Song of the South
November 8, 2002 6:50 AM   Subscribe

Song of the South has been withheld by Disney since 1986. Based on Joel Chandler Harris' Uncle Remus tales, it depicts Reconstruction-era Georgia through Disney-tinted glasses. It won an Oscar for its song "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah," but will we ever see this classic again?
posted by Frank Grimes (45 comments total)

 
Song of the South is surreptiously available for sale here.
posted by Frank Grimes at 6:53 AM on November 8, 2002


Wow. I saw this one as a weeeee tot... It's a fond memory.
posted by Shane at 7:14 AM on November 8, 2002


It's periodically posted in the Usenet binary newsgroups, as well. Try asking in alt.binaries.vcd or alt.binaries.multimedia.disney. Anyway, it's strange that Disney would base an entire Disneyland ride (Splash Mountain) on a movie that nobody under 20 has seen.
posted by waxpancake at 7:16 AM on November 8, 2002


I hear that it's going to be released in a DVD box set with "Birth of a Nation" and the Best of "Amos N' Andy."
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:24 AM on November 8, 2002


Disney actually has done this on quite a few pieces they've created over the years. I remember reading an article on wartime propaganda cartoons and the author reported he was threatened with a suit when he just asked about some cartoons that had been made.

As much as I can understand the desire to control company image, I see this as another very strong downside of the current legal ip environment.
posted by rudyfink at 7:26 AM on November 8, 2002


Disney actually has done this on quite a few pieces they've created over the years.

It's Disney's habit to keep long video moritoriums on non-controversial animation as well. So even if if they did release it, most of the time the title would still be unavailable.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 7:30 AM on November 8, 2002


That's right, Mayor, because those films contain images and depict attitudes that will most likely offend someone somewhere, they should never be seen again. Hiding Song of the South away, or keeping that pernicious Huckleberry Finn out of the hands of impressionable high schoolers, is the best way to ensure that no one's sensibilities will ever be offended by potentially having to confront the past.
posted by JollyWanker at 7:35 AM on November 8, 2002


This is the first movie that I have any memory of seeing. I was probably six years old at the time. This might explain much.
posted by trust_no_one at 7:53 AM on November 8, 2002


Disney has also "buried" some of their old cartoons. For example, there's a WWII-era Donald Duck short in which Donald dreams he is in Germany. He's wearing a Nazi uniform, shouting "Heil" over and over as he works on an assembly line. Then he wakes up and hugs an American flag.
posted by Reggie452 at 7:59 AM on November 8, 2002


What's wrong with black people talking to animals? They's magical.
posted by four panels at 8:01 AM on November 8, 2002


Song of the South is surreptiously available for free.
posted by DailyBread at 8:03 AM on November 8, 2002


It was on the telly again not so long ago.
posted by digiboy at 8:04 AM on November 8, 2002


JollyWanker, you're assuming a lot based on my one sentence. I love that movie because it's ludicrous-- Uncle Remus must have had a lobotomy to be such a happy slave, and any boy who wore that frilly collar in the antebellum South would have lynched immediately.

Don't put words in my mouth, please. Try to be more Jolly and less Wanker.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:05 AM on November 8, 2002


"have been lynched." Last post in the thread, I swear.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:09 AM on November 8, 2002


This whole "never see the light of day?" stuff? It's bullshit. No, you can't go to the Disney Store or Blockbuster and grab a copy of it, but if you really want a copy of the movie you can go out and get it. (Among other places, you can get it at places specializing in "banned" videos or clips of it in compilation videos about the very subject of controversial animation. Or, like my animation professors at NYU did, you can just write to Disney and privately ask about buying a copy of the film for personal research.)

The honest truth is that the "demand" for this movie was largely perpetuated by political conservatives who use it as an example of how "the PC crowd has run amok." Go to any message board after the latest story about how some video was censored or something and you'll get half the people suddenly demanding that they get a copy of Song of the South. It never ceases to amaze me how conservative pundits suddenly become the biggest opponents of censorship the moment anything is censored because it's blatantly racist.

Disney and Warner Bros. do not refute that films like "Song of the South," "Der Fuhrer's Face," "Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips" and "Coal Black" exist, they just don't show or sell them because they're more than aware that it will offend people. The idea that they (gasp) might want to be construed as a family-friendly organization might have come to their minds.

