Disney Parks are Redesigning Their Problematic Jungle Cruise Ride

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Hannah Kutnick, Writer

Disney announced in late January of 2021 that they will be redesigning aspects of their Jungle Cruise ride at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida and Disneyland in Anaheim, California because the current attraction features culturally insensitive scenes that portray indigenous populations of South America, Africa, and Asia in racist ways.

The Jungle Cruise ride, which was one of the last attractions overseen by Walt Disney himself, is an iconic part of almost any trip to a Disney theme park in the United States. It first opened in 1955, and was initially based on the concept of “The Jungle Rivers of the World”. While it was originally meant to be an educational experience, it has since evolved into a humorous and entertaining ride. Guests sit on a boat and “travel” along a waterway as a skipper narrates the scenes and makes constant cheesy jokes. The boat travels through forests and jungles, passing animatronic animals, some friendly and some not so much. However, some of the scenes aren’t so harmless. One display shows a group of native people in ways that are “wild, primitive and threatening” in the words of Lilit Marcus of CNN, and some are portrayed as “hostile savages or as subservient” according to Julie Tremaine from SFGATE.

When writing about the upcoming changes to the popular Disney attraction, Todd Martens from the Los Angeles Times said, “As silly and overly pun-filled as the Jungle Cruise may be, it has long been criticized as viewing adventure through an imperialist lens. While the ride is meant to be a collage of Asia, Africa and South America, human figures of the regions are presented as exotic, violent and dim-witted, humor that in the 1950s and 1960s was troublesome and today reeks of racism.”

Among the changes will be the addition of a new skipper character, whose story of an adventure gone awry can be followed by guests as the attraction progresses. There will also be more animals added to the ride.

Carmen Smith is the creative development and inclusion strategies executive at Walt Disney Imagineering. On the Disney Parks Blog, she wrote, “As Imagineers, it is our responsibility to ensure experiences we create and stories we share reflect the voices and perspective of the world around us. With Jungle Cruise, we’re bringing to life more of what people love — the humor and wit of our incredible skippers, while making needed updates.”

A “Jungle Cruise” movie is due later in 2021 starring Emily Blunt, Jesse Plemons, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Even though the movie is supposed to be released later this year, changes to the ride are being made independent of the upcoming film. Disney does not plan to include elements of the movie’s storyline into the Jungle Cruise ride amid the other changes.

The Jungle Cruise ride isn’t the only attraction at Disney Parks that has been changed in recent years to be more culturally sensitive. In 2017, changes were made to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. This attraction, which inspired the popular film franchise, displayed a scene in which female captives were being auctioned off by pirates as brides. Disney changed this scene to instead feature a female pirate and an auction for non-human loot. In June of 2020, Disney announced that they would be changing the theme of the popular Splash Mountain ride from “Song of the South” to “The Princess and the Frog”. Lilit Marcus described “Song of the South” as “a story set in the antebellum South whose cringeworthy depictions of Black people have kept it mostly hidden in the company’s vault”. This movie is so problematic that it hasn’t been available on any platform since 1986 and was never made available for purchase. Even with a disclaimer, the movie was called “not appropriate in today’s world” by Disney Chairman Bob Iger. “The Princess and the Frog” released in 2009, which the ride will be re-themed to, was the first Disney movie to have a Black princess as the lead.

While many Disney fans are behind the new changes, others are deeply upset. Some fans argue that classic attractions such as Splash Mountain should remain the same for reasons relating to nostalgia and tradition.

Despite all the changes to create a more culturally sensitive experience for guests, some say that there is still more progress to be made. Julie Tremaine from SFGATE cites the exaggerated accents of the birds in the Enchanted Tiki Room and the “Indians” in Peter Pan’s Enchanted Flight as examples.

Iger tweeted, “The exciting changes we’re making to one of Disney’s most popular classic attractions, Jungle Cruise, reflect our commitment to creating unparalleled experiences that reflect, not only the best in storytelling, but also the values and rich diversity of our world.”