The Princess And The Frog's Jenifer Lewis Says Tiana's Bayou Adventure Is 'Why I Didn't Die In Africa'

 Mama Odie and Tiana in The Princess and the Frog.
Mama Odie and Tiana in The Princess and the Frog.

After nearly four years, The Tiana’s Bayou Adventure attraction is almost here. While an opening date has yet to be officially revealed, the replacement for Splash Mountain is expected to open to the public within the next couple of months at Walt Disney World. It’s possible that nobody is going to be happier than Jenifer Lewis, the voice of Mama Odie. Her experience seeing the Mama Odie animatronic is among the reasons she feels she survived a harrowing accident that almost killed her.

In November 2022 Jenifer Lewis was on vacation in Africa when she took a bad step off a hotel balcony and fell 10 feet into a rocky ravine. She required a nine-hour surgery and spent 10 days in the hospital. Since then, Lewis has been able to entertain again. She recently competed on The Masked Singer, and it was following her recent elimination there that my colleague Mick Joest spoke with Lewis, where he asked her about reprising her role as Mama Odie for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. She said…

When I tell you that they invited me over to the warehouse, the Disney warehouse and I saw my animatronic, Jenifer Lewis's Mama Odie. And when my voice came out of that thing that looked so human. It’s gonna be good. “JuJu, My gumbo’s burning!” I realized why I didn't die in Africa. There were moments, more moments of bliss to live, and seeing Mama Odie's animatronic was… it just blew my mind. I felt like I had breathed the breath of life into another human being. It was so cool and to know that the kids, when they go to Disney World before they go splashing down in that water, they're gonna hear my voice as Mama Odie. “It's gonna be good.” I mean, bliss. B-L-I-S-S. So I'm very excited about that.

It’s one thing for a character to be brought to life on a movie screen, either in live-action or animation, but I’ve spoken to a few actors and creators who have seen their characters come to life in Disney Parks as either costumed characters or attraction animatronics. They really find it special to see these characters in the “real” world, and it's clear that Jenifer Lewis feels the same way. She literally feels seeing Mama Odie as a functioning audio-animatronic was a moment worth living for.

Disney Parks released a video on Instagram showing the experience Lewis mentions here, where she visited Walt Disney Imagineering and got to see the Mama Odie animatronic, speaking with her voice and moving around. The new generation of audio-animatronics for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure are absolutely incredible feats of engineering, and Lewis is clearly blown away by it all here.

The new Disney World attraction will be opening sometime this summer at Magic Kingdom, and a nearly identical version is also upcoming at Disneyland later this year. Considering just how many fans pushed for the transformation of Splash Mountain, there are sure to be lots of kids, and just as many adults who are going to be excited to hear Mama Odie before they take the plunge.