Last year, for example, Cartoon Network came up with the admittedly moronic idea that they should stop showing Speedy Gonzales cartoons because it might offend Hispanics. They got back on, almost immediately, after a stint of editorials promoting Speedy in Hispanic Magazines. Groups will choose what they find offensive, not the people who deem it randomly.

The difference, to use JollyWanker's reference, between this and literature, is that in my particular case I was given Huck Finn as a reading assignment in high school- well into a level of maturity in which I can understand that Mark Twain was writing with the voice of a character, not with a racist mindset. (Wow. Mark Twain, the country's first Eminem.) Song of the South, on the other hand, is a cartoon made during an era in which cartoons were made for adults, that have now been streamlined into a genre that is marketed for young children. In other words, Disney isn't a victim of "the PC elites," it's a victim of its own decades-long marketing shift backfiring on them... that is, if you call not selling three or four films out of a multi-billion dollar library backfiring.

Ultimately, it's that marketing perspective. The "banned book" argument is slightly different because this was a case of various groups demanding the removal of something deemed offensive. Disney, on the other hand, is choosing how to regulate its own product- something I hardly could construe as censorship.

I've seen the film, and it might also come down to one final marketing perspective: it's really, really not quite good. Considering all the other great stuff Disney has made, it's weird how simple lack of availability has given popularity to a cartoon that most of the animation professors I've talked to have called one of Disney's worst.

[/psychotic rant]
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:15 AM on November 8, 2002


Anyway, it's strange that Disney would base an entire Disneyland ride (Splash Mountain) on a movie that nobody under 20 has seen.

This is what I was gonna say. They got rid of the classic "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" citing the fact that kids don't know the story of Mr. Toad anymore...but they don't know Brer Rabbit either, and Splash Mountain is all about that. (I've never been on it- it's new since the last time I was at either Disney park.) I just find that odd.
posted by dnash at 8:38 AM on November 8, 2002


I loved this as a child. I still have it on VHS.
posted by Hall at 8:44 AM on November 8, 2002


It never ceases to amaze me how conservative pundits suddenly become the biggest opponents of censorship the moment anything is censored because it's blatantly racist.

Also notice when conservatives talk about gun control, they talk about states' rights. When they talk about legalizing marijuana, they talk about federal law.

One day, you too will be able to find your way through the foggy rhetoric.
posted by four panels at 8:48 AM on November 8, 2002


will we ever see this classic again?

My mother may, this Christmas, if I can figure out how to split the 900 megs of it (well, 500 megs when I got it from KaZaa, 900 after clean-up) split onto two VCDs. It's one of the first movies she ever took me to. While we both have mixed feelings because of the content Mayor Curley mentions, Aunt Mammy-Bammy-Big-Money's diagnosis of "The Mopes" has always been an inside joke between us. It beats the hell out of a robe, anyway.
posted by yerfatma at 8:49 AM on November 8, 2002


Try to be more Jolly and less Wanker.

touché!
posted by gottabefunky at 8:54 AM on November 8, 2002


...will we ever see this classic again?

I'd say odds are in favor since we are just as likely to see the Confederate flag flying over the Georgia capitol again.
posted by oh posey at 9:22 AM on November 8, 2002


The difference is Mr. Toad's Wild Ride was an unpopular ride for little children and their parents (and tourists who have to ride everything) and Splash mountain is an extremely popular, scary log flume ride suitable only for older children. No one rides Splash Mountain for the interior scenes of dancing and singing animals, they ride it for the thrilling finish. As long as people stand in line for a two hour wait, Splash Mountain will continue to exist.

Also note that the other kiddie rides in Fantasyland such as Dumbo, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan are all based on perennially favorite classic Disney cartoon. The Wind in the Willows never became a classic Disney movie favorite.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:28 AM on November 8, 2002


Birth of a Nation available on DVD at Amazon.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:02 AM on November 8, 2002


Amos'n'Andy on DVD.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 11:08 AM on November 8, 2002


Also notice when conservatives talk about gun control, they talk about states' rights. When they talk about legalizing marijuana, they talk about federal law.

Also notice when liberals talk about gun control, they talk about federal law. When they talk about legalizing marijuana, they talk about states rights.

Isn't this a classic case of inserting a political jab into a thread, even though it's about another issue entirely?
posted by Beholder at 11:12 AM on November 8, 2002


Gravy: I thought Mr. Toad's was great. And what are rides like Splash Mountain without the interior scenes? They're like Six Flags. Ie, sort of crappy.
posted by shoos at 11:31 AM on November 8, 2002


The entire film is being posted on alt.binaries.vcd right now as two VCDs, under the name "5ong of the 5outh," probably to avoid being detected by keyword-crawling spiders. The RAR archive is formatted like tmh-sots1.r00.

