SONG OF THE SOUTH

(1941)
Directed by Harve Foster and Wil
Style: Live-Action and Hand-drawn
With James Baskett, Ruth Warrick, Bobby Driscoll, Luana Patten, Hattie McDaniel
Voice Artists: James Baskett ("B'rer Fox"), Johnny Lee ("B'rer Rabbit") Nick Stewart ("B'rer Bear")
Reviewed by JB

"And stop calling me Redd Foxx!"     I don't understand how this sweet, gentle and sometimes tedious film can be permanently shelved by Disney in the U.S. for its supposed black stereotypes while they have no problem with releasing PETER PAN and its jaw-dropping "What Makes the Red Man Red?" dance sequence, which contains approximately ten times the amount of questionable and objectional racism (not to mention sexism) in a five-minute song than SONG OF THE SOUTH has in its entire running time.  I can understand not rereleasing it to the theaters, but for this film not to be on home video is simply inexcusable. Yes, the black folks in SONG OF THE SOUTH are the typical happy and contented characters we often see in Civil War and Post-Civil War films such as GONE WITH THE WIND.  Yet, GONE WITH THE WIND is widely available, as are many other films of its type, and SONG OF THE SOUTH is deeply hidden away in a Disney basement like a shameful, monstrous child, and it shouldn't be.

    I say all this in defense of a film which, truthfully, I often found painfully dull.  Mostly live-action, SONG OF THE SOUTH only truly comes alive when the kindly Uncle Remus begins to spin one of his "B'rer Rabbit" stories to the children and the film segues into animation.  These animated scenes, featuring B'rer Rabbit outwitting both B'rer Fox and B'rer Bear, have a pace and energy to them that clearly shows the influence of the Bugs Bunny cartoons from Warner Brothers.  Baskett, who provides the voice of B'rer Fox, is also wonderful as Uncle Remus, generating a warmth and dignity that raises him head and shoulders above most of the other players in the cast.  Isn't it ironic that such a winning performance by a superb black actor cannot be seen now because of worries over racism?  Political correctness is often so self-destructive.  

"Ah, those crazy white folk, 'fraid of a little movie!"    The stickiest sequence, both literally and metaphorically, is the animated "tar baby" episode, where B'rer Fox creates a small figure out of tar, hoping B'rer Rabbit will get stuck in it.  The term "tar baby",  used by writer Joel Chandler Harris, author and compiler of the original Uncle Remus book, was originally a metaphor for any bad situation that would get progressively worse the more one tries to get out of it - a sticky situation. However, the term is also used, rarely these days, as a derogatory term for black people in general. As usual in these situations, the term has thus been permanently shelved and wiped from the American lexicon, to which I say, we should also then retire the words "cracker" and "frog", among many other words. Ironically, it turns out to be perhaps the most memorable animated scene of the whole film, ending with B'rer Rabbit using reverse psychology on B'rer Fox, begging not to throw him into the Briar Patch, a dangerous and possibly deadly territory for most animals except, unbeknownst to the fox, rabbits. The story then inspires the film's two precocious child leads to use reverse psychology on the town bullies, who then get a whoopin' from their ma.

    There may be some uncomfortable moments in SONG OF THE SOUTH, but no moreso than just about any other movie from the thirties and forties (The Marx Brothers in blackface in 1937's A DAY AT THE RACES leaps to mind).  Yet many of those films are available for purchase or at least seen on cable television.  As long as there will always be lively debate about the merits of this film, why not at least let that debate be supported or undermined by allowing SONG OF THE SOUTH to be seen by all who wish to see it?  Come' on, Disney - release this film on home video and let the chips fall where they may.

Walt Disney     The Secret Vortex


THE SONG OF THE SOUTH SONG   

"Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah", by Allie Wrubel and Ray Gilbert, won the Oscar for Best Original Song of 1946 and remains a popular Disney song.