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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Disneyear: Song of the South (1946)

Ah, the one film that Disney never wants you to see. Song of the South is famous simply for being the only Disney movie that is currently unreleased on home video because of accusations that this movie is racist. I know what you're thinking: 1) how did I see it? Easy. Youtube is your best friend. And 2) how racist is it? Well, I've seen this a few times now and, in my opinion, it's not really racist. That's my opinion, maybe you have another. That's fine. Let's have a look.

Our story begins with Johnny, a little boy moving to Georgia with his folks to a plantation. However, Johnny's father has to leave because he has to do a newspaper report in Atlanta. So he runs away from home looking for his dad only to bump in our other main character, Uncle Remus (played by James Baskett). He hears of Johnny's troubles and decides to tell him a story about Br'er Rabbit, a trickster lagromorph quick enough to rival Bugs Bunny, did the same thing as Johnny only to change his mind. After the story, Remus returns Johnny home. Days pass and some bullies start to bother him and his new friends Ginny and Toby. They hear another Br'er Rabbit story and learn reverse psychology to screw with the bullies' mind. Then it's Johnny's birthday party, but his girl friend Ginny can't go due to her dress getting messed up. Johnny tries to cheer her up, but can't. Then our ol' pal Uncle Remus tells another story about Br'er Rabbit's laughing place and that cheers them up. Unfortunately, Johnny's mom talks with Uncle Remus and says that Johnny can't hang out with him anymore due to her being uncomfortable with Uncle Remus, possibly out of discrimination, I don't know. Disheartened, Uncle Remus leaves only to have Johnny look for his friend. He gets sidetracked though, when he crosses a bull's pen and gets trampled. While unconscious, his father comes back to visit him on his bed. Sadly, that doesn't wake him up. Then Uncle Remus comes to check on Johnny out of love and that seems to wake Johnny up. After that, the story characters come to play with Johnny and his friends and they all live happily ever after.

So that's Song of the South in a nutshell. How did it fare?

Well, right from the start, critics had mixed feelings towards the film. Their problem was that most of the movie was live action versus animated and that with the movie's very slow moving pace, the film had no magic to it. As far as the live action parts go (which is 2/3's of this movie), I agree with that. I found the live action bits dull, boring, and not that charming. It really drags the movie down. On the plus side, I'd be lying if I said James Baskett's acting in this movie wasn't enjoyable. He's just so jolly and charming that it's really hard to hate him. He deserved an Academy Award for his performance, and if I'm not mistaken, he really did get one out of Walt Disney's request. Oh, and the music's pretty good. I think we all only remember only one song, though but that's out of the movie getting a banned status. Tell me you never heard this song at least once!

The only parts of the movie I find myself enjoying 100% are the animated bits. This is among the best classic Disney animation out there. The characters were charming, the backgrounds are great, and the live action meshing is surprisingly well done. And oh yeah, don't let me forget about Br'er Fox, the main villain. Good God, he is hilarious! He's right on par with Professor Rattigan from The Great Mouse Detective as a comedic villain because he really gets a kick out of what he does and that's trying to catch and eat Br'er Rabbit. He giggles, he smiles, he brags about when he thinks he succeeds, he's just awesome! He also has some of the best character animation I've ever seen. Did I mention he was voiced by James Baskett too? Even cooler! Have a look for yourself:

Remember at the beginning of this review that this got panned by the NAACP? Oh wait, I didn't... well, their claim is that it creates the ideal relationship between a slave and the master and that the movie uses every single stereotype in the book. Well, one this movie takes place during America's Reconstruction era, but I imagine that a few prejudices would still be around by that point in history. Besides, it's a Disney film, we can't have them lynched or, God forbid, the KKK show up. Two, aside from the black characters speaking in slang, there's really nothing terribly racist about it. There's far more offensive stuff out there. Well Disney, it's about time you own this thing. If you need, have Leonard Maltin give a prologue before the film to explain the history behind the film like you did with the WWII cartoons. And denying that you made this film is far worse than actually making it racist.

Song of the South is a film with things you'll enjoy and a few where you'll want to press the fast forward button. Overall, I think it's an okay film. Not perfect, but not godawful either. If you can find it on Youtube or find a European DVD of it, give it a watch and make some judgements for yourself. Take it for what it's worth.

Next time: Fun and Fancy Free.

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