If anyone has unmetered bandwidth and 700 megs or so of storage space, let me know and you can host it for the rest of the Mefi community.
posted by waxpancake at 11:43 AM on November 8, 2002


Aunt Mammy?
posted by sudama at 12:26 PM on November 8, 2002


Birth of a Nation available on DVD at Amazon . . . Amos'n'Andy on DVD.

I have this strange feeling that wasn't the point.

The entire film is being posted on alt.binaries.vcd right now as two VCDs

Cool. Thanks.
posted by yerfatma at 12:28 PM on November 8, 2002


i saw this when i was little (in the early 70s) and only remember the "zipadeedodah, zipadeeay, my o my what a wonderful day" and reading up on it, i'm glad that's all i remember of it....

snopes has an interesting page about it as well...
posted by amberglow at 12:34 PM on November 8, 2002


Mr. Toads Wild Ride is still in Disneyland.
posted by obfusciatrist at 2:00 PM on November 8, 2002


it can't have been fully banned "all throughout the turbulent civil rights era of the 1960s" since i saw it when i was about 6 or 7 ('67/'68 - in canada tho')... i remember best the song and a glorious sunset scene, awash in vibrant shades of red, orange, purple and pink. i've still got the disney book which must have been published around the same time, but it's buried in my dad's basement along with the rest of my childhood junk, otherwise i'd scan that sunset. it takes up 2 whole pages in the book as i recall.
posted by t r a c y at 2:15 PM on November 8, 2002


Hey, yerfatma, check out VirtualDub if you're looking to edit videos. It's the best tool around.
posted by Loudmax at 2:34 PM on November 8, 2002


I still think it's a pity that kids are missing out on the Brer Rabbit stories, if indeed they are. I never saw the movie, but my Brer Rabbit book (published by Disney) was my favorite as a youngster. Brer Rabbit tales are quite consistent with many "Trickster" type folktales, taken from Africans (tortoise), Native Americans (coyote) or Caribbeans (Anansi the spider). Yes, the tar baby can be seen as racial slur, but it's also an incredibly useful metaphor and a cultural icon with an easily recognizable message that speaks to anyone from anywhere.
posted by pejamo at 3:26 PM on November 8, 2002


I actually have VirtualDub, it's just that I don't play with it too often. I feel like a complete tool at this point as stupid AT+T won't let me go backwards in the newsgroups, or I'm too stupid to do so. (It seems to demand I use Outlook Express, so I'm doubly pleased). No matter: I'll just hack up the file I've got. Thanks to everyone. You saved Christmas.
posted by yerfatma at 3:28 PM on November 8, 2002


OK, so now I am confused.

This is what I was gonna say. They got rid of the classic "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" citing the fact that kids don't know the story of Mr. Toad anymore...but they don't know Brer Rabbit either, and Splash Mountain is all about that. (I've never been on it- it's new since the last time I was at either Disney park.) I just find that odd.
posted by dnash


This is what I was responding to. It's been about 3 years or so since I've been to Disneyland and obfusciatrist's link indicates that the ride is still there. But I do seem to remember something about the ride being replaced. Who's been to Disneyland recently?

And by the way, Shoos, I completely agree with you. The atmosphere and the details is what makes Disneyland so great.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:54 PM on November 8, 2002


I go to Disneyland 15-20 times a year (work related). The ride is still there. It may once have been in Disney World, though. That I wouldn't know.
posted by obfusciatrist at 5:23 PM on November 8, 2002


Just did some searching. Mr Toad was a ride at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, but was removed in 1998 and has since been replaced by a Winnie the Pooh ride (a similar ride is opening at Disneyland in 2003 where Country Bears used to be).
posted by obfusciatrist at 5:25 PM on November 8, 2002


Mark Twain, the country's first Eminem

That's gotta be the most disturbing comment I've ever read on Metafilter. Excuse me while I go take a shower.
posted by rushmc at 5:51 PM on November 8, 2002


Been by the old Chandler Harris Homestead many a time. It's just up the road a piece. Found a petition to bring back the flick. What ya say we put it over the top?!
posted by GT_RULES at 7:17 PM on November 8, 2002


I rented this on Laserdisc years ago from a video store in Nashville. It had a dual soundtrack (English/Cantonese) and Chinese subtitles during the musical sequences.
posted by tpoh.org at 9:17 PM on November 8, 2002


For example, there's a WWII-era Donald Duck short in which Donald dreams he is in Germany.

