There are not many blemishes on the filmography of Walt Disney. One, however, must be The Song of the South. Released in 1946, South tells the apparently innocuous story of a small boy (played by Bobby Driscoll) and his playmate who are befriended by an older black slave, Uncle Remus. Uncle Remus regales the youths with fantastic stories of Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and Brer Bear.
The film is live action of Remus and the children, with occasional spots of family life, intercut with animated sequences of Remus’ wonderful stories of “animals gone wild.” And hear is where we have to talk about the problems this film has. There is simply too much live action and too little animation. The live action pieces are plodding and rather bland. And there is something else too, but that’s for later.
The animation is wonderful and may be some of Disney’s finest. Definitely holds its own against other family members. But why so little?
As we’ve come to expect the score and songs are typical Disney and are very good. The most famous song from the film “Zip a Dee Doo Dah” actually won an Academy Award. And Irwin Fletcher reprises the song wonderfully in Fletch Lives (1989).
Well on paper (or on screen) the above doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
On the down side, there is the inherent depiction of slavery- although to my memory never identified as such in the film that is clearly what it is. (Note: Technically since the film is set immediately after the Civil War this wouldn’t be possible.) However, the precise time of the film is never stated, and we are forced to assume the movie’s timeline matches that of the original stories.
And the black characters are simply too happy, for lack of a better word. After a day of hard work in the fields who in their right mind will come back home singing a Disney song? Dialect as well is troublesome here in 2010. It is stereotypical and simply offensive today. Given in 1946 the perceptions were different.
I just finished watching the film for the first time in quite a while and to, be honest I don’t see what all the fuss is about. At this point Disney draws more attention by failing to release the film- which really isn’t all that good. The cast is good with Hattie McDaniel and Disney favorite Bobby Driscoll in the main role. Driscoll however, is much better in Disney’s later Treasure Island (1950). Driscoll’s story ended tragically in 1968 he passed away suffering from abject poverty and drug addiction.
Technically the film has much to draw one, notably the mixing of live action and animation on screen simultaneously.
For the record, I don’t think, as some do, that the film is racist. Just merely very ignorant.
Disney, being the responsible PC corporation they are, has all but disowned the film- at least as a film. More on that later. After its original release in 1946, Song of the South was re-released several times up to and including its final in-theater showings in 1986. Since then nothing.
It’s never been on DVD, which in this day and age is unbelievable. EVERYTHING is on DVD it seems. VHS and Laserdisc versions do exist, but the film has never been released in any format in the United States. And international formats were withdrawn late in 2001. According to www.songofthesouth.net as recently as this year (2010) the CEO of Disney has stated that there are (and we can assume won’t be for some time) any plans for release. The soundtrack too has been withdrawn, although some of the songs can still be gotten on compilation CDs. I actually had the soundtrack as a child.
The odd thing is the dichotomy of the incredibly popular Splash Mountain rides at various Disney parks- and the shirts, photos, towels, and other trinkets Disney markets alongside them. All I know is that Disney will still find a way to make a buck from Song of the South; at least before it goes into the public domain.
Recommendation: Does it matter? It takes some work to find a copy of this film and then most likely converting a PAL format VHS tape to NTSC for viewing in the States. At this point, it has been relegated to a corner as a Disney oddity.
[Note: This isn't the only Disney mistake in the area of the Old South. Visitors to Orlando may recall the Disney Resort "Dixie Landings." Well, that name was dropped as well in their search for political correctness. Now it is Port Orleans Riverside]
Anyway, that’s what Uncle Remus said.