"I think it's awesome, particularly now, to be reinvigorating her story," Anika Noni Rose — who voiced Princess Tiana in the 2009 film — tells PEOPLE

By Brianne Tracy
July 22, 2020 01:00 PM
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Anika Noni Rose
Dia Dipasupil/Getty

Ever since Disney announced on June 25 that the Splash Mountain ride at its U.S. theme parks will be reimagined with a Princess and the Frog theme, Anika Noni Rose — who voiced Princess Tiana, Disney's first Black princess, in the 2009 film — has been getting messages online from fans every day.

"It's thrilling," the Tony winner, 47, says in this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday. "People are amped and ready. I think it's awesome, particularly now, to be reinvigorating her story."

The announcement of Splash Mountain's update at Disneyland in California and the Magic Kingdom in Florida came weeks after several petitions began garnering attention on the site Change.org urging for the theme of the log-flume ride to be changed. It is currently based on the 1946 Disney film Song of the South, which has long been criticized for its problematic portrayal of the post-Civil War South and for employing racist stereotypes.

But the change has actually been in the works for a while at Disney.

Rendering of the reimagined ride
Disney

According to a press release previously shared with PEOPLE, the Princess and the Frog theme is “a project Imagineers have been working on since last year.” The ride’s storyline will pick up “after the final kiss, and join Princess Tiana and [the film’s trumpet-playing alligator] Louis on a musical adventure — featuring some of the powerful music from the film — as they prepare for their first-ever Mardi Gras performance.”

"The retheming of Splash Mountain is of particular importance today,” the release explained. “The new concept is inclusive — one that all of our guests can connect with and be inspired by, and it speaks to the diversity of the millions of people who visit our parks each year.”

Princess Tiana in The Princess and the Frog
Everett

As to what element from the Princess and the Frog she thinks is most important to incorporate into the new ride, Rose says, "Great music!"

"I know that the ride is going to continue into a Mardi Gras party," she says. "Anytime you talk about Mardi Gras, the music has to be fantastic. I’m hoping Louis will get to play and make us laugh. It should be a little thrilling, but it also should be just a whole lot of fun."

In addition to getting messages from fans about how excited they are for the ride, Rose has also been getting messages from people asking, "Now, where's the [Princess and the Frog] restaurant?"

"People keep asking me like I'm in charge of making the restaurant [at Disney]," Rose says with a laugh. "I'm like, 'One thing at a time!' But people are excited. That makes me feel good because it's been 11 years since the movie came out. For people to still have a great, excited, motivated love for Princess Tiana and for the movie is really wonderful."

Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland

Once the ride is complete, Rose says she's right there with the fans about wanting to see a real-life incarnation of the film's Tiana's Palace restaurant realized.

"I've been looking forward to a Tiana's Palace for years," she says. "I agree with the fans that it would be great. I have dreams of them partnering with [New Orleans'] Café du Monde on some real deal beignets, having some fantastic shrimp and grits and king cake during Mardi Gras season. And the occasional second line through the joint ... Basically all the things I love!"

Though she doesn't know quite yet what her role will be in the ride, Rose thinks it is a "glorious thing not just for the legacy of the film, but also for the fans."

"They have been wanting something like this for so long," she says. "So it's really exciting."

RELATED VIDEO: Anika Noni Rose Wants to Help Children Find Their Love of Books Like She Had as a Child

In the meantime, Roses's fans can check out her weekly series, Bedtime Stories For The Littles, which she started as a way to give back to families amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The series appears on her IGTV every Sunday at 7:30 p.m. ET.

"I love children's books, and I thought, 'We're all going through so much,'" Rose says. "There's so much stress in little kids. They may not know exactly what's going on, but they feel everything. They feel their parents' distress, and they feel the energy in the air. I was like, 'How can I assist in giving them something soft, something that's a relief, something to look forward to at the end of the week and also give the parents a little bit of a break?' I thought, 'Well, my family members who are babies and my god-babies, they love for me to read them bedtime stories.'"

Thus, the idea for Bedtime Stories For The Littles was born.

"It was just another way I hoped to be able to give something," Rose says. "People have enjoyed it, and it makes me really happy to see the comments and that people come back weekly to watch and to listen. I think that it's very important to push and inspire literacy in children and to make them excited about reading."

For more from Anika Noni Rose on Princess Tiana's legacy, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.