The primary task for the Walt Disney Imagineers gathered at Preservation Hall in New Orleans on Friday morning (July 1) was twofold.
First, they were to reveal at long last the name of their “Princess and the Frog” retheming of the Splash Mountain attractions at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
That name: “Tiana’s Bayou Adventure.”
Secondly, they were to announce for the first time a tentative opening date, which, assuming all goes according to plan, will be at some point in late 2024.
But for Stella Chase, the daughter of New Orleans culinary icon and real-life “Princess and the Frog” inspiration Leah Chase, there was another task: to assure her fellow New Orleanians, in her capacity as an unofficial guardian of the culture, that Disney’s team is doing right by the city.
“What they’re bringing to you is authentically New Orleans, and I’m here to really testify to that,” Chase said, participating in a panel discussion on the new attraction on the Preservation Hall stage.
She would know. Chase, who was playfully declared “an honorary Imagineer” at Friday’s event, has served as an ambassador, consultant and (of course) dinner host for Disney’s team during its repeated research visits to town.
“I’ve watched the Imagineers in the swamps and the bayous, watching the alligators swim along our boat, and watching for the details and writing them down and taking pictures of every detail,” she said. “(They were) looking at the trees, going down, bending down, taking pictures of the plants to make sure every detail is really incorporated into this adventure.”
Further specifics will be announced at Disney’s annual D23 fan expo, set this year for Sept. 9-11. Until then, here’s what we know so far:
Almost exactly two years ago, Disney announced its Tiana-themed reimaging of the log flume ride Splash Mountain, which is based on the racially problematic 1946 Disney movie “Song of the South.”
Last August, it shared the first details, revealing the rethemed ride will be a very New Orleans-themed attraction, starting with Princess Tiana inviting guests on an adventure down the bayou and ending with a Mardi Gras celebration.
Singing a new song
The old ride’s track system will remain in place, so the pace of the new attraction will feel the same to Disney park fans. But the “Song of the South” characters, music and storyline will be replaced by those from 2009’s “Princess and the Frog.”
That will include a new story that picks up after the movie ends, as well as a blend of old songs and new ones.
A closure date for the existing Splash Mountain ride, which opened at Disneyland in 1989 and 1992 at Walt Disney World, has yet to be announced.
When the retheming is done, Disney Imagineering’s Charita Carter said Friday, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will serve as “a love letter” to New Orleans.
In many ways, Friday’s event was, too. There was a mini-second-line parade. There were performances by musicians from the extended Preservation Hall Community, including trumpetman Mark Braud and trombonist Haruka Kikuchi. There was food from Dooky Chase Restaurant.
And Jennifer Lewis
Lest anyone forget it was a Disney event, there was also a surprise performance by actress/singer/all-around dynamo Jennifer Lewis, who sang the “Princess and the Frog” song “Dig a Little Deeper,” as well an appearance by a Costumed actress portraying Tiana herself.
Fittingly timed to coincide with the Essence Music Festival – which prides itself for its celebration of “Black girl magic” – Friday’s event also saw Disney’s creative team double down on their intention to make Tiana’s Bayou Adventure as inclusive an attraction as possible.
To hear Stella Chase tell it, there could hardly be a more fitting way to honor her mother’s legacy.
“She was an African-American who appreciated being an African-American, but she also respected the culture of everyone,” Chase said. “She was always delighted when people of all colors, all races, from all over the country, visited her at the restaurant. She she got a chance to be what she loved to be: an ambassador to New Orleans.”
Mike Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.