Here’s a truly great Disney feature from back in the day, that was one of the first to combine animation with live actors, but, in the late 1980’s, ran afoul of the PC Gestapo. More on that later.
The film opens with a voice-over by the sage Black storyteller Uncle Remus (James Baskett) noting that even though his tales deal with animals, there are still lessons in them for humans. The time is several years after the Civil War, with many freed slaves now working the plantations as trusted employees.
Action begins with seven-year-old Johnny (Bobby Driscoll), along with his mother Sally (Ruth Warrick), father John Sr. (Eric Rolf), and their maid Tempy (Hattie McDaniel) heading down to the Georgia plantation owned by Johnny’s grandmother Miss Doshy (Lucile Watson). Although the parents tell Johnny that this will be a vacation, it soon becomes clear that his parents are separating, and that he and his mother will be staying on at the plantation, with John Sr. returning to Atlanta.
Distraught, and not exactly having his worst fears relieved by Sally, the boy decides to return to Atlanta, that very night, on foot. He soon hears Uncle Remus telling a story about Brer Rabbit, and hides behind a tree to listen. Remus sees him, convinces him to not run away, and as the frantic plantation crew searches for Johnny, Remus takes the rap, saying that he was telling the boy tales, and they lost track of time.
Within the next day or two, Johnny has made friends with Toby (Glenn Leedy) a young Black resident of the plantation, and Ginny Favers (Luana Patten), a poor white girl who lives nearby. Ginny gives Johnny a puppy that her two older thuggish brothers were going to drown, and a conflict is thus created. To make matters worse, Sally, demonstrating the first of several ridiculous failures as a mother, forbids Johnny to bring the dog in the house (this as he has just lost his father), but Remus agrees to keep the dog in his cabin.
Remus regales Johnny and Toby with his tales, including the famous “Please don’t throw me into the briar patch” reverse psychology episode. Johnny ends up using this trick on the Favers brothers, and even though it earns them a good spanking, Sally ruins it by scolding Remus for keeping the dog. She instructs him to tell no more tales to Johnny.
Soon after, Johnny’s gala birthday party occurs, but this is really more of an ego trip for Sally. Johnny is concerned that his best friend Ginny has not yet arrived, so he runs over to her house, to see her emerge in a dress that her poor mother created from her own wedding dress. In an effort to get back at Johnny, and showing real cruelty toward their own sister, the Favers boys push her into the mud, soiling her dress. At this, Johnny rushes the younger of the brothers, who is still much bigger than he is, and pummels him. The fight is broken up by Remus, who sternly tells the boys to stop pestering the younger children.
Ginny and Johnny are both dejected, and don’t return to the party. Remus cheers them up with his “Laughing Place” story, but Sally again ruins everything by blaming Remus for them leaving the party, and forbids him (out of earshot of Johnny) to have any contact with Johnny at all.
Remus, saddened by this misinterpretation of his good intentions, and beginning to think that he is just a useless old man who tells silly stories, decides to leave the cabin that was always his home, to journey to Atlanta. Meanwhile, Ginny and Johnny search for their own Laughing Places. Ginny finds hers at her home, since her father has now returned, and Johnny realizes that his laughing place is Uncle Remus’ cabin.
He runs over to the cabin, only to discover that Remus has left, and he sees him departing in a wagon—across a pasture, ruled over by a ferocious bull. Heedless of this, and trying to catch up to Remus, Johnny takes the short cut across this pasture, and gets rammed by the bull.
Brought back to the plantation, and near death, it is only Remus’ stories that keep Johnny going. Meanwhile, his father returns, John Sr. and Sally are reconciled, and the parents suddenly develop child rearing skills. Remus notes that all this is “mighty satisfactual.”
In the last scene, some of the animated characters join in the celebration with the kids, much to the surprise of Uncle Remus, who thought they only existed in his mind.
Zip-a-dee-do-dah, zip-a-dee-ay, wonderful feeling, wonderful day…
After the film’s original release in November, 1946, it was re-released in 1956, 1972/1973, 1980, and 1986. In 1986, though, the pressure of certain “civil rights” groups, and the PC storm troopers in general caused Disney to remove the film from public viewing in North America.
Disney surely did not need the hassle, and is free to do whatever it wants with its own copyrights. Still, beyond absurd prejudice and blind hatred, there is nothing in Song of the South for anyone to be upset about, except maybe white people, since save Johnny, Ginny, and Doshy, they are all portrayed quite negatively. Moreover, despite the comments of true morons, there are no slaves in the movie, since it obviously takes place after the Civil War (how else would Remus be able to run off to Atlanta on a whim?)
The PC fascists might be objecting to the Black dialect being used, but then they should also condemn Mark Twain, or maybe come to realize how southern Blacks spoke in that era. If they are worried that plantation workers convey a bad image, I would remind them that Gangsta rappers, teenage single mothers and their feckless wayward boyfriends, drug dealers, and school dropouts are far worse stereotypes, and they are present day, not from 130 years ago.
Song of the South is a sweet picture that deserves to be seen by a new generation, and fortunately can be purchased here.