of our second Br’er Butt.
As you descend into darkness you hear Br’er Bear say “There’s nothing in here but bees!”. This vignette is another lift from the film-
The dip drop that follows was inspired by the one at the flume ride in Busch Gardens in Florida, a ride that had been developed by Arrow Development. Tony sent Tom and Bruce out there to see if they liked it. According to Tom, Bruce didn’t like the dip drop but Tom did, and Tony turned to Bruce and said “Tom wins”.
After the blackened dip drop you come out into the Laughin’ Place portion of the ride, introduced via blacklist beehives and a unique version of the song. This bit presents a significant tonal shift in the attraction, and also gives riders a chance to cheer/clap after the dip drop before getting their attention back for the Laughin’ Place animatronic segment.
You see Br’er Bear with the beehive on his nose. During a 1987 presentation on the attraction Bruce Gordon had this to say about the figure- “Once you make it through the bees you end up in the Laughin’ Place and see Br’er Bear. He fell down the hill with you and now has a beehive stuck on his head. He’s thrashing and kicking like nothing flailing his arms. He’s amazing too. The bear is something new um he’s mounted on truck shock absorbers. There’s three truck absorbers and everything else is giant springs, we fire the shock absorbers at random and everything flails. We don’t know how long it’s gonna last until it destroys itself.” I’ve never seen a video of Br’er Bear acting as described in this scene- if anyone who got to ride it in ‘89 can chime in and mention if it ever functioned as described I’m really curious.
Prior to open this pig got swapped out for a Goose, I assume by Feiten.
The storyboards showed the ‘Old Grey Mare’ figure in this boat, and the figure being swapped I assume is another Feiten change. But again, could be wrong. I really wish the original staging was better documented, since things change from the original storyboards all the time.
We then see Br’er Rabbit get caught in honey by Br’er Fox, which is a very loose reference to the Tar Baby section from the film. We transition into Burrow’s Lament, and go up the lift to this scene which is a combination of two different scenes from the movie.
After the drop we hear an instrumental rendition of Zip a Dee Doo Dah. This track is designed to contribute to the celebratory nature of the moment, and not having an actual show scene right away gives riders a chance to recover and be excited without anything new in the story.
We then transition into the Showboat finale-
Notice that the leaves from the ceiling are now painted in fall colors vs the green from the How Do Ya Do part, and how it’s painted as a sunset- both subtle cues from the Imagineers to give the ride a more satisfying finale. Behind the middle fox is a Playbill sign that reads “Capt Andy Presents A Song of the South in 3 Acts”
We see Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear (and our final Br’er Butt) caught by an alligator, and Br'er Rabbit celebrating his victory.
For years you could preview your ride photo before exiting the log, but the screen was removed and the owl turned off (except for when the audio was mistakenly turned on briefly a little over a year ago).
Thanks to anyone who's actually read through all of this! There's a lot of neat little touches I left out- the over sized carrots and mushrooms in Burrow's Lament, the vultures, the various costume designs. I really like how this ride has a story that it uses to make the experience feel cohesive, but it doesn't rely on that story or force it down your throat. It's experiential storytelling vs. linear storytelling. I think my next 'Oh my goodness this is way too long' post will be a deep dive look into the music of the attraction- each version of the audio from the ride, where it's used, and where it originates from. And any information I can find about lyricists and performers.
Wonderful post!! Thanks for sharing!! It’s such a beautifully designed ride. I’m reminded by reading your post just how much I enjoy the beginning of the ride. Specifically after the first lift hill through the first drop. The instrumental “How Do you Do”, the anticipation and the views of Disneyland just work so well together.
I love the non linear story telling. It’s what helps make it a true Disneyland classic. Another thing that makes Disneyland’s Splash so great is the tonal difference created from it being darker and inclusion of the Burrows Lament segment that makes the Zip-a-dee-doo-dah segment feel that much greater.
At the very least the ride layout and most of the set dressing (both of which are brilliant) should stay the same. I love how windy the flume layout is as it really makes the rider feel that they re on an adventure and establishes a sense of place. The fact they call this a “refresh” is actually somewhat reassuring in that regard. The music will be sorely missed. I am very much worried that we will lose the non linear story telling for a very bright book report ride. With that said, the bayou theme of PatF gives me some hope.