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