Song of the South is a 1946 American live-action/animated musical film produced by Walt Disney and released by RKO Radio Pictures. It is based on the collection of Uncle Remus stories as adapted by Joel Chandler Harris, and stars James Baskett as Uncle Remus. The film takes place in the southern United States during the Reconstruction era, a period of American history shortly after the end of the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery. The story follows seven-year-old Johnny (Bobby Driscoll) who is visiting his grandmother's plantation for an extended stay. Johnny befriends Uncle Remus, one of the workers on the plantation, and takes joy in hearing his tales about the adventures of Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Fox, and Br'er Bear. Johnny learns from the stories how to cope with the challenges he is experiencing while living on the plantation.
Walt Disney had wanted to produce a film based on the Uncle Remus stories for some time. It was not until 1939 that he began negotiating with the Harris family for the film rights, and finally in 1944, filming for Song of the South began. The studio constructed a plantation set for the outdoor scenes in Phoenix, Arizona, and some other scenes were filmed in Hollywood. The film is predominantly live action, but includes three animated segments, which were later released as stand-alone television features. Some scenes also feature a combination of live action with animation. Song of the South premiered in Atlanta in November 1946 and the remainder of its initial theater run was a financial success. The song "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" won the 1947 Academy Award for Best Original Song and Baskett received an Academy Honorary Award for his performance as Uncle Remus.
Since its original release, Song of the South has remained a subject of controversy. Some critics have described the film's portrayal of African Americans as racist and offensive, maintaining that the black vernacular and other qualities are stereotypes. In addition, the plantation setting is sometimes criticized as idyllic and glorified. Because of this controversy, Disney has yet to release Song of the South on any home video format in the United States. Some of the musical and animated sequences have been released through other means, and the full film has seen home video distribution in other countries around the world. The cartoon characters from the film have continued to feature in a variety of books, comics, and other media. The Disney theme park ride Splash Mountain is also based on the film.
Seven-year-old Johnny (Bobby Driscoll) is excited about what he believes to be a vacation at his grandmother's Georgia plantation with his parents, John Sr. (Erik Rolf) and Sally (Ruth Warrick). When they arrive at the plantation, he discovers that his parents will be living apart for a while, and he is to live at the plantation with his mother and grandmother (Lucile Watson) while his father returns to Atlanta to continue his controversial editorship in the city's newspaper. Johnny, distraught because of his father's departure, secretly sets off that night for Atlanta with only a bindle.
As Johnny sneaks away from the plantation, he is attracted by the voice of Uncle Remus (James Baskett) telling tales of a character named Br'er Rabbit. By this time, word had gotten out that Johnny was missing, and some plantation residents are looking for him. Johnny evades being discovered, but Uncle Remus catches up with him. They befriend each other and Uncle Remus offers him some food for his journey, taking him back to his cabin. While at the cabin, Uncle Remus tells Johnny the traditional African-American folktale, "Br'er Rabbit Earns a Dollar a Minute". In the story, Br'er Rabbit (Johnny Lee) attempts to run away from home only to change his mind after an encounter with Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear (James Baskett and Nick Stewart). Johnny takes the advice and changes his mind about leaving the plantation, letting Uncle Remus take him back to his mother.
Johnny makes friends with Toby (Glenn Leedy), a young black boy who lives on the plantation, and Ginny Favers (Luana Patten), a poor white girl. Ginny gives Johnny a puppy after her two older brothers, Joe (Gene Holland) and Jake (George Nokes), threaten to drown it. Johnny's mother refuses to let him take care of the puppy, so he takes the dog to Uncle Remus. Uncle Remus takes the dog in and delights Johnny and his friends with the fable of Br'er Rabbit and the Tar-Baby, stressing that people shouldn't get involved with something they have no business with in the first place. Johnny heeds the advice of how Br'er Rabbit used reverse psychology on Br'er Fox and begs the Favers Brothers not to tell their mother (Mary Field) about the dog. The reverse psychology works, and the boys go to speak with their mother. After being spanked, they realize that Johnny had fooled them. In an act of revenge, they tell Sally about the dog. She becomes upset that Johnny and Uncle Remus kept the dog despite her order (which was unknown to Uncle Remus). She instructs Uncle Remus not to tell any more stories to her son.
Johnny's birthday arrives and Johnny picks up Ginny to take her to his party. On the way there, Joe and Jake push Ginny into a mud puddle. With her dress ruined, Ginny is unable to go to the party and runs off crying. Johnny begins fighting with the boys, but their fight is broken up by Uncle Remus, who scolds Joe and Jake. Johnny runs off to comfort Ginny. He explains that he does not want to go either, especially since his father will not be there. Uncle Remus discovers both dejected children and cheers them up by telling the story of Br'er Rabbit and his "Laughing Place". When the three return to the plantation, Sally becomes angry at Johnny for missing his own birthday party, and tells Uncle Remus not to spend any more time with him. Saddened by the misunderstanding of his good intentions, Uncle Remus packs his bags and leaves for Atlanta. Johnny rushes to intercept him, but is attacked by a bull and seriously injured after taking a shortcut through a pasture. While Johnny hovers between life and death, his father returns. Johnny calls for Uncle Remus, who is then escorted in by his grandmother. Uncle Remus begins telling a tale of Br'er Rabbit and the Laughing Place, and the boy miraculously survives.
Johnny, Ginny, and Toby are next seen skipping along and singing while Johnny's returned puppy runs alongside them. Uncle Remus is also in the vicinity and he is shocked when Br'er Rabbit and several of the other characters from his stories appear in front of them and interact with the children. Uncle Remus rushes to join the group, and they all skip away singing.
Sound Effcts Used
- Disney Gasp Sound 1
- Disney Gulp Sound 2
- Disney Ricochet
- Disney - WOOD BREAK
- Hollywoodedge, Funny Swish CRT053904
- Hollywoodedge, Hollowbomp Impact CRT030401
- Hollywoodedge, Low Pitched Squeak CRT049301
- Hollywoodedge, Man Laughs Hard Stea CRT022801
- Hollywoodedge, Single Cow Moo CRT011601
- Hollywoodedge, Single Frog Croak Cl CRT013001
- Hollywoodedge, Twangy Boings 7 Type CRT015901 (1st boing)
- Sound Ideas, HIT, CARTOON - FLAT BONK