Song of the South (1946)

song of the south poster 1946 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Creative and visual, James Baskett

Rightfully problematic though problems can evoke discourse and discussion

Movie Info

Movie Name: Song of the South

Studio: Walt Disney Productions

Genre(s): Family/Animated/Musical

Release Date(s):  November 12, 1946 (Premiere)/November 20, 1946 (US)

MPAA Rating: G

song of the south james baskett brer rabbit uncle remus

Br’er Rabbit…do you think we should be banned? It is a tough question

Johnny (Bobby Driscoll) finds himself and his mother (Mary Field) living at his grandmother’s plantation as his father (Olivier Urbain) struggles with controversy in Atlanta as the editor of a paper.  Alone, Johnny befriends a girl named Ginny Favers (Luana Patten) and a former slave named Uncle Remus (James Baskett) who Johnny grew up hearing about from his father.  With tales of Br’er Fox and his encounters with Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear, Johnny tries to adjust to his new life…but when Johnny gets in conflict with Jenny’s brother Joe and Jake (Gene Holland and Georgie Nokes) over a dog, tragedy follows.

Directed by Harve Foster and Wilfred Jackson, Song of the South is a family musical drama.  The film is an adaptation of the stories collected by Joel Chandler Harris in 1881.  The film received an honorary Academy Award for James Baskett and for Best Original Song (“Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah”) and a nomination for Best Music—Scoring of a Musical Picture.  Released in 1946, the movie became controversial as social perceptions changed and its portrayal of discrimination in the South was reexamined in society.

song of the south james baskett uncle remus zip a dee doo dah

Hey…Mr. Bluebird is on my shoulder…It’s the truth, it’s actual

I was the last generation that really got to see Song of the South.  It was a typical Disney childhood type movie and “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” was commonly heard next to other Disney classic songs.  While as a kid, I didn’t understand the social context of Song of the South, I probably ended up taking the good aspects of the story…which I believe is possible.

Many assume that Uncle Remus is a slave in modern context.  Though he didn’t have the rights of everyone, the story takes place during Reconstruction and he is technically a free man.  That being said, freedom at the time was not really freedom.  He still is forced to follow the rules created by others but what comes through (and came through for me as a kid) was that Johnny and Ginny had love for Uncle Remus.  I didn’t see it as a color issue so much as a he was a nice old man who told fun stories.  Would Remus be the same man if he hadn’t been subjected to slavery for years and still play the jolly slavery stereotype?  Doubtful…his choice was ripped from him.  I don’t think the movie portrays a completely happy world, Remus still kowtows to the white landowners, and I’ll admit that younger viewers probably won’t get the context…and the negative perception could enforce and instill stereotypes in younger children.

song of the south tar baby brer rabbit

While the lesson of the Tar Baby stands (messing with things you shouldn’t mess with gets you more tangled in it), the imagery is problematic

James Baskett provides a great role in Uncle Remus, and it is sad that it doesn’t get seen as a result of the controversy.  There is a subtext in his performance that doesn’t seem to just fall under stereotype.  Sequences near the end of the film give some perception that Remus gets that he hoped things would be different post-slavery, but it was largely the same and Baskett portrays this in these scenes.  Baskett also provided the voice for Br’er Rabbit for part of the film.  Walt Disney petitioned for Baskett to receive an Oscar, but it was telling of the times that he only received an honorary Academy Award (Bassett died soon after the ceremonies).

Originally intended to be a completely animated film, Song of the South also is quite a strong blend of animation and live action.  While the Br’er Rabbit stories are featured in animated sequences, there are many sequences that have the live action cast interacting with classic Disney animated animals.  This is combined with the forever catchy “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” which has managed to avoid the lockdown that has existed on the movie.

song of the south johnny gored by bull

The bull scarred me for life (especially when I later had to regularly walk through a cow pasture…no bull though)

With versions released in other countries, Song of the South can sometimes be found online in its entirety.  It was interesting to see it almost forty years later to combine what I remembered and took away from the film with what was presented.  While problematic, the film was monumental and battles between Dalton Reymond and Clarence Muse during the making of the film over the portrayal of African-Americans in the movie show that even in 1946, there was some conversation beginning about how portrayals can affect perception…and regardless if you believe the movie should be released or not, a positive aspect of the film is that conversations are still ongoing and often encouraging in the realization that some things still should be discussed and debated.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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