“It happum on one ah dem Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah Days. Now dat’s the kinda day where you can’t opem yo mouf widout a song jumpin right out of it!”
God bless the internet. If it wasn’t for the internet, I wouldn’t have known that Song of the South Existed. I wouldn’t have known that it’s one of the biggest pieces of tone deaf racism ever committed to film. I wouldn’t have known that Disney has tried to bury it over the last few decades. And I if it wasn’t for the internet, Disney would have succeeded in burying it and I wouldn’t be able to track it down. But God bless the internet, because I just saw Song of the South.
It’s sometime soon after the American Civil War and young boy Johnny (Bobby Driscoll) is travelling with his parents to his grandmother’s Georgia plantation. When he arrives, he realises that it’s not a happy family holiday, but that Johnny and his mother will stay, while his father heads back to Atlanta. Refusing to accept that his family might be falling apart, Johnny sets off that night to run away, back to Atlanta.
When he stumbles across the shack of Uncle Remus (James Baskett), Johnny is immediately drawn into Uncle Remus’ tall tales of Br’er Rabbit, a legendary character of the area, whose stories told by Uncle Remus are just as legendary. Uncle Remus convinces Johnny not to run away, and when he returns to his grandmother’s house, he quickly becomes friends with a little black dude named Toby (Glenn Leedy), and a little white chick named Ginny (Luana Patten). He also makes enemies out of Ginny’s bratty and bullyish older brothers, who share a resemblance to the enemies of Br-er Rabbit in Uncle Remus’, stories, Br’re Fox and Br’er Bear.
A combination of live action and animation, Uncle Remus is the connection between the two. Whenever he tells a story, the live action world morphs into the animated, where Br’ers Rabbit, Fox, Bear, Turtle and more come to life in full Disney style. This is more than 40 years before Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Even 20 years before Mary Poppins and more than a quarter of a century before Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and the blending of real life and animation is still just as impressive and seamless. Say what you will about the content in Song of the South, but on a technical level, it’s nothing short of amazing.
But there is that content. That racist, racist content. Supposedly set after the Civil War and the emancipation of the slaves, the black workers on grandma’s plantation sure do seem to still be living the lives of slaves. Let’s give this move the benefit of the doubt and say that the grandmother character and her now dead husband were benevolent masters who treated their slaves awesomely. Even if that’s the case, they were still slave owners, so what made the people in the 1940s at Disney think this was a good basis for its good guy characters?
I will say this for Song of the South though, its rampant racism does seem unintentional. I truly think the people involved went in with good intentions, sure they were making a positive representation of black people in America at the time. It’s just too bad that they were so oblivious that they ended up with a movie that Disney would try to bury 40 odd years later.