NOTE: On May 30, 2023 Disneyland’s Splash Mountain saw the last patron ride its steep, clothes-soaking flume for the final time. Our own Bonnie Joy imagined what the final days were like for the ride’s long-time characters who called this place Home. Here is her report:
Disneyland had just closed for the night, and everyone had gone home. Up at Splash Mountain, Brer Rabbit and the rest of the gang woke up from their animatronic sleep. This one night, Brer Rabbit, who usually would hang around the briar patch and play with his friends, had an itching head. Yet he somehow couldn’t figure out what it was. So while Brer Fox and Brer Bear were distracted, he snuck away from the ride and wandered around the rest of the Magic Kingdom. Maybe a raft trip to Tom Sawyer’s Island might clear his head. Once he arrived, he looked upon the island that had a few changes, but was still the same as when it first opened in 1956. He then looked up at the sky, still smoky from the firework show, yet one bright star managed to shine through. “Is there one more adventure out there for me beyond the ride? I would love to see it,” he wished.
Eventually, he could see a streak of sunlight coming up over the horizon. Before he could ask “How long have I been out here?” he heard Brer Fox’s voice in the distance, “Brer Rabbit! Get your cottontail back to Splash Mountain! The employees are coming in an hour!” “Not again!” he said to himself, as he hopped onto the raft. Just before he pushed off, he heard a lady’s voice softly singing, “I remember Daddy told me fairytales can come true. You gotta make ’em happen, it all depends on you…”
Making sure Brer Fox and Brer Bear hadn’t seen him, he followed the voice to the far left side of the house on the pier. “Princess Tiana!” he exclaimed with a bow, “Your Highness, how do you do?”
“Oh hi, Brer Rabbit,” she replied sweetly, “And, please keep it simple for me, honey. Just Tiana. I’m doing pretty good.”
“What are you doin’ out here today?”
“I just wanted to clear my head for a while. This seemed like a nice place to get away.”
“Tell me about it,” he replied.
“What do you need to get away from?” she asked.
“Just all of it,” he answered, “I got a funny feeling that longs for adventure outside the briar patch.”
“I know what you mean. I get the feeling there’s more for me to do, but I don’t know how yet. Have you talked to your friends about it yet?”
“Nah. Brer Fox loves the attention, especially when he and the vultures send the kids to their Laughing Place. Brer Bear is even more popular among the kids than either of us. I couldn’t tell them about it.”
“Have you tried a vacation?”
“I couldn’t. I only get a short break if the ride shuts down, but I want longer.”
“What about asking Mickey Mouse?”
“I couldn’t ask him. He and Minnie are too busy to speak to me.”
“BRER RABBIT! WHERE ARE YOU?” Brer Fox’s voice rang out.
“I have to get back to the ride,” he shook his head sadly.
“How about I walk with you?” she offered, to which he accepted.
The return trip was nicer with Tiana accompanying him back. Unfortunately, as soon as they got off the raft, Brer Bear and Fox saw them. “There you are! I ought to tie a cowbell around your neck!”
“Uh yeah,” Brer Bear added, “it’s almost time to go back.”
“Please take it easy on him, guys,” Tiana jumped in. “We were just walking around and lost track of the time.”
“We thank you, Tiana,” Brer Fox replied with a bow, “but we have to go now. Come along, Brer Rabbit!”
“Just one minute and I’ll join you. Honest” Brer Rabbit pleaded, crossing his heart.
“Fine!” Brer Fox rolled his eyes, “I’m timing you.”
As the duo started walking away, Brer Rabbit whispered to Tiana, “Thank you for being there for me.”
“Anytime, honey,” she replied. Then as he started to walk away, she asked, “Is the Laughing Place as scary as the kids say it is?”
“You mean, you’ve never been to the Laughing Place?” Brer Rabbit lit up, “Never even been on Splash Mountain?”
“If Mickey allows, maybe take a kid with you on the ride. I’ll be waving from my little hut at the end of the ride.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Tiana smiled, “Now go on, and I’ll see you later.”
“Meet you at the island later tonight?”
“You got it,” she replied, planting a kiss on his forehead, “Good luck today.”
Brer Rabbit’s heart leapt up out of his body and he was hopping back, higher than usual. Work also seemed to go great that day, and was much better when Tiana and Naveen were seen riding on one of the logs with other kids. After the park closed, both of them met up again at Tom Sawyer’s Island. She had also brought along a small box of beignets, which Brer Rabbit gobbled faster than you could say “Zip-a-dee-doo-da!”
“These are heavenly! So how did you like the ride?” Brer Rabbit eagerly asked.
“I loved it!” Tiana replied, “I almost lost my tiara when we went down, and Naveen got the most soaked! I’ll have to take Lottie there sometime. I especially love the riverboat at the end where everyone was happy you came back home. It looked like the one Naveen and I were on when we were frogs, and Louis was playing his trumpet.”
“You know, I’d love to see that on a ride sometime,” Brer Rabbit smiled.
“That would be nice wouldn’t it,” she laughed. “In the meantime, thank you for letting me visit.”
