“Song Of The South” Stays Off Disney Plus
The vast majority of us have favorite songs from Disney movies. Almost every child grew up watching Disney, and nearly every parent sits down with their children to watch Disney movies at some point. The world’s largest entertainment company made the films that our grandparents watched when they were young, and it will probably make the films that our children will watch when they, too, become grandparents. Disney’s history is long, and they’ll almost certainly outlive all of us. Not all of that history, however, has been free of controversy.
We mention songs because there’s a Disney song you’ll definitely have heard, but might not necessarily know which film it comes from. The song is “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” and, even right now, you’re probably singing along with it in your head. Unless you were around in 1946, though, you’ve never seen the film it was made for. That film is “Song of the South,” and it’s a movie that Disney is so ashamed of they’ve never released it for home viewing. It didn’t get a VHS release during the 1980s, it didn’t get a DVD release during the 1990s, and it’s not been made available for streaming at any point since. Now the company has once again reiterated that it won’t be coming to their brand-new Disney Plus streaming service.
If you’ve never seen the film or heard of the controversy that surrounds it, you probably think this is something of a shame. Disney movies have used every setting and location imaginable in the world—except, it seems, the beautiful Southern states of the USA. The area is touched upon in “Dumbo” and 2009’s “The Princess and the Frog” stars New Orleans, but aside from that, the South is almost completely ignored. Disney goes to France and Italy and the Middle East, but almost never to the South. The one time they did, they made a movie that they’re so thoroughly ashamed of, they’ve kept it hidden away for decades and won’t even include it as part of a streaming service that was initially advertised as an archive of literally everything the company has ever created.
What is it about “Song of the South” that makes Disney want to bury it? Could it be a case of them being too sensitive? They’ve certainly made moves in recent years to hone in on what they’re best known for: marketing to children. Go back in time a couple of years, and you’ll find a strong Disney presence at online slots websites like Amigo Slots. Several of Disney’s most popular and prominent intellectual properties and characters had dedicated online slots of their own, and they were making the company a considerable amount of money. One day, without warning, Disney decided to withdraw every single one of its licensed online slots from the websites that offered them. The move cost them money, but it was made because Disney felt that being associated with gambling wasn’t consistent with their image.
The decision to keep “Song of the South” away from children could partly be put down to the same desire to preserve their image, but there’s more to it than that.
Simply put, “Song of the South” is a film that’s so culturally ignorant that it’s shocking it was ever made at all. Even in 1946, when we lived in less enlightened times than we do now, someone should have stepped in and canceled the project before the first second of film had been shot. At the center of the plot is the character of Uncle Remus, who still lives on the same plantation he once worked on as a slave. Aside from painting a pretty picture of the relationship between masters and slaves during those dark days, Uncle Remus observes at one point in the movie that things were “better all around” a long time ago when every day was “mighty satisfying.” In short, this isn’t just a film that glosses over slavery and condones it. It actively calls for a return to those days. When you get to consider the subject matter in full, it’s no longer a mystery that Disney won’t release it. The bigger mystery is why a song from the film still plays at Splash Mountain in Disneyland. You would like to imagine that the iconic song Let It Go from “Frozen” would disappear from the airwaves forever if the movie was suddenly found to contain messages promoting white supremacy. It’s mystifying that the legacy of such a tainted movie is being used to welcome children to a prominent Disney theme park attraction.
Were it not for the shockingly racist content of the film, “Song of the South” would likely be considered a technological marvel. Live-action remakes of classic Disney films using animation and “real” actors side by side is all the rage at the moment, but “Song of the South” did it more than 70 years ago. The animation style was considered experimental at the time, but was well executed and resulted in some beautiful visuals. It’s just a shame that the subject matter was every bit as ugly as the aesthetics were stunning. Like the scene with the Jim Crow’ characters in “Dumbo,” “Song of the South” is a regrettable relic of Disney’s past and has no part to play in the company’s future.
As Disney has now given a final confirmation that the movie is staying under lock and key, perhaps they could be persuaded to reconsider the use of the American South for a future movie. The company wouldn’t want to be associated with “Song of the South” and, in the same way, the South shouldn’t be associated with the movie. There are many aspects of life in the South—today and many years ago—that deserve to be celebrated and would lend themselves well to “the Disney treatment.” If Disney doesn’t want to show us their vision of the South as it was the last time they made a film set here, perhaps they should come back and give us their vision of the South as they see it today. If it’s anything like Tiana’s dream of owning a restaurant in New Orleans and her adventure of being a frog in the swamp, we want a ticket.