Song of the South

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Ever wonder where the characters from the Splash Mountain ride at Disney World come from? Song of the South is a 1946 Disney film that incorporated animation and live action. You haven't heard of it? That's understandable; due to Unfortunate Implications it has never been released in the US outside the theater, and not since 1986.

The film is, unbeknownst to even many people who have seen it (especially in Europe, where the context is lost), based on a collection of African-American folktales compiled by Joel Chandler Harris in the late 1800s. It is notable that, although the Framing Device is accused of racism today, it was considered pretty Fair for Its Day, being written by a Southerner: Harris was attempting to compile African-American folk tales that had been passed down from the days of slavery before they were lost.

The popularity of the book led to the popularity of archetypes such as Br'er Rabbit, the "Briar Patching" and the "Tar Baby" (the meaning of which tropes subsequently were lost to younger viewers after the film was sealed in the Disney vault in the '80s, when the stories themselves became forgotten by later generations unfamiliar with the work) which were taken straight from the original folktales. Some who maintain that the film should not be released note, however, that keeping these tales alive ties in too much with the days of slavery and Reconstruction, a shameful period in American history that they feel children should not be subject to.

Set in the Deep South after the Civil War, the film features Uncle Remus telling stories of Br'er Rabbit and friends to three kids from his rural cabin. Due to the "impression it gives of an idyllic master-slave relationship" (the film was probably set during Reconstruction, just so that Uncle Remus would not be depicted as a slave -- though he almost certainly has been one) it will probably never be released in the US. It was available on VHS tape in the UK (where the associated sensitivities are still present, but further from the surface) throughout the '90s and early '00s, and shown as an afternoon family film on TV. It was also aired a few times on The Disney Channel during the 1980's. A Japanese laserdisc (with an English track version included as a bonus) was also released years ago, and it's become quite a collector's item in recent years.

You likely do know a song from it, that being "Zip-a-Dee Doo-Dah."

In some European countries, like the Netherlands and Scandinavia, Br'er Rabbit comics was introduced in the early 50's, and remains popular and are still a regular part of the weekly Disney comics. And while the framing device with Uncle Remus was featured in the first comics, it has since quietly disappeared and faded into obscurity, to the point where only few readers know that it has ever existed. And while the film was released in Europe, it is virtually unknown there.

If you ever come across a tape or find it online, you will notice Song of the South provides examples of:

Brer Bear: Look, let's just knock his head clean off.
Brer Fox: Oh, no, indeed, ain't nothing smart about that. I'm gonna show him who the smartest is!
And once they've caught him:
Brer Bear: I'm gonna knock his head clean off!
Brer Fox: No, no, no, that's too quick! I'm gonna make him suffer!

  • Sticky Situation: Trope name for "Tar Baby", an expression which at least traditionally refers to this.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Uncle Remus shares a pipe with Br'er Frog.
    • This overlaps with Fair for Its Day. Back when the film was released, most people smoked, and those who didn't were frowned upon, if not shunned or hated. By showing Uncle Remus smoking on screen, they were attempting to make the audience like him more. More so because it's the only scene in the movie where anyone is seen smoking.
  • Those Two Bad Guys: Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear.
  • Three Amigos: Johnny, Toby, and Ginny.
  • Three Shorts: Three gorgeously animated sequences.
  • The Trickster[context?]
  • Villainous Glutton: Br'er Bear, though Br'er Fox is the one with the most pointed culinary interest in Br'er Rabbit.