Disney's Song of the South (1946) is a film swarming with possible controversy. The Big Mouse is afraid to release to the home video market for fears of backlash from ethnic groups. The fact of the matter is that it's never been available here in the U.S....ever...in any home video format. Hardcore Disney enthusiasts have to rely on gray market bootlegs made from either Japanese or British VHSs and/or laserdiscs (two countries where it is readily available).
Although the film has been re-released several times (most recently in 1986), the Disney corporation has avoided making it directly available on home video or DVD in the United States because the frame story was deemed controversial by studio management, despite Uncle Remus being the hero of the story. Film critic Roger Ebert, who normally disdains any attempt to keep films from any audience, has supported the non-release position, claiming that most Disney films become a part of the consciousness of American children, who take films more literally than do adults. However, he favors allowing film students to have access to the film. In the U.S., only excerpts from the animated segments have ever appeared in Disney's DVDs (such as the 2004 two-disc release of Alice in Wonderland (1951), television shows, and the popular log-flume attraction Splash Mountain is based upon the same animated portions).
Despite rumors of a forthcoming DVD release, Disney CEO Robert Iger stated on March 10, 2006 at a Disney Shareholder Meeting that it had been decided that the company would not re-release it for the time being. At the annual shareholders meeting in March 2007, Iger announced that the company was reconsidering the decision, and have decided to look into the possibility of releasing the film. In May 2007, it was again reported that the Disney company has chosen not to release the film. However, rumors to the contrary continue to surface.
Even early in the film's production, there was concern that the material would encounter controversy. As the writing of the screenplay was getting under way, Disney publicist Vern Caldwell wrote to producer Perce Pearce that "The negro situation is a dangerous one. Between the negro haters and the negro lovers there are many chances to run afoul of situations that could run the gamut all the way from the nasty to the controversial."
When the film was first released, the NAACP acknowledged "the remarkable artistic merit" of the film, but decried the supposed "impression it gives of an idyllic master-slave relationship" (even though the film was set after the American Civil War). Today, the organization has no position on the movie.
In 2007, Movies.com listed the film as the fifth most controversial film of all time.
I just find it a shame that this incredibly important piece of film history has been suppressed by it's license holder. There are talks from time to time of a release, so here's my advice to Disney:
I own a few of the Disney Treasures tin box releases, one of which being Mickey Mouse In Black & White Vol. 1, and on it they have these pleasant little video disclaimers prior to any of the animated shorts in which the content may be "questionable" hosted by Leonard Maltin, in which Maltin explains, in short terms, something to the extent of the early Disney animators were all uneducated hicks and, well, in that particular part of our history that type of crap was "acceptable" to the general public (of course, I'm paraphrasing and those aren't Maltin's words, but that's about the gist of it). Slap one of these babies on there, first off...
I can understand Ebert's stance...so, you market Song as one of these Treasures releases which are slightly pricier than the normal DVD release, and aimed at an audience more sophisticated than children, i.e., the collector's market (Note: I use the term "sophisticated" loosely in reference to any group). Make sure you stack it chock full of supplementary material which points out that a.) this is Disney's first effort at mixing live-action and animation, b.) how fucking sorry we are as a human race that wonderful actors like James Baskett were persecuted (he won an Oscar in 1948 for his performance in this film, yet was unable to attend the Atlanta premiere because that city was segregated in 1946), and c.) make note of the controversy surrounding the flick. Don't hide from it, because hiding from it makes you look like you've done something you deserve to be guilty about...
Song of the South info
For this post's download, here are two sets of radio spots for the film, one from the 1972 general re-release, and another from the 1973 double feature re-release with The Aristocats:
01- 1972 60 sec. spot
02- 1972 60 sec. spot #2
03- 1972 30 sec. spot
04- 1972 30 sec. spot #2
05- 1972 20 sec. spot
06- 1972 10 sec. spot
07- 1973 60 sec. spot
08- 1973 30 sec. spot
09- 1973 20 sec. spot
10- 1973 10 sec. spot
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