Jun 28, 2006

Song of the South. A Disney film they wish would just go away.

In 1986 my parents took me and my sister to theatre to watch a "Song of the South", a re-released Disney film that was originally made in 1946. For whatever reason the movie was never released again. Most people of my generation have never heard of the movie, but most are familiar with some of it's imagery and music. The song 'Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah' has been heard by most people and the animated characters are featured in the Disney ride Splash Mountain.

"Song of the South" was a favorite of my parents as children and both of them desired to have their kids enjoy the film as well. Both my sister and I liked the movie's mix of animation and live action and found ourselves laughing with it constantly.

I haven't seen the film in twenty years (oh man I'm old), but my brief synopsis will have to suffice. Johnny, played by Bobby Driscoll of Peter Pan fame, plays a boy in post civil war Georgia who is disillusioned by his father's decision to go to Atlanta without the family. He runs away from home to try and meet him there, but encounters Uncle Remus. Uncle Remus tells Johnny a story of Brer Rabbit, who also left home. The film then cuts to animation as Uncle Remus' story is brought to life in technicolor and Johnny learns a life lesson.

The rest of the film follows that same path. Johnny gets into a jam and Uncle Remus tells him a analogy ridden story of Brer Rabbit. Johnny learns something and happiness ensues Disney style. For a more detailed, and probably more accurate overview, click here.

After the 1986 theatrical release Disney vowed to never show the film again fearing the portrayal of African-Americans in the film would offend the delicate sensibilities of people who can't accept that former slaves didn't speak like Harvard intellectuals. Although no official complaint has been filed by the NAACP, rumor has it that many people protested the movie painting a picture of an idyllic slave lifestyle. Most people are unaware that the film takes place after slavery was abolished, even most critics.

Disney is an interesting company in the fact they go to great lengths to avoid any critiques of their previous antiquated work as intolerant. Rather than allow us to view the film and make the choice for ourselves Disney has sealed off any attempt to release this on video or DVD. Yes they're a company founded on family values and I do understand why they don't want to welcome controversy, especially one that makes them seem racist, but the fact that this movie is hardly offensive, at least to me, doesn't make me any less disappointed in their stubbornness. Then again I'm not black so what do I know?

I will not look down upon anyone who is angered by the film's stereotypes. It is indeed flocked with them, just as you might see in the Little Rascals.

If the film is indeed insensitive should we not remember our past ignorance or would it be safer to blindly walk through our lives forgetting the sins of our artistic forefathers? As with the Censored 11 Warner Bros. cartoons most companies would like to sweep such history under the rug. IBM isn't happy about the public knowing it's involvement in the holocaust.

It seems strange to me that I can go and purchase 'Birth of a Nation' and 'Triumph of the Will', but I can't sit down with my yet to be conceived children and enjoy this classic like my parents did with me.

Below is a clip. Am I just way off?

"We believe it's actually an opportunity from a financial perspective to put Song of the South out. I screened it fairly recently because I hadn't seen it since I was a child, and I have to tell you after I watched it, even considering the context that it was made, I had some concerns about it because of what it depicted. And thought it's quite possible that people wouldn't consider it in the context that it was made, and there were some... [long pause] depictions that I mentioned earlier in the film that I think would be bothersome to a lot of people. And so, owing to the sensitivity that exists in our culture, balancing it with the desire to, uh, maybe increase our earnings a bit, but never putting that in front of what we thought were our ethics and our integrity, we made the decision not to re-release it." - Disney CEO Robert Iger

Song of the South.net

1 comment:

Steve said...

This film has been released, just not in the USA. I had to go to Scarecrow Video and rent a copy on Laserdisc and leave a $300.00 deposit. The video has a left and right stereo sound track in Japanese but a 3rd track that is in English.

You will have to suffer listening to the songs while watching Japanese subtitles. To me this was all worth it to add it to my Disney collection. I would buy a legit copy from Disney if they only would make it available to me.

FYI Laserdisks do not have copy protection built into the disk.