Der Fuehrer's Face, 1943.

XQUZYPHYR also mentioned Warner Brothers' Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs. He's right: you can usually find a copy of whatever you want if you look around. Good post, though; it's an interesting subject.

The weird thing is that I've heard about Song of the South so much that I can no longer tell if I've actually seen it or not.
posted by tyro urge at 10:11 PM on November 8, 2002


No one rides Splash Mountain for the interior scenes of dancing and singing animals, they ride it for the thrilling finish.

Well, almost no one. I really dig the singing animals (esp. in the laughing place) and I've always enjoyed the characters from Song of the South. The splashdown ending is nice, but I'd probably ride it without. Of course, I usually have to ride it alone because my wife finds it fairly creepy.
posted by ahughey at 2:30 AM on November 9, 2002


Wow. I saw "Song of the South" when I was a little kid, outside at a state park in upstate New York, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I can't remember if I knew if it was controversial or not (I think I did, although maybe that's my later self corrupting the original memory), but I'm still not sure what's so terrible about it (besides, of course, that it's a Disney musical). I mean, when exactly is the movie supposed to be taking place? From my (admittedly hazy) memory of it, it could have been set anywhere from the 1840s to the 1940s. Is there ever a clear indication of Uncle Remus' relationship to the white characters?

Can someone with a copy please helpfully point out the details that indicate that the movie is set in pre-emancipation times? Or do people object more to the general portrayal of black people as happy and fun-loving despite living in rural poverty? I'd really like to know, because at the moment, I don't know how I should feel about whistling "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah".
posted by skoosh at 8:03 AM on November 9, 2002


skoosh, the movie takes place during Reconstruction, not pre-emancipation.

Lest people think that the protests about this movie are a product of the Civil Rights era, it should be noted that the NAACP tried to lead a boycott of the film after its release in 1946.

Steven Watts' book, The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life devotes six pages to the topic of Song of the South and it is pretty interesting from sixty years on.

The movie itself was a technological feat for the seamlessness with which live-action and animated elements were combined and new technologies had to be developed for the movie.

Roughly, the story is that an elderly former slave befriends an unhappy young boy and teaches him (though the various Brer Rabbit stories) how to get along in an imperfect life. The time-frame is important because Uncle Remus is free to leave when the boys mother offends him by calling his stories nonsense. Saddened the boy searches for him and become grievously wounded and only comes out of a coma when Remus returns.

A selection of quotes from 1946:

Richard Dier in the Afro-American:

"as vicious a piece of propaganda for white supremacy as Hollywood has ever produced."

Ann Tanneyhill, National Urban League:

"another repetition...of the stereotype casting of the Negro in the servant role, depicting him as indolent, one who handles the truth lightly."

National Negro Congress flyer:

"creates an impression of Negroes in theminds of their fellow Americans which makes them appear to be second-class citizens, childish in nature, who sing and dance and never shoulder the responsibilities of citizenship in this democracy."

Mainstream press such as Time, New Yorker, and The Los Angeles Times panned its racial portrayals while praising the animation and acting of James Baskett as Uncle Remus.

One protest chant (to the tune of "Jingle Bells" was):

Disney tells, Disney tells
lies about the South.
We've heard those lies before
right out of Bilbo's mouth.

There is no evidence that there was any racist intent behind the making of the movie. Prior to its release Walt Disney spoke at length about wanting to bring the American folklore of his childhood (in rural Missouri) to the screen.

Disney was however, aware of the potential for controversy as much the same debate had occured in-house during the films production.

It also doesn't help that Disney had several incidents over previouis years of racial elements in their animation that strike us today as terrible, though were more in line with popular acceptability at the time.

In Cannibal Capers (1930) the worst stereotypes were used in animating a tribe of African cannibals. In Mellerdrammer (1933) the story of Uncle Tom's Cabin is comedically (?!) retold using full stable of Disney characters, including Mickey Mouse in black face.

Then environment at Disney Studios was certainly one of at least passive racism, with little evidence that it was either better or worse than America as a whole.
posted by obfusciatrist at 9:22 AM on November 9, 2002


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