Disney Movies: Song of the South

All right, so I was deeply excited for this one purely because of the repulsion everyone seems to carry with it. Not to mention the hush-hush attitude and the fact that Disney oh-so-characteristically pretends it no longer exists. So – shall we begin? Number sept:



Here’s some background: Song of the South was released in 1946 at a time when racism was still fairly prominent. Hell, will it ever STOP being that? Anyway — end rant before it starts — what surprised me the most about this movie was that it was primarily set in live action. The animated parts only took up about 30 minutes total of the 1.30 movie. Apparently, this movie was supposed to be a collection/take on actual slave stories told while they worked on the plantation. There were some pretty well-known people in it as the cast, but that does NOT make up for what is to come. Which is, my friends, the reason why this movie has been so hush-hush and thrown into the gutter.


The consistency of this movie actually wasn’t too bad, though we’ll get to the rest later. Though the first time the movie suddenly changes from live action to animation — literally with the popping of Uncle Remus into another scene of sorts — we are quite surprised. At least I was. But then, as soon as that switches back around, we know what to expect from the rest of the movie. Whenever poor little Johnny gets into trouble of sorts or he ends up in the same scene as Uncle Remus, then we know another animated story is about to come. And we also know to expect the same kind of animated stories. All of them center around Brer Rabbit and his two foes, Bear and Fox. The animated stories actually weren’t all that bad. If the whole movie had just been centered around that, or perhaps all animated, maybe it would have been better. But, they were at least consistent throughout the whole film, while the film itself was fairly consistent, too, in terms of what it showed. Even the “blackness” of the whole film was consistent. And by this appropriation, I mean that the whole movie, cartoon and not, was very much heavily “black-ified” in terms of dialogue, manner, and even voice. Unfortunately.


Now, with this in mind, I felt like the characters were quite terrible for most of the movie. The emphasis on positive “blackness” really wreaked the whole thing, I think. First of all, the story took place on a plantation and centered around white folks being served by overly happy African American folks who were, clearly, slaves on this plantation. Funny thing is, you only see the house slaves. You never go out to see the actual working plantation slaves. In the beginning, we even have Johnny’s grandmother tell one of her little house boys to take Johnny out to see the plantation, but they never go. Even Disney knew THAT wouldn’t be appropriate. But we still have the majority of the African American characters standing around, smiling and looking peacefully content with their lives. Hell, even their dialogue was atrocious. It was like none of them had any emotions at all except wise ol’ glee. While the white characters were overly dramatized to the point of it being ridiculous, the African American characters were dumbed down into drones who didn’t seem to care about the unjustness of the real “song of the south” they were living in. Of course, that was the thing, wasn’t it? The whole movie was very fake. Even the white plantation owners were treating the slaves quite well, but there was some tenseness even in the acting. It was hard to miss. On top of this, no one really grew as characters. The only real character development was with Uncle Remus, but even he didn’t change much, just went through a difficult period where he decided to temporarily run away. (But for reals this time). Johnny remained an annoying little runt who just ran around and stole people’s puppies, creating the big central conflict for the rest of the movie, his mother remained the silent, meddling white woman, and Uncle Remus was and always will be the “zip-idi-do-da” guy who told stories. Strange to think that phrase and song came from this movie…


Well, considering that half of the movie wasn’t animated, this category becomes harder to judge. However, the animation that did exist in the movie was okay. It wasn’t any better or any worse than the other movies we’ve seen up until this point. Except perhaps Bambi, because that one was still one of the best animated ones so far. But, if we look at the live action side — the acting was, honestly, pretty darn terrible and the dialogue was a very low blow to really anyone, black, white or anything else. It was fake, unnatural, and above all, fairly lazy script writing. The music was pretty interesting, but nothing quite to the capacity or level of Disney’s past pursuits.


Here’s where we’ll take a trip down ranty lane. You thought Pinocchio was bad — oh hell — you’re in for a wild ride. Not only was the racism and lack of script originality high in this film, but utter pointlessness was too. I didn’t mind the animated bits as much, like I mentioned before, though they also had their problems. But let us begin with the live action bits. First, we see that this film is very biased and white-centric, even though the title is promising us otherwise. Secondly, everything is too scripted, to the point of falseness and fake characters. This also makes for a false story. One top of this, what exactly IS the song of the south? Because I feel as if I have learned nothing about the South’s old, terribly racist, slave culture at all. In fact, I haven’t learned anything except why this movie has been banned from the United States. This movie’s whole plot is that a young white boy is visiting his grandmother on her Georgian plantation, his father has to mysteriously disappear, his mother has to nag all the time, and he feels the need to run around the front — front only — of the plantation with all the African American characters. Then he meets this girl with a dog and the dog becomes the big “conflict” for the next 30 minutes. Who’s dog is it? Why do you have it, Johnny? Take it back! No, I CAN’T have it — how am I supposed to feed that thing? You know, stuff like that. Then, every time there’s a mysterious break in the pointlessness, Uncle Remus tells a tale about Brer Rabbit. Initially, this was the main thing on Johnny’s mind. He came to the plantation only wanting to find Uncle Remus because he had heard about his “stories”, apparently. But before Johnny can even hear about these stories, Disney feels the need to Huckleberry Finn this shite and have Johnny try to run away after his father, only to be caught by Uncle Remus, who then volunteers to run away with him. It almost becomes pedophilic, to be honest, which is similar to Pinocchio. Funny thing is, these stories reminded me of a black version of these French children’s stories that we had read aloud in my language classes. They featured a rabbit, who was always on the verge of getting cooked by Fox and Bear, but who always managed to figure out some sneaky way to get out of it. Now, these, again, “black” versions of the story cast Brer Rabbit as more of a trouble-maker who isn’t very wise in his decisions, the Bear as quite a daft bimbo, and the fox as a rather insane rabbit hunter with not much sense either. The fact that they are black-cast makes these stories then turn into stereotypical archetypes that are unfair, unjust, and just wrong. Which makes the whole movie appear so. I did enjoy the strong friendship that Uncle Remus and little Johnny formed from the story telling and trouble-making antics, but the whole thing just felt over-done, wrong, and unoriginal despite.

All in all, Disney should have waited to attempt this movie in 2100, when society will hopefully be less racist. However, Disney could have made the movie better by involving an actual plot, hiring script writers who actually cared, and just chatting with some African Americans maybe? Or just making it not so dewy-eyed. No, and I mean no, African American was that happy to be a slave, whether a house one or not. But again, we didn’t even see the real plantation workers, did we? We just focused on the story-teller guy who surely existed on all plantations and favored the little annoying white boys.

Sorry Song of the South, but you were a real bust. The only real thing about you, unfortunately. ‘Merica was right to kick you out, I think.


What do you think?


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