Splash Mountain is one of my favorite attractions in Walt Disney World. Although the story centers around Brer Rabbit, what I always remember most from the attraction is Brer Bear. Why is he hanging from some sort of sling contraption? Why is his butt sticking out from a thorny bush full of bees? What the heck is going on with this bear?
Is there a story here and if so, what exactly is it?
There is indeed a storyline to the Splash Mountain attraction.
There are many clues to be found if you look, both before the queue and inside the queue. Within the attraction itself, the story reveals itself if you view it with a little bit of history.
Splash Mountain is based on the animated sequences of Walt Disney’s 1946 animated-live action film Song of the South. According to “The Disney Mountains” by Jason Surrell, “The film had three of the key ingredients that Imagineers looked for in a potential theme park attraction: beloved and colorful characters in Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox and Brer Bear; lush, richly detailed settings, from Brer Fox’s lair high atop Chick-a-Pin Hill to the thorny bowels of the briar patch; and memorable music that included the Academy Award-winning “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah.”
It dismays me somewhat to know that as riders of this attraction, we are headed into “thorny bowels” but let’s move ahead and look for some clues as to who these characters are.
The story begins as far out as the sign that directs guests to the attraction, much before you even get to the queue of the attraction itself. Clue number one-if you look atop the sign post flanked by two copper hurricane lanterns; Brer Rabbit is perched and on the lookout. His expression is fearful and wide eyed with a grimacing mouth. His posture is frozen as if taken from a film chase sequence. Somewhere out there, someone is engaged in the hunt. Without question, the game is on.
Closer to the entrance of the attraction, the following sign provides more information and a second clue. Brer Rabbit’s bag is literally packed and he’s set to explore. A bear print ominously marks the spot below him. He is a traveler who may be heading for some trouble.
As you come to the entrance of the attraction, the three main characters appear together for the first time. Brer Fox, Brer Bear and Brer Rabbit are united in a vignette which hints at the whimsy as well as varying degrees of intellect of our central characters, which will become apparent once inside of the attraction. There’s that big goofball of a bear. Did he escape from The Country Bear Jamboree? Seinfeld voice, Just what is going on… with that bear?!
Let’s enter the gate and check out the queue for more clues. C’mon!
Passing through the turnstiles, we enter a courtyard and are immersed in the feeling of the Deep South. Lanterns hanging from trees and perched on posts, birdhouses strewn playfully amongst the trees, rustic wooden fence railings. This area is enchanting at dusk. In my opinion, it would be great to put an outdoor restaurant here serving southern food, fried oyster po’boys, jambalaya, cheese grits…
A sign with the names Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox and Brer Bear points guests through to the barn.
The barn contains plenty of detail which further sets the scene of being in the Deep South. Although there are no characters, there are plenty of tools for farming; rugs and ropes draped over railings and hung on nails. Exiting the barn and following through a winding path, we come to the dark entrance of a descending cave. Take time to look at the pictures hung on the walls as well as the vignettes of Brer Frog’s interior home. The basics of the story of the Song of the South are hung here along with portraits of the main characters. Below are some of the pictures but there are many more to explore.
Splash Mountain is based on the three animated stories and songs of the film Song of the South. My synopsis of the animated part of Song of the South is as follows-
- Brer Rabbit runs away from his home in the briar patch.
- On his travels, he falls prey to Brer Fox by stepping into his trap.
- Brer Fox is intent upon making a meal of Brer Rabbit.
- Brer Rabbit escapes the clutches of Brer Fox and his sidekick Brer Bear.
- He outwits Brer Fox by repeatedly tricking Brer Fox’s bigger, stronger but less intelligent friend Brer Bear into releasing him through the use of reverse psychology. Brains over brawn, good over evil.
The story in the attraction is told as a composite of the stories of the film. The structure corresponds to the three songs “How Do You Do”, next “The Laughing Place” and lastly “Zip-A-Dee-Do-Da”. Let’s see how this plays out in the attraction.
Since the narrator, Uncle Remus, of the film is not represented in the attraction, his sidekick the character of Brer Frog is cast as his narrator/stand in.
X Atencio character study of Brer Frog for Splash Mountain Copyright (C) Disney
Brer Frog is the first animatronic character, of which there are 68, that we encounter as we ascend the first hill of the attraction. Rocking in his chair on the porch and smoking a pipe, he sing-songs his tales as we pass by in our comfy log. Next, we are outside looking into the “thorny bowels” (thanks Jason Surrell) of the briar patch. Here is foreshadowing of how things end up in the film and how they will end for you the rider. See that briar patch? See the thorny bowe…well you know the rest.
“How Do You Do” As we witness the sights and hear the sounds (and screams) of people racing down the slope of the mountain in their logs, we round the bend and head up the second of five hills. Along the banks of a serene river, high above Frontierland, we wander along to the intro of “How Do You Do” while enjoying a glimpse into the everyday life of Brer Rabbit and Brer Frog. The horn from Big Thunder Mountain blowing in the distance only adds to the dimension of setting of the south. Then we go down the first drop, Slippin’ Falls, and into the cave.
OK so how does Brer Bear end up tied up in a ball hanging from a rope while Brer Fox stands below him with an ax?
Take a look a these rarely seen clips from Song of the South. Here is the full story of Brer Rabbit running away and the “hanging bear” during the “How Do You Do” sequence in the attraction.
“The Laughing Place” What is the laughing place? Where is it? How does Brer Bear end up face first in a bee hive? The story is below.
“Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah” The final part of the attraction is the homecoming of Brer Rabbit after the largest drop of the attraction. Here Brer Rabbit celebrates coming home to his friends. The happiest Disney song, Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah, closes out the attraction as it also closes the film.
On my next visit to Splash Mountain in the Magic Kingdom, I will have a better appreciation for this attraction. And when I see a scene like this,
I won’t be thinking, “What the heck is going on with that bear!!?”
Splash Mountain in Walt Disney World opened on July 17th, 1992. It will be celebrating it’s 20 anniversary in 2012, just in time for the grand opening of the expanded Fantasyland!
For information presented in a fun way about the grand opening of the original Splash Mountain attraction which opened in Disneyland in 1989, check out this mock documentary produced by Disney. “Earnest Goes To Splash Mountain” chronicles the adventures of the first “Splashtranaut” to conquer the mountain. Brilliant marketing of the then new attraction. (Look for the original “get to know your neighbor very well” single file seating design of the log flume in part 3).
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