Disney's Decision to Stop Shooting Hippos Draws Fire From Pro-Gun Lobby

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

(CNSNews.com) - The Disney Corporation's decision to end the 46-year-old practice of having its wisecracking boat pilots fire blanks at fake hippos during the "Jungle Cruise" ride at its theme parks is sparking mixed reactions from activists on both the right and the left.

Disney claims its decision to stop the boat pilots from firing blanks at fiberglass hippos was completely apolitical. Disneyland Spokesman Ray Gomez indicated the Anaheim theme park decided to end the practice because customers don't find it believable, not because of any political considerations. Disney theme parks in Florida stopped the hippo shooting stunt in 1998 when the Animal Kingdom theme park opened, and Anaheim's Disneyland is now following suit.

"You have a lot of people on both sides of the issue ranging from the NRA to PETA who are trying to turn this into a political issue, and that is absolutely not the case," Gomez asserted. "They are using it as a red herring to further their own political agendas, and it was a decision on our part to evolve the show as we have done with every single show here at Disneyland over the last 46 years."

He said theme park customers have become more sophisticated than they were in the 1950s and no longer find someone shooting blanks at a plastic hippo convincing. Gomez went on to assert that Disneyland has continually changed since Walt Disney first opened it in 1955, and this decision was just a part of the park's natural evolution.

"Since we took those guns out in March, six months ago, we have easily had six to eight million people come through the park in those six months," he said, adding that Disneyland has only received ten complaints about the removal of the guns during that period.

"In reality, nobody has even noticed [that the guns are gone]," he asserted.

Disney's decision has noticeably pleased animal rights advocates who feel the decision was "a step in the right direction."

"Even though this is a situation with a fake hippo and fake guns, we still think it kind of conveys the message that hippos are animals to be feared, shot at, and attacked," said PETA Spokeswoman Debbie Leahy. "This is not a compassionate message for children."

She considers the manner in which the hippos come out of the water, attack and frighten people, fundamentally wrong.

"Why portray the hippopotamus in a negative light?" Leahy asked. "This is obviously for the thrill of it, [and] why not have something more humane in there?"

Leahy suggested redesigning the "Jungle Cruise" ride so that the tourist would help to rescue a hippo, instead of being scared by it or shooting it.

Disney's claim, that its decision to end the practice of shooting the hippos during "The Jungle Cruise" ride was apolitical, fails to convince gun rights activists.

Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said Disney's insistence that no political factors were included in the decision is preposterous.

"That is false on its face, and they are as politically correct as anything," Pratt said. "If it were true that people were not interested in shooting plastic hippos, then all the video games where shooting was involved would not sell."

Alan Gottleib, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation shares Pratt's opinion.

"This whole thing is lunacy," he said. "For Disney to take a position like this really shows their bias against legitimate gun ownership and legitimate gun use.

"You have got the pilot of the boat shooting a hippo to defend the people on the boat. That is a good use of a firearm, not a bad use of a firearm," Gottleib said. "[For them] to try to please the anti-gun crowd with this act of political correctness quite frankly is a bit hypocritical considering the fact that Disney makes a lot of money off movies that they syndicate [and] have a lot of sex and violence in them."

Gottleib and Pratt also are disturbed by Disneyland's earlier decision to end the sale of toy muskets on Tom Sawyer Island in Frontierland.

"Quite frankly, as a stockholder, I am kind of alarmed by it," Gottleib said "I think what we see hear is liberal elitism that doesn't see guns are good or valid, and they want to project their views and their values on America.

"Disney's doing this sticks in my throat, and I am going to have a hard time going back and visiting the park," Gottleib said. "I think that they are going to alienate a lot of gun owners, and I think that they are going to see their attendance continue to go down."

Like Gottleib, Pratt believes Disney's actions will only serve to alienate American gun owners.

"I think that many gun owners are going to withdraw their patronage from Disney," Pratt said. "They seem to have a marketing strategy designed to cause important customer bases to turn their back on Disney.

"They have told the traditional family that they are not welcome, and that only homosexuals need really apply, and now they are telling gun owners the same thing, that [is] you are really not welcome here," he asserted.

Pratt said he is confident gun owners will drive Disney's fortunes "into the ground."