On the Chopping Block: Classic Disney World Ride from 1971 Now Under “Sensitivity” Review

in Walt Disney World

A busy street filled with people walking and sitting, surrounded by buildings with colorful decorations. The area has a festive atmosphere, with trees lining the street and small flags flying atop the buildings. The sky is overcast.

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When Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort opened its gates on October 1, 1971, it brought to life a realm of fantasy and wonder that promised a timeless escape from the mundane.

From the very beginning, the Disney World park was a tapestry of meticulously crafted attractions, each designed to capture the imagination of its visitors. Many of these opening day attractions have endured through the decades, becoming cherished pieces of Disney history. Yet, some have been retired or reimagined to align with contemporary sensibilities and technological advancements.

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Among the original attractions that have withstood the test of time are The Haunted Mansion, “it’s a small world”, and Jungle Cruise. Each of these rides has carved out a special place in the hearts of Disney enthusiasts.

The Haunted Mansion remains a perennial favorite with its spooky charm and intricate storytelling, while “it’s a small world” continues to enchant guests with its message of global unity and harmony, conveyed through its catchy tune and diverse animatronic dolls.

However, not all attractions from the park’s inception have been so fortunate. For instance, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage closed in 1994 at Walt Disney World, making way for the Magic Kingdom’s original version of Ariel’s Grotto. Similarly, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was replaced by The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in 1999.

Winnie the Pooh covered in honey on The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh at Magic Kingdom
Credit: Disney

These changes, while sometimes met with initial resistance from purists, have often ushered in new favorites that captivate a new generation of parkgoers.

While Splash Mountain was not part of the original lineup, its closure has sparked significant attention from Disney World guests. The attraction, which opened in 1992, was based on the controversial film Song of the South (1946). It has been permanently closed to make way for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, inspired by The Princess and the Frog (2009), which is set to open on June 28, 2024.

At the heart of this ongoing dialogue is Peter Pan’s Flight, an opening-day attraction that has captivated visitors for over five decades. The ride invites guests to board a magical pirate ship and soar over London’s rooftops into the starry skies of Neverland. Inspired by J.M. Barrie’s classic tale and Disney’s 1953 animated film Peter Pan, the attraction embodies the essence of childhood wonder and adventure.

Lines outside Peter Pan's Flight attraction line cutting at Watl Disney World Resort
Credit: Inside the Magic

Yet, Peter Pan’s Flight is not without its controversies. Critics have pointed out its portrayal of Native Americans, based on the 1953 film, as outdated and culturally insensitive. This critique is part of a broader reassessment of historical media and Disney World park attractions, where the representation of cultural and ethnic groups is scrutinized and re-evaluated.

The conversation around Peter Pan’s Flight is reflective of a larger movement within Disney and beyond. Other classics like The Jungle Book (1967) and Dumbo (1941) have also faced criticism for their depictions of race and culture. This reassessment has sparked a vigorous debate among Disney park fans, with opinions divided on how to balance historical integrity with modern sensibilities.

Recently, this debate has been reignited by Walt Disney Imagineering’s filing of a permit to “install set elements” in Peter Pan’s Flight. While the permit details are sparse, the mere hint of changes has stirred the Disney community.

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Credit: Disney

Supporters of the ride’s revision see it as an opportunity to address and rectify its problematic elements, making the attraction “more inclusive and respectful of all cultures.”

Conversely, traditionalists argue that Peter Pan’s Flight is a beloved classic that should remain untouched. They contend that altering the ride would erase a piece of Disney’s history and deprive future generations of the full spectrum of the company’s artistic legacy. This perspective emphasizes preserving the ride as a product of its time, a testament to the storytelling and artistic styles of the early 1950s.

Fan reactions have been passionate and varied. One user, Tatty, expressed their frustration: “It is becoming ridiculous satisfying the few complaints and killing the forever loved storylines and rides. Not once in my 55+ years have I ever seen such division in our society. Ruining a family park to what make those whom are different more comfortable and making the other, I guess 75% uncomfortable.”

Peter, John, and Wendy animatronics on Peter Pan's Flight at Disneyland
Credit: Disney

This sentiment highlights the tension between maintaining tradition and evolving with societal changes.

Another fan, Zilma, offered a more nuanced view: “I can understand both arguments. We should try to be a little more careful at how we depict things that had/are occurring. But, at the same time, changing everything can be destructive. The racism, sexism, etc., might get worse if we don’t teach kids about the truth of the past. And trying to sugarcoat everything isn’t a great thing. So, changing a ride that might have some racist depictions is a bad thing. I was taught about racism. If we try to change everything (as you have correctly stated) then kids won’t learn the truth and have a lot of problems in the future.”

The potential changes to Peter Pan’s Flight come at a time when Disney is increasingly mindful of its role as a cultural institution, and in many cases, the company has taken stances that have drawn the ire of fans.

The original Disney Peter Pan
Credit: Disney

Beyond the debate, the enduring appeal of Peter Pan’s Flight is undeniable. The ride continues to draw long lines, with guests of all ages eager to experience its magic. Its design, while charmingly nostalgic, also means that it has a lower throughput compared to many newer attractions, resulting in extended wait times. This popularity is a testament to the ride’s ability to capture the imagination and transport guests to a world of endless possibilities.

The future of Peter Pan’s Flight will undoubtedly be a topic of keen interest for Disney fans worldwide. Whatever changes may come, the ride’s legacy as a symbol of childhood wonder and adventure will endure, and it will be interesting to see how Walt Disney World Resort handles growing pressure on both sides moving forward.

What do you think of these takes on Peter Pan’s Flight? Let Inside the Magic know in the comments below!

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