A look back at ‘The Princess and the Frog’ in Disney parks
Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will open late 2024 at Disneyland and Walt Disney World as a re-imagining of Splash Mountain. The ride is the first permanent attraction of its scale to star Tiana, Naveen, and their friends from “The Princess and the Frog.” It’s not, however, the first time the film has found a home in the Disney theme parks.
Let’s take a look back at the projects that led to this moment via coverage from Attractions Magazine history.
Disney Hyped Tiana’s Debut
“The Princess and the Frog” debuted in theaters Dec. 11, 2009. After nearly a decade of hit-or-miss filmography with various art forms and genres, Walt Disney Animation Studios considered “The Princess and the Frog” a triumphant return of its signature: the hand-drawn fairy tale musical.
Disney smartly built the film’s promotional campaign around this idea. In the first trailer, onscreen copy read, “After 75 years of magic, Walt Disney Pictures brings a classic tale to life.” Later in the trailer, a voice over hailed, “In the tradition of Walt Disney’s most beloved classics comes the story behind the most magical kiss the world has ever known.” Disney publicly positioned “The Princess and the Frog” as the next great classic, destined to sit on the shelf alongside the studio’s most cherished films.
In retrospect, even if “The Princess and the Frog” didn’t mark an industry-wide comeback of traditional, hand-drawn animation, it did mark the beginning of a resurgence of Disney storytelling that penetrated pop culture and cemented itself as something likely to endure for generations. In the years to followed, Disney Animation produced “Tangled,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” and “Frozen.” The studio had its mojo back.
Donald Duck Welcomed Tiana to the Disney Family
Tiana was the first Disney Princess to officially enter the studio’s royal family since Mulan in 1998.
In October 2009 (a few weeks before her movie debuted), Walt Disney World hosted a ceremony at Cinderella Castle to officially welcome her. As an entourage of famous Disney faces waited on the castle stage, a horse-drawn carriage brought Tiana into the Hub where Donald Duck greeted her with a bouquet of flowers.
The ceremony represented Disney’s excitement for “The Princess and the Frog,” and its faith in the film to become an established part of the Disney pantheon. The event also set a precedent for new princesses in the years to follow, as similar ceremonies welcomed Merida from “Brave” in 2013 and Elena from “Elena of Avalor” in 2016.
Tiana Had Her Own Show on the Rivers of America
Right away, “The Princess and the Frog” held a much more significant presence in Disney theme parks than any other animated film in recent history. In October 2009, Disneyland and Magic Kingdom simultaneously debuted “Tiana’s Showboat Jubilee!” The unique, temporary production promoted the new movie by mounting a full-scale musical onboard the riverboats in both parks.
Beginning on land, Tiana, Naveen, Louis, and a troupe of New Orleans-inspired musicians and dancers paraded through the streets as they made their way to the riverboat dock. From there, the vessel became a floating stage, traveling to a fixed point in the Rivers of America to perform songs from the movie as guests watched from New Orleans Square or Frontierland. Dr. Facilier even showed up the crash the party. The show lasted the duration of the film’s theatrical engagement, concluding in early 2010.
When the show debuted, Attractions Magazine correspondents interviewed Tara Anderson, show director for Disney Creative Entertainment. Anderson noted guests’ happy reactions to seeing Tiana in person for the first time.
“They’re very excited about Tiana,” she said. “Everyone is. We haven’t had a new princess in about 10 years, so this is very exciting.”
We also interviewed Bruce Smith, supervising animator of Dr. Facilier. Smith shared how the animators provided insight for the characters to the parks’ performers and management.
“You give them little inside tidbits, from how Facilier would articulate certain gestures to how he would walk,” Smith said. “It seems to have rubbed off. I’m looking at Dr. Facilier and I’m thinking, ‘I animated that!’ So it works.”
