Disney's 'woke' changes aren't ruining the parks – they're making them even more magical

  • Disney parks bill themselves as a place where everyone can experience joy, wonder, and magic.
  • Recently, Disney has made changes to some attractions and guidelines to stay true to this sentiment.
  • Some feel the changes are too “woke” and ruin the magic, but they only help more people find it.
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“To all that come to this happy place, welcome. Disneyland is your land.”

These are the words Walt Disney spoke at Disneyland’s grand opening on July 17, 1955. In building his theme park, the entrepreneur created a destination where visitors of all ages could feel joy and wonder. And more than 65 years later, people visit Disney parks all over the world to experience their special brand of magic.

As time went on, however, it became increasingly clear that not everybody could feel that magic when visiting a Disney park, thanks to racist characters and offensive show scenes in certain attractions – which the company has begun revamping. It’s also worth noting that Disney himself was not without controversy, with allegations of anti-Semitism, racism, and sexism resurfacing in recent years.

When it comes to its image as a company, Disney has started to address its own issues and become more inclusive. The most recent example cropped up when fireworks returned to Disney World in early July, and Disney replaced the gendered “Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls” greeting that played at the start of the Magic Kingdom’s nightly fireworks show with “Good evening, dreamers of all ages!”

Back in April, the corporation announced that parks employees will now be able to display “gender-inclusive hairstyles, jewelry, nail styles, and costume choices,” as well as visible tattoos. The move drew pushback, and one outraged fan wrote an opinion piece in the Orlando Sentinel blasting the decision, which he chalked up to “wokeness.”

But responses like these miss a crucial element of Disney magic: It’s meant to be accessible to everyone, not just you. If not everyone feels comfortable at the parks, that failing falls on Disney’s shoulders, not the individual’s. These changes will likely keep coming, and Disney will likely keep evolving. That’s a good thing, and folks who wring their hands over “history” and “tradition” should get used to it.

Disney has been adapting to criticism of its rides and history

The first ride to get a major makeover was Pirates of the Caribbean, in 2018. Where guests used to see women being sold at auction underneath a sign that read “Take a Wench for a Bride,” they now see a female pirate named Redd helping to auction off rum and other goods from a recently ransacked town.

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In a USA TODAY story addressing the updates, Kathy Magnum, a since-retired regional executive with Walt Disney Imagineering, said, “I kept thinking of a little girl riding that boat right now. Is this a scene we want her to be seeing?” While some may see the bride auction scene as silly or harmless, it’s much more impactful for a child to see that women aren’t property to be bought and sold.

In June 2020, Disney announced Splash Mountain would be get a “Princess and the Frog” update. I wasn’t aware of the ride’s racist source material – the 1946 Walt Disney Film “Song of the South” – until about 10 years ago. Since then, though, I’ve always felt uncomfortable that there was a Disney ride with characters and music from a film even Disney has acknowledged is offensive. (The movie isn’t available on DVD or on Disney’s streaming service, Disney Plus.)

A Disney Parks Blog post announcing the change said, “The new concept is inclusive – one that all of our guests can connect with and be inspired by, and it speaks to the diversity of the millions of people who visit our parks each year.” Knowing the original ride’s history made it impossible to enjoy, and I look forward to the reimagined version featuring Disney’s first Black princess.

Disney’s most recent ride makeover happened in January 2021 with the news that the Jungle Cruise would be setting out on “new adventures” that better “reflect and value the diversity of the world around us.” Rather than racist jokes about native war parties, cannibals, and shrunken head traders, the ride will soon tell the story of a diverse group of explorers whose expedition goes off course.

If you’re reading this and rolling your eyes because you think Disney is too ‘woke,’ consider yourself lucky

That means these changes have nothing to do with you, and everything to do with people who can’t enjoy the parks because of these things.

If you already love Disney and consider it “The Most Magical Place on Earth,” you should want others to feel the same way.

Based on some reactions to Disney’s recent changes, though, not everyone agrees.

When Disney announced it would be removing the bride auction scene from Pirates of the Caribbean, tens of thousands of people signed a petition hoping to keep the ride the way it was. The same happened when Disney confirmed Splash Mountain would be getting a makeover. A Jungle Cruise petition had considerably fewer signatures.

The changes Disney is making aren’t taking the magic away from those who’ve already found it – they’re simply helping more people find it. If everybody is welcome at Disney, these changes will continue to be necessary until everyone truly feels that way.

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