Of all the Disney mountains, Splash Mountain has to be the most story-centric. It’s populated with a cast of hundreds, it has dozens of show scenes, it builds to a thrilling climax. By contrast, the Matterhorn has a single hairy guy and a lot of ice caverns.
Splash is more than just a thrill gimmick. In terms of execution, it’s up there with the great story rides like Mansion, Pirates, Indiana Jones Adventure, or the great Future World omnimovers. But it also has something special going for it. It’s one of the rare rides that actually plays tricks on your sense of time.
Now of course rides like Spaceship Earth or World of Motion tell a story that spans centuries. Each scene is a small vignette from a snapshot in history, all threaded together by a common theme (communications, transportation, etc.). And certainly the linear storylines of the Fantasyland dark rides have a start and a finish. But Splash is rare in that the story seems to happen in real-time. We are with Brer Rabbit every step of the way. Yet it is staged as if the journey is hours in the making.
Regardless of whether you ride during the day or at night, Splash Mountain always begins in the daytime. As soon as you zip down that first Slippin’ Falls into the mountain, where the Geese and Frogs are singing “How Do You Do?”, the setting is clearly in the bright, sunlit South. As you progress through the ride, the day slowly changes to afternoon and the shadows grow long. And of course, by the time you reach the base of the big lift hill, lightning is crackling in spite of that yawning opening at the top showing you the real time of day.
When you leave the Mountain for your brief trip downstream into the Briar Patch, you are thrown back into the real world. But just as quickly, you round the bend and are back in the Old South, with Gators and Chickens singing Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah, in front of a brilliant sunset.
The last few scenes in the ride take place at night. In fact, our last glimpse of Brer Rabbit is of him relaxing outside his Briar Patch, under the light of a full moon.
It’s been a short 15 minute journey for us, and we’ve not skipped a beat, but clearly a whole day has passed in story-time. This is quite a change from Mansion or Pirates, in which the whole thing is clearly at night, and thus unfolds in real time without any continuity errors.
Rides like Snow White do switch time frames. It starts in the day (Snow White on the steps of the palace), transitions to night (the haunted forest, chasing the Queen up the Mountain), and then finishes back in the daytime (Snow White waving goodbye). But the experience is more like a compressed version of a movie, rather than a real-time storyline.
Splash feels like a movie without any cuts. Just one long continuous take. I can’t think of any other rides that are able to pull off a transition from day to night in one take (though Millennium Falcon Smuggler’s Run has a super-sneaky variation on this idea). Am I forgetting any?