One of Disney’s oldest attractions might look a little bit different next time you ride it. The Jungle Cruise, which opened at Disneyland alongside the park in 1955, and then at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World when it opened in 1971, will be getting some significant updates in the near future.
The ride depicts a comical journey on rivers throughout Asia, Africa and South America, with a live “skipper” providing running commentary full of corny jokes. It features multiple scenes with audio-animatronics, and some of those vignettes have long depicted Indigenous populations in an outdated and offensive way that reflects how white people in the mid 20th century viewed different cultures. The upcoming changes will address these insensitive depictions, while also introducing a new storyline focused on a team of scientists and adventurers that have gone missing during a cruise. (You know those explorers who’ve been driven up a tree by an angry rhino? Well, that’s going to be them.)
In the Disney Parks Blog post that announced the changes, Walt Disney Imagineering’s Executive for Creative Development & Inclusion Strategies, Carmen Smith, explains the need for these updates. “As Imagineers, it is our responsibility to ensure experiences we create and stories we share reflect the voices and perspectives of the world around us,” Smith says. “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.”
This isn’t the first major update to the Jungle Cruise in its long history. It didn’t even have its infamous sense of humor for the first seven years of its existence; until 1962 the tone was more akin to a wildlife documentary. The scenes featuring angry “headhunters” and the shrunken head salesman Trader Sam have long been out of step with the times, and at this point are a distraction from the ride’s many legitimate charms. A ride based around a 1930s British tramp steamer cutting through Africa will always evoke colonialism to those who know their history, but audio-animatronic figures of stereotypical Indigenous hunters hiding in the bushes and ambushing a boat full of outsiders is simply overt racism that is wildly out of place with the ride’s cheerful tone.
Disney’s detailed some of the changes that will be coming, starting with that party of rhino-bedeviled explorers adjusting from random explorer types to specific characters. The skipper of their ill-fated journey will also be added to the tree, and a new scene will show the fate of their steamer, which has run aground and been commandeered by a family of chimps. They’ve also released some concept art.
There’s no timetable yet for the updates, but Disney’s hopefully they’ll both be completed in 2021. That’s a big if, of course—Disneyland has been closed since March, with no reopening in sight. And although Disney World has been open since the summer, the pandemic has hit Disney hard in multiple ways, leading to most announced Disney parks projects to be delayed or even quietly cancelled. As with almost every other aspect of life today, expect the timeline of these Jungle Cruise updates to be entirely at the whim of the deadly virus rippling unchecked throughout the world.
For anybody who was worried that The Rock or Emily Blunt would be added to the ride in some capacity when their long-delayed Jungle Cruise film came out, you can relax. Disney has officially confirmed there are no plans to add the actors’ likenesses to the ride.
The Jungle Cruise isn’t the only Disney ride to see major changes in an attempt to better reflect current mores. Splash Mountain, which was adapted from the disowned paean to slavery The Song of the South, will be converted to a Princess and the Frog attraction at some point. Pirates of the Caribbean has overseen many significant changes over the last few decades, most recently the sex trafficking aspect of its notorious auction scene. The Jungle Cruise’s racist stereotypes have been the most egregiously outdated thing at Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom for a while, and the only surprise is that it’s taken this long to address them.
Disney also released a video with Imagineer and former Jungle Cruise skipper Kevin Lively discussing the changes. Check it out.