Walt Disney grew up hearing Joel Chandler Harris' Uncle Remus tales of Brer Rabbit and his fellow critter characters, including Brer Bear and Brer Fox. They had really had an effect on him as a child, and with technology progressing in a way that live action and animation could be combined Walt felt it was finally time to give the tales their due credit in a feature film.
Others did not agree with his venture though, and he met a great many obstacles in the process. From people refusing to work on the project, to drafts after drafts as writers disagreed over what was racially appropriate or not, to group protests outside theaters. Nevertheless this was clearly a film Walt wanted to see through til the end and believed was worth making.
This is the main point here: From what I read in Korkis' book, one could have seen Disney's tackling of this controversial subject as either extremely pioneering or extremely naive in the subject of race. And to me, that's where the confusion, and ultimately the distaste, for Song of the South seems to originate. We tend to air on the safe side when it comes to a situation with which we are not comfortable. At the time the film was made (1940s), Americans weren't handling racial issues as tactfully as most of us do today. In fact, today we are still not proud of the mid-century missteps and perhaps Disney executives choose to just file Song of the South under that category without properly viewing it in context.
In said context, Walt switched the original metaphor of Brer Rabbit as the slaves and Brer Bear and Brer Fox as the masters to stories that related Brer Rabbit to Johnny, the young boy and main character. He faces many struggles that little kids often encounter and kind Uncle Remus uses his critter tales to help little Johnny out. The film also takes place after the Civil War, and the characters are not slaves and owners. The film does not make it extremely clear, however, and as a result more eyebrows have been raised.
The fact that Disney refuses to introduce this film to the public is bewildering. With the interviews and words of so many who worked on the project at our disposal so easily, as well as resources like Korkis' book, the mystery that shrouds Song of the South would be gone. The profit that could be made for Disney, as well as a newfound appreciation from the public for things like Splash Mountain, are just a few of the benefits of dusting off this old treasure.
|From Disney's site|
I encourage you to read Who's Afraid of the Song of the South for so many interesting bits of history, as well as other "forbidden Disney tales." I obviously don't want to post too much here because it is worth it to read the whole thing. It's a shame to see how something Walt was so passionate about was almost doomed from the start.
A few gems from the book:
Walt naïvely treated the film as another Disney fantasy (evident by those strong Mary Blair color stylings, even in the live-action scenes) without realizing that using real people would make audiences think it was authentic (p. 60).
*Regarding Disney's reluctance to release the film to the public* As the character of Uncle Remus says in the movie: “You can’t run away from trouble. There ain’t no place that far.” (p. 65)
Song of the South was not a malicious attempt to reinforce the foolish stereotype of the inferiority of the black race, but rather an attempt to show that children of all races and different social statuses could play together as friends, learn important moral lessons from stories, and survive times of trouble by finding a place to laugh (p. 67).
Check it out, watch the film if you can, and form your own opinion, but don't let Disney dictate it to you or you may miss out on something truly special.
Korkis, Jim (2012-11-30). Who's Afraid of the Song of the South? And Other Forbidden Disney Stories. Theme Park Press. Kindle Edition.