A couple days later, Splash Mountain malfunctioned again, causing the ride to shut down. After the guests were evacuated from the ride, one of the geese suggested having a meeting after everyone left. They all gathered at the riverboat, with Brer Rabbit, Fox, and Bear sitting on one of the islands close to the boat, and Mr. Bluebird, who was seated on the ship’s perch, presided over the meeting.
“So what do we do now?” started the alligator, “We’re not only shutting down frequently, but some of us are breaking down.”
“We’ve been doing the same thing for a very long time,” chimed in the stork.
“Something needs to change,” interjected one of the frogs.
“But what can we do? Everyone loves what we’re doing,” asked Brer Bear.
“Most of the time,” the vultures rolled their eyes.
“What about retiring?” suggested an owl.
“WHAT?” everyone asked.
“Think about it,” the owl replied, “the park is always making a few new changes. Nemo took over the submarine. Jack Skellington presides over the Haunted Mansion every season,. And I heard rumors that Encanto is going to take Small World’s place. Frankly, that ride and song need to go. Also, very few people like the movie we came from; we aren’t even allowed to say the title. Is it time the ride moved on too?”
“Uh, but where would we go then?” Brer Bear asked.
“We would still exist. Either for when Mickey calls on us, or our spirits would roam around the park, existing in the hearts of the guests who loved us.”
“Who then would watch over the ride?” Brer Fox angrily asked, “We ain’t got nobody to watch over Splash Mountain.”
“I might know someone;” Brer Rabbit suggested, “my good friend, Tiana!”
“Princess Tiana?” they all asked.
“Now I know you’ve gone out of your mind.” Brer Fox declared, “Yes sir, you’re definitely out of your mind! We cannot give no coaster ride to a princess! What would the parents say? Or what would Mickey say?”
“Uh yeah,” chimed in Brer Bear, “we’ve been here since opening day in 1955.”
“No it ain’t been since openin’ day!” seethed Brer Fox, slapping his face in the process. “More like 1989, I reckon!”
“What about Da-da-Disney?” asked Brer Bear, rubbing his cheek.
“Let’s ask Mickey Mouse tomorrow,” Brer Rabbit suggested, “he has the night off, and nobody knows Walt better than him.”
“Very well,” agreed Mr. Bluebird, “Tomorrow is set to talk to Mickey Mouse. This meeting is adjourned.”
Later, as Brer Rabbit settled into his hut under the briar patch, he looked up at the sky and asked the same star, “Am I making a mistake again?” As he slept, he dreamt of the time he tricked Brer Fox and Bear into taking him to the Laughing Place and got chased away by bees. As they ran off, he heard another hearty laugh near him. He looked up and saw a sweet older man in a beautiful clean white suit with a gold border along the coat, a gold hat, and a very familiar face. “Uncle Remus?!” Brer Rabbit exclaimed running into his arms, “how have you been, old friend?!”
“Wonderful, just wonderful” he smiled, “how you come on?”
“Pretty good sure as you’re….” he started, but his tears choked him up, “Oh we missed you so much!”
“I missed you so much too, Brer Rabbit,” Uncle Remus replied, “the Big Man Upstairs said I could keep you company for a bit. How about you tell me how you been doing?”
He recounted all his amazing adventures on Splash Mountain, the different guest reactions to joining his Laughing Place, how Brer Fox and Bear could never catch him, and his recent interaction with Princess Tiana. “Sounds like a mighty nice lady,” said Uncle Remus.
“Oh she sure is,” he replied, “you really should try her beignets.”
“Maybe bring me some next time,” he said with a laugh, “You happy with the ride?”
“Oh yes,” Brer Rabbit answered, “I love it. But I still feel an itch to move on and be free. I know what you gonna say, ‘There ain’t no place better than home where you born and raised’.”
“Not quite what I was going to say,” Uncle Remus told him, “There’s a difference between running away, and knowing when it’s time to move on. You have learned the first one already, and now I believe it is time to learn the new lesson.”
“Brer Bear believes Walt Disney wouldn’t like it. But what about you, my friend?”
“You can’t let what other people say dictate what you gonna do. Even Walt Disney learned that himself. Yes sir. Even the big Walt had to learn it too. If you feel this is the right move, you go right ahead. Besides, I would love to see what Miss Tiana could bring.”
Just then, a very high voice sang out Uncle Remus’ name. “Sorry, Brer Rabbit, it’s time for me to go.”
“Please don’t go!” he cried.
“Don’t worry,” he smiled, “I’m always with you. I wish you happiness with retirement.”
“Give my regards to the Big Man,” he said, “and please stop by when you can.”
Both of them embraced, and Uncle Remus walked over a hill into a glorious light. Just then, Brer Rabbit’s alarm went off, he woke up, and discovered there were still tears in his eyes. “Thank you, Uncle Remus,” he said.
After the park closed, Brer Rabbit, Fox, Bear, and Mr. Bluebird made their way to ToonTown. There, Mickey and Goofy were having a few laughs on Donald’s boat. Mr. Bluebird flew up to Mickey, whispered something in his ear, and then he turned and beckoned the three to come aboard the boat.
