Disney is finally addressing the issues.
On Disney’s popular Jungle Cruise attraction, riders travel along the Amazon, Congo, Nile, and Mekong rivers, encountering wild (animatronic) animals, lush vegetation, and, unfortunately, a few outdated cultural portrayals of the Indigenous peoples of these regions along the way. An opening-day ride at both Disneyland in Anaheim, California, and Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, the Jungle Cruise debuted during a time when diversity and inclusion often took a backseat to, well, entertainment at the expense of others.
Disney recently revamped a scene from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride that showed pirates auctioning off unwilling brides to the highest bidder, and, more recently, they announced a complete overhaul of Splash Mountain due to its racist source material, the 1946 film Song of the South. In keeping with their commitment to creating a world of magic for all people, Disney recently announced a reimagining of the Jungle Cruise attraction that will address some of the more problematic elements.
Disney made the announcement via the Disney Parks Blog, and while they didn’t go so far as to say exactly why they were changing the ride, they promised to “stay true to the experience we know and love” and also “reflect and value the diversity of the world around us.” This was accompanied by a statement from Creative Development and Inclusive Strategies Executive Carmen Smith stating that Disney strives to create stories and experiences that “reflect the voices and perspectives of the world around us,” making their intentions pretty clear.
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A separate story on the D23 official Disney fan club site includes an interview with Disney Imagineering Creative Portfolio Executive Chris Beatty, in which he more directly mentions there are a couple of scenes that aren’t “respectful of the diverse world we live in” and that Disney will be “addressing the negative depictions of ‘natives’” in the attraction.
Although Disneyland’s updated version of the attraction is scheduled to reopen on July 16 (though Disney heavily implied the attraction is already in soft openings), Walt Disney World is open for business during the overhaul, so Disney wasn’t exactly able to keep the changes under wraps. They announced on May 26 that Trader Sam–who was a headhunter in the previous version of the ride–will now run a gift shop.
Also gone from the ride are other culturally insensitive Indigenous characters. In their place, you’ll soon see two new shows that will help to communicate a more cohesive and inclusive story of a skipper and his diverse group of passengers whose expedition has gone awry. The first is the famous scene where a rhinoceros has chased a group of explorers up a tree. In the ride’s current state, we don’t know much about who those explorers are or what they are doing there, but the concept art released by Disney shows it is the aforementioned expedition team of the long-lost Kwango Kate boat.
The other scene shows how they ended up on the beach in the first place; the front half of their vessel has crashed ashore and the wreckage has been taken over by a family of chimpanzees. These will not directly take the place of the more problematic show scenes as those take place later in the ride.
There’s plenty of source material to play with, including the fictional Jungle Navigation Company that employs the Jungle Cruise skippers. Founded by the also fictional Dr. Albert Falls (a reference you’ll surely remember if you’ve ever ridden the Jungle Cruise), the Jungle Navigation Company backstory is also on full display in Disney World’s Skipper Canteen restaurant.
The restaurant houses an entire room dedicated to the (again, fictional) Society of Explorers and Adventurers. S.E.A., as it’s often called, has been woven into the narrative of various Disney parks attractions around the world and it seems Disney is adding the Jungle Cruise to that list. They dropped a few more details about the overhaul on March 19, including the revelation that Dr. Albert Falls’ granddaughter, Alberta Falls, will play a key role in the attraction’s new backstory. After her grandfather’s mysterious disappearance, Alberta inherited the company and now heads up the Jungle Cruise expeditions.
Beatty also stated in the D23 article there will be no direct tie-in with the story or characters of the upcoming live-action “Jungle Cruise” film and that the same storyline will be told on both the Florida and California versions of the ride.