Grammy award-winning R&B songwriter, producer and New Orleans’ own PJ Morton has been announced as Disney Imagineering’s musical collaborator for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure.
io9 attended the in-the-field research trip hosted by Disney Parks with Disney Imagineering and Walt Disney Animation Studios in New Orleans, Louisiana to dig a little deeper into what goes into making an attraction inspired by The Princess and the Frog. In order to homage Disney’s First Black and American Princess, Imagineering creatives went back to the city that started it all like their Disney Animation counterparts did for the film. During a presentation at the historic Jazz music Preservation Hall in the heart of the French Quarter, the team behind the attraction announced that for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will feature new original music in collaboration with PJ Morton. Actors Anika Noni Rose (Princess Tiana), Jennifer Lewis (Mama Odie), Bruno Campos (Prince Naveen), Michael Leon Wooley (Louis), are all set to reprise their roles in content made for the new attraction.
“For me personally, it’s a dream come true. First of all, Disney is an institution and it’s always been so closely connected to the music—it’s always so intentional.” Morton shared with attending press during the announcement, citing watching Mary Poppins in class as a touchstone on his path that led him to work on Tiana’s Bayou. “Hearing those [Sherman Brothers] songs, it connected to me. It hit me deeply, and continued to. [From] me and my sister harmonizing with The Little Mermaid and making our own versions to me now, actually being able to create some original music for Disney is just really a full circle moment. I get to be me and represent New Orleans. I don’t think you get New Orleans and get the movement and the rhythm of New Orlean without the music. You don’t get the history of New Orleans without jazz fest and what that brings in—all the talent. And we have it on the street. I mean, you can find it at any moment, at any time, any age.”
Imagineering Executive Creative Director Ted Robledo, in conversation with Morton, really emphasized the importance of giving Tiana a new story with an exclusive song for the attraction—but don’t worry Princess and the Frog fans, some familiar songs from the film will also be featured. “It was time for our next chapter story. I think that the people who love Princess Tiana, the fans, I think they deserve more of what was captured in Princess in the Frog. And I think that’s why we brought folks on like PJ to help us deliver more of whats already great.” he shared. To really understand what that meant, I think it was so important to actually be in New Orleans for this jazz club chat. Growing up going to Disneyland, having my favorite land be New Orleans Square (home of my fave ride The Haunted Mansion) I simply had no idea of what to expect. The real New Orleans is the most alive city I’ve ever visited, it inhales the scent of food and exhales the sound of music in a way that no other place does.
Robledo elaborated on the importance of authentically representing New Orleans. “Research is what we do. And for those of us lucky to be here with PJ, we wanted to share that experience of research with you, just to just to give you as much of that feeling that we had. Being so impressed by what this city has, what’s part of its history, just how much a part of it is music and how it’s revered here in such a way. You know some places are oil towns, some places are movie towns, this is music and yeah, food.”
Morton explained how it’s full circle to bring New Orleans back to the parks, “We know as New Orleanians how many times people tell us how New Orleans is supposed to be presented. And we’ve seen movies and things where it’s like, ‘Okay that’s not necessarily my home, but I see what piece of New Orleans that is.’ But these guys were being so intentional about making sure that the story is told in an authentic way and that the music is done in an authentic way. Everybody who bring it along to be a part of this is just very authentic to New Orleans and very real. You know, not trying to make a caricature of New Orleans is really is but being our city.” he explained. The Music the lifeblood of the fabric of cultures that weave a history through art that’s first nature for a whole place. It’s adorable and quaint to think New Orleans Square holds a candle. Sure, it’s a love letter that speaks to how the city which fills the air with music on every street corner impacted Walt Disney, no doubt an inspiration he brought back from his visits in the 1950’s for the constant atmospheric music loops and live performers at Disneyland.
Robledo and his team went back to the roots, “When you look around it starts here and it goes around the world. The research it’s very important to us because we want to be as authentic as possible. We want to give people the feeling that we’re feeling.” It’s the real deal. Oh, you’ll fall in love and it’s people know it.
“Music was literally everywhere a part of my life but I think New Orleans is that is one of the only places where you’ll find fourth generation musicians. I’m saying it’s a lineage and that’s all I’ve ever known. It’s omnipresent. So whatever you do here, music is the underbed. You know, it’s always there. And I didn’t fully appreciate that until I left home and noticed ‘Oh wait, there’s not music everywhere I go. And there’s not music a part of everything I’m doing?’ Wow that’s unique to my home.” Morton shared of leaving his hometown to pursue his career, “I’m born and raised in New Orleans, I also represent something else. We talk about our past a lot, but sometimes we stay there in New Orleans and we only talk about that past. But there’s also so much happening with this new generation of New Orleanian musicians who respect that and love that, but also bring it forward. And I think that’s what this this whole thing is about, you know, is carrying that torch.”
The original song written, arranged and produced by Morton, continues the Disney Parks tradition of attractions with their own theme song—think X Atencio’s “Grim Grinning Ghosts” for the Haunted Mansion or the Sherman Brothers’ “It’s a Small World”. Robledo continued, “There’s a long legacy of music as part of our attractions. For me as a fan as kid, it’s like that was as much of the experience of going to Disneyland—those songs: “It’s a small world”, “A Pirate’s Life for Me”—that theme from the Haunted Mansion. My lola [Filipino for Grandmother], her favorite attraction was the Country Bears Jamboree—a bunch of bears playing Ho-Down music. She loved it. And I realized later in life that it’s as much the experience of what we do and what we deliver as imagineers. The Sherman brothers wrote some of my favorite songs, both for Disney films and Disney parks.”
Morton, music arranger Terrence Blanchard, and the band of New Orleans musicians enlisted to bring new music to life for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure were ready to represent her as their own and continue her legacy. “Because the story’s been told through both the [Randy Newman] songs and the music I just felt a big responsibility. I just wanted to make sure that it represented well and that in all humility fit right in with those amazing songs that existed already…” he said of the experience working on the music to explore Tiana’s life as a restauranteur bringing her community together for a big Mardi Gras celebration, that’s the focus of the ride Imagineers are cooking up, “…but the fun part for me was because it doesn’t exist I had to imagine Tiana now and what she’s doing, what she’s running and how you know, how her dreams are coming true and what you know, what’s going on. That’s the kid part of me, which I look up to all of you guys [the Imagineers], because you get to be grown kids all your life, you know, coming up with stories. I don’t want to grow up.”
As long as Tiana is a part of the Disney Princess legacy, we don’t either.
Throughout 2023 and into 2024, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will be under construction as it’s new story will be homed in the bi-coastal log flume attraction formerly known as Splash Mountain, with a 2024 opening date set for Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Disneyland sometime after.
Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.
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