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Disney Revamp Of Jungle Cruise Ride Removes Racist Depictions Of Indigenous People


Disney's popular longtime ride Jungle Cruise is getting a makeover at Disney World and Disneyland. The ride's negative depictions of Indigenous people will be removed as part of a national reckoning on race and reconciliation. Here's Danielle Prieur from member station WMFE in Orlando.

DANIELLE PRIEUR, BYLINE: It's 5 o'clock at the Disney Springs shopping complex, and guests are streaming in after a busy day at the theme parks. Corey Schleining from Indiana and his 4-year-old grandson Tristan are among them.

COREY SCHLEINING: We did Peter Pan, and we did some of the important ones like that, Barnstormer and some of the stuff that he could ride for his first time, so...

PRIEUR: They had to set the Jungle Cruise at the Magic Kingdom because it was too crowded. He's heard about the changes to the ride to make it more inclusive for guests, and it's something he welcomes.

SCHLEINING: As a culture, we have to change. I mean, we have to change. These are things that, really, probably should have never existed in the first place.

MATT: Hey, folks. Good morning. Welcome to the world-famous Jungle Cruise. My name is Matt (ph), and I'll be your skipper for the next 2 1/2 months. As a friendly Jungle Cruise reminder, please keep all your hands, arms, feet and legs inside the boat at all times.

PRIEUR: The short guided riverboat ride takes guests on a winding cruise across Asia, Africa and South America. At the very end is one controversial part - an Indigenous man holding up several shrunken heads. Rollins College English professor Anne Zimmermann says that's not the only one. She studies the stories Disney tells its guests on rides like the Jungle Cruise.

ANNE ZIMMERMANN: They have the Union Jack flying in the boat, right? And you have these colonizers getting attacked by a tribe of Indigenous people in part of the original narrative.

PRIEUR: Updating rides based on evolving cultural norms isn't new, and it isn't new for Disney. Ady Milman teaches theme park and attraction management at the University of Central Florida.

ADY MILMAN: Several years ago, a show in the Pirates of the Caribbean - or a scene - removed a scene depicting a woman being sold as a slave.

PRIEUR: Milman said, if anything, technology and a nationwide reckoning around race are speeding these changes. In June, Disney announced a new theme for Splash Mountain after 20,000 people signed an online petition. The original ride is based on the movie "The Song Of The South," which draws on caricatures of enslaved Black people.

MILMAN: And they want to stay contemporary. They want to stay current and not to offend anybody. And as you probably know, social media is a very, very quick way to criticize any type of experience.

PRIEUR: A theme park is not a time capsule, says Rick Munarriz, an economic analyst with The Motley Fool. He says Walt Disney himself embraced progress and built it into his company's business model. Munarriz says even if some fans are upset by these changes, they won't be for long.

RICK MUNARRIZ: They succumb to it. You know, they could be angry about the change at the Pirates of the Caribbean ride a couple of years ago, but they're on the ride again. They're having fun.

PRIEUR: Back at Disney Springs, Corey Schleining says he's excited to take his grandson on the Jungle Cruise when they return, even if it's different from how he remembers it as a kid.

SCHLEINING: We should all be evolving and doing those things. I mean, those are things that are really - you know, should be left in the past. So, no, I - it won't bother me at all.

PRIEUR: Disney hasn't released a timeline yet for when changes to the Jungle Cruise at Disney World or Disneyland will be complete.

For NPR News, I'm Danielle Prieur in Orlando.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Danielle Prieur