A Sign of Things to Come
“Tiana’s Showboat Jubilee!” again demonstrated just how thrilled Disney was to finally have a movie that could be showcased in the parks as it’s engaging characters, music identity, and production potential were all qualities that were arguably absent in other Disney animated films of the era. This was reflected in the fact that the most recent movies in the canon had been “Bolt,” “Meet the Robinsons,” and “Chicken Little,” all of which only received simple meet and greets in the parks, and certainly nothing on the scale of a musical on a moving riverboat.
“Tiana’s Showboat Jubilee!” harkened back to the animation renaissance of the ’90s, when every new Disney animated movie commanded its own parade or stage show. “Tiana’s Showboat Jubilee!” was a big deal — and indicated promise for what could come next.
Tiana Headlined Many Live Productions
As audiences embraced “The Princess and the Frog,” Tiana and her friends became established figures in live shows and parades within the parks, as she and Naveen joined the finale float in the existing “Celebrate A Dream Come True Parade” at Magic Kingdom, and the film had its own float, depicting a riverboat, when “Mickey’s Soundsational Parade” debuted at Disneyland in 2011. On stage, Tiana performed “Dig a Little Deeper” in “Mickey and the Magical Map” at Disneyland in 2013, and again in “Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire” at Magic Kingdom in 2016.
This tradition continues in recent productions, including Disneyland’s “Magic Happens” parade, where Tiana and Naveen wave to guests from onboard an enchanting float emulating their bayou wedding. During 2022’s limited return of Disneyland’s “Main Street Electrical Parade,” Tiana joined other Disney stars as dolls in the style of “It’s a Small World.”
Tiana also became a mainstay of character greetings. Today, guests can meet her inside Princess Fairytale Hall at Magic Kingdom, and for several years, Disney hosted a unique parade viewing/dessert party character experience with Tiana onboard the Liberty Belle Riverboat.
Tiana-inspired Rooms, Restaurants, and Events on Land and Sea
“The Princess and the Frog” is rich in its storytelling and placemaking, which naturally lends itself to unique experiences in Disney destinations. Tiana’s tale became an anchor, along with other princess stories, for renovated “royal rooms” at Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside in 2012.
In 2016, the Disney Wonder cruise ship debuted Tiana’s Place, a full-service restaurant, where guests dine inside Tiana’s “dream come true” from the end of the film and Tiana herself serenades them with music. In 2019, the ship expanded the movie’s presence with an accompanying New Orleans-inspired lounge area.
With “The Princess and the Frog” taking place in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, Tiana has become an integral part of the annual celebration on both coasts, whether in New Orleans Square at Disneyland or Disney’s Port Orleans Resort at Walt Disney World.
Tiana’s Bayou Adventure
This brings us to “Tiana’s Bayou Adventure,” the reimagining of Splash Mountain set to open in late 2024 in California and Florida. First announced in 2020, the ride’s story will take place after the events of “The Princess and the Frog.” Tiana invites guests to come along as she searches for a missing ingredient for a Mardi Gras party. The queue will immerse riders into the backstory of Tiana’s Foods, the princess/entrepreneur’s business that operates out of a former salt mine.
Charita Carter, the Imagineer who previously led the creation of “Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway,” is the senior creative producer for “Tiana’s Bayou Adventure.” The ride will feature original music, new characters, and the movie’s original voice cast reprising their roles from the movie, incluiding Anika Noni Rose as Tiana, Bruno Campos as Naveen, Michael-Leon Wooley as Louis, and Jenifer Lewis as Mama Odie. We got to check out the scale model of the reimagined exterior at D23 Expo 2022.
At Disneyland, the ride’s story extends into nearby New Orleans Square. In 2022, Eudora’s Chic Boutique opened (inspired by Tiana’s mother), and later this year, it will be joined later by Tiana’s Palace, a new quick-service location replacing the former French Market.
Since the release of her film in 2009, Tiana has added excitement to Disney theme parks and Disney Cruise Line. Her legacy continues with an E-ticket attraction all her own, and we look forward to continuing covering her story right here.