1946 / Director. Wilfred jackson. Harve Foster.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
SONG OF THE SOUTH is the film that Disney doesn't want us to see. Due to its depiction of American slavery in the mid 1800s the film has been an ongoing pain in the ass for Disney since its pre production in the early 1940s. Even then it was met with fierce criticism and the backlash plagued it right up until 1991 when the Disney corp decided to shelve it for good. Based on the classic character Uncle Remus, an African-American slave who entertained his fellow workers with stories of folklore, the film takes place on a Georgian plantation where a little white boy latches on to Uncle Remus and tentatively listens to the stories told. Animated characters such as Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear fill the screen with gorgeous artistry as they sing, dance and interact with live-action characters. The animation is wonderful and the music is as classic as Disney gets. Almost the entire film is filled with infectious songs (Academy award winning), none more influential than Zip-a-dee-Do-Dah and it's impossible to not be swept up by it all... and there lies the controversy. It would be wrong to label SONG OF THE SOUTH as "racist" but there is no question that it is insensitive, although not intentionally. In fact I believe that for its time the true intent was sincere. The slavery as depicted in the film shows the African-Americans as merry, jovial and content with their social position. They tend to their white masters willingly and seem truly happy with their place in the pecking order. I sense that Disney were attempting to present the black & white relations as harmonious and peaceful and their objective was unity. Keeping in mind that this was during the 1940s it can be perceived as progressive.... of course with hindsight it was clearly naive and misguided. Disney now openly declare SONG OF THE SOUTH to be offensive and have been hesitant to re-release it. Some within the company want it released generally while others believe it should be released for preservation sake... some would prefer it released to educational institutes and then there are those who believe that it's best kept in the vault. It's such a shame too because the film is delightful. Its artistry and musical significance deserves to be preserved and mature audiences deserve to have access to it. There are bootleg copies available easily enough, as well as official VHS & laserdisc copies from the 80s, but a proper future release is unlikely. If you have the means then I highly recommend it. I think we've come far enough to look beyond the controversy.