Disney History: Song of the South

Despite earning a seemingly permanent home in the famed "Disney Vault" due to its reliance on racial stereotypes to tell a story, Song of the South has an enduring legacy in Walt Disney World, even if many guests don't recognize the origin of some of Disney's most iconic elements. The Reconstruction Era film centers on Uncle Remus, a black man who is presumably a recently freed slave, telling stories to the children. Despite the fact that many celebrated period pieces rely on similar film devices to tell their stories, Disney tends to air on the side of caution when re-releasing its early works that were made in a much different cultural climate than we enjoy today. Song of the South turns 70 this year, so let's take a moment to consider some of the positive contributions from this film.

Song of the SouthSong of the South

As a film, Song of the South made several positive contributions. Drawing from Walt Disney's experience with The Alice Comedies in the 1920's, this was Disney's second feature film to combine live action and animation sequences. The techniques that the studio perfected here would be very instrumental in bring Walt's masterpiece Mary Poppins to life nearly 20 years later.

Initially, the film was well appreciated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and James Baskett, who played Uncle Remus, earned a special Academy Award for his heartwarming portrayal. This was the first Disney movie for both Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten, who were both considered for a special Academy Award for child actors for their work on the film, but the academy chose not to present such an award in 1947. Driscoll and Patten would go on to star in "So Dear to My Heart" and the "Pecos Bill" segment on the Melody Time feature release. Driscoll's most famous role for Disney was as the voice of Peter Pan.

Splash MountainSplash Mountain

Ironically, for a film that Disney has shelved with no intention of re-releasing, Song of the South enjoys a very prominent presence in the Disney parks. The last theatrical release of the film occurred on its 40th anniversary in 1986 and was used to promote the opening of Splash Mountain that would happen three years later in Disneyland. The attraction was so popular that it was recreated for Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disney, both with openings in 1992. Have you ever ridden through the 10 minute 41 second ride and wondered where the characters came from? Well, Br'er Fox, Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Bear, and friends come from the stories that Uncle Remus shares with the children. The animals on the showboat after the drop into The Laughing Place were rehomed from the shuttered America Sings attraction, but that's another story for another day. The attraction songs "How Do You Do?", "Everybody's Got a Laughing Place", and a Dapper Dan favorite "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" are all favorites from the film.

Zip-a-dee Lady Showboat Inside Splash MountainZip-a-dee Lady Showboat Inside Splash Mountain

This year marks 30 years since Song of the South has been commercially or theatrically available, much to the dismay of many fans that it remember it fondly from their childhood. But times change and sometimes its easier for a big corporation like Disney to lock a movie away in the vault rather than fight against its naysayers. If you have the rare opportunity to view this piece of Disney and American history, I highly encourage you to take advantage of it. But you won't find it in your Netflix queue anytime soon.

A big thanks goes out to Guest Author Holly L. for sharing a little bit of her knowledge of Disney History with us. If you'd like to read more about Holly's Disney Adventures, you can find her sharing on our member forum.

Jon Stallings wrote on Tue, 08/16/2016 - 18:57:

Jon Stallings's picture

This one of our families favorite rides. I remember the movie and hearing the Uncle Remus stories in school. - Granted my perspective is different but I wish they could re-release the film.

ScottFL wrote on Wed, 08/17/2016 - 20:36:

ScottFL's picture

A couple of years ago I came across the film on you-tube. Watched most of it (hadn't seen it since I was a kid in the 70's). Have to say, not one of my favorite Disney movies.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly. If you have a Gravatar account associated with the e-mail address you provide, it will be used to display your avatar.

More information about formatting options