“Good evening, fellas,” Mickey greeted them warmly, “so good to see you again. What can I do for you?”
“We are thinking it’s time to retire,” Mr. Bluebird said.
“Retire?” Mickey asked, “What would happen to Splash Mountain then?”
“I was–we were thinking Tiana ought to take it over,” suggested Brer Rabbit.
“And why her?”
“Kids would love her adventures in the bayou,” said Brer Rabbit, “Besides, Ariel, Elsa and Anna have their rides. She deserves one too.”
“But what about you?” Mickey asked, concerned. “What would happen to you?”
“I would roam around the park as I please, and do as suits me.”
“What would Uncle Remus say?” asked Brer Fox, “we’d be tarnishing his reputation.”
“Actually, last night, I saw him. He gave us his blessing. Now we’d like your permission to move on.”
With that, Mickey dismissed them back to Splash Mountain with the promise of giving them an answer the next night. Brer Fox went sulking off to the edge of Critter Country, while Brer Bear walked back with Brer Rabbit and eagerly asked him about the dream. “I miss him much,” he said. “Me too,” Brer Rabbit replied, and for the first time since their adventures began, they hugged. “You know,” he said, “I wouldn’t mind wandering the park as a mascot and hanging out with kids again. I miss the days I did that.”
“That’s the spirit,” he said encouragingly. “See, retirement wouldn’t be so bad.”
“And I’ll be flying everywhere and on the shoulders of every happy soul,” said Mr. Bluebird.
“Where’s Brer Fox?” Brer Bear asked.
“I’ll go find him,” Brer Rabbit offered.
When he couldn’t find him at the ride, he hopped towards the edge of Critter Country where Brer Fox glumly sat on a wooden bench near the Winnie the Pooh ride, with tears streaming down his face, and a puddle of water under his feet. “Come on back, Brer Fox.”
“Go away!” he snapped, “It’s your fault we leaving! It’s all your fault!”
“I know you don’t like this…”
“Don’t pretend you know what I’m goin’ through! You the reason for the ride in the first place! Chasin’ you and throwing you and the guests in the briar patch was always the highlight of my career, and now you’re takin’ that away with your stupid retirement! I’m not ready to retire, and neither is anyone else who rides Splash Mountain!”
“Which is why the ride is not totally going away,” Brer Rabbit, “we’re just giving it to someone else.”
“Who is going to reinvent everything we worked on!”
“Who actually might improve the ride. Besides, I wouldn’t hand the ride to anyone I did not know or trust. It’s not like I’d hand it off to Gaston.”
“Don’t mention him. Nobody makes me throw up like Gaston!”
“So wouldn’t you want to see Tiana on an exciting adventure in the bayou instead?”
“I want to make kids scream!”
“Maybe you could find a new way to do that. One thing I learned is that life has new and amazing adventures. Each time I ran away from home and got in trouble with you guys, I learned how to adapt and have fun with every new moment. There’s more than one way to scare kids. You should see the Magic Kingdom during the Halloween season.”
Brer Fox took out his handkerchief, blew his nose, and said, “I think I need time to think about it.”
Brer Rabbit replied, “It’s okay, just don’t forget to come back when the park opens.”
Brer Fox nodded, and Brer Rabbit hopped back, leaving his comrade alone with his thoughts.
Once they closed, Mickey and Minnie Mouse showed up at the ride’s gate, with Princess Tiana next to him. Brer Rabbit, Fox, and Bear came out and Mr. Bluebird lighted himself on her shoulder. He nodded, and Brer Rabbit pulled a key out of his pants pocket. “This is for you, Tiana.”
“What’s it for?” she asked.
“It’s for the ride. We’re giving you Splash Mountain,” he said.
“Me?” she asked, startled, “No, I couldn’t do that to you!”
“This has been a long time comin’,” he replied, “it’s time for us to be movin’ along.”
“Oh Brer Rabbit, you’re too kind!” she cried as she hugged him and planted a kiss on his head. “Where will you go afterwards?”
“I’ll be here and there!” replied Brer Rabbit.
When the announcement was made public, the whole country had a variety of reactions. Some people loved the idea of a ride dedicated to Tiana’s adventures, while others cried against the idea of Brer Rabbit retiring. However, he held onto what Uncle Remus told him about not letting other people tell him how to live. When the final day for Splash Mountain came along, everyone gave it their all. Brer Fox savored every moment he sent everyone to the briar patch, Brer Bear waved from the rope trap, and Brer Rabbit, despite being happy with a new beginning, did feel some sorrow that the time had come to leave. After the final guest left, Mickey and Tiana asked to go for one more spin. They agreed, and this time, Brer Rabbit hopped into the log with her. “Thank you for sharing this moment with me,” she whispered to him as the ride began.
“My pleasure,” he replied, “and I cannot wait to see your new ride soon!”
She squeezed his hand, and as the log began gliding through the water, the group lifted their voices in a joyous chorus:
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay! My oh my what a wonderful day
Plenty of sunshine headin’ my way! Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay!
Click picture above for a final ride on Splash Mountain!
Bonnie Joy at peace in her Laughing Place.