Jun 1, 2023 - News

Disney hires New Orleans musician PJ Morton for new Tiana ride

Photo shows PJ Morton singing into a microphone and playing a piano. He wears a pinstripe jacket, glasses, gold watch and a red beanie.

PJ Morton performs onstage during MusiCares Persons of the Year on February 3, 2023. Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Disney has hired New Orleans native and musician extraordinaire PJ Morton to compose an original theme song for the new Princess Tiana ride that is being billed as a "love letter to New Orleans."

Why it matters: Disney is retheming the popular "Splash Mountain" rides in Disney World and Disneyland and converting them to "Tiana's Bayou Adventure," which will feature the company's first Black princess from 2009's "The Princess and the Frog."

  • This will be the second ride with New Orleans flair. Haunted Mansion, which is at both parks, is based on a New Orleans home.
  • Bayou Adventure is set to open at Disney World toward the end of 2024.

Zoom in: Executives said the goal is for Morton's song to be as iconic and catchy as the "It's a Small World" theme song. No details were released for the tune.

  • New Orleans native Terence Blanchard, who is the trumpeter behind Louis the gator's music, will also be back.
  • The main voice actors from the movie will return for the ride, too.

Driving the news: Disney executives and imagineers made the music announcement in New Orleans during a multiday media tour last moth of the places Disney used to help conceptualize the story for the new ride. Stops included:

  • Dooky Chase's restaurant.
  • Preservation Hall.
  • Cajun Encounters swamp tour in St. Tammany.
  • YAYA Arts Center.
  • Historic New Orleans Collection.
  • New Orleans Jazz Museum.
  • Mardi Gras World.
Image is a rendering of what the ride could look like. Tiana and Naveen are in a boat in the water. She holds a lantern. Louis the gator smiles and swims next to them. Fireflies light up the swamp.
Tiana's Bayou Adventure will be a log-flume ride with Tiana and her animal friends. Image: Courtesy of Disney

What they're saying: "Authentic" was a common drumbeat, with the Disney staffers saying they wanted New Orleanians to recognize their community in the attraction.

  • "Although Princess Tiana is a character in a story, the place and culture she comes from are real," said Carmen Smith, a senior vice president at Walt Disney Imagineering. "We want people from New Orleans to say, 'Wow, they did their homework.' We want everyone else to book a flight."

Flashback: Disney has a long history with New Orleans. The story goes that Walt Disney was driving through the city with his family and fell in love with the people, food, music and culture.

  • He took that experience and translated it into New Orleans Square in Disneyland.
  • The inspiration for Disney's popular animatronic creations came from New Orleans, says Jason Recher, a vice president at Disney Parks. Walt, as the cast members call him, found a mechanical bird during one trip, bought it and gave it to his crew to figure out how it worked.
  • There was talk that Disney even looked at opening Disney World in New Orleans before deciding on Orlando, where it opened in 1971.

Between the lines: For "The Princess and the Frog," Disney teams took three research trips to New Orleans.

  • For the new ride, the imagineers have had at least half a dozen research trips, studying everything from the role of women in New Orleans in the 1920s to the flora and fauna in the bayou.

What's next: Look for New Orleans connections in two upcoming Disney projects:

  • Disney+, the company's streaming platform, is working on a new series about Princess Tiana.
  • "The Haunted Mansion," which was largely filmed in New Orleans, hits theaters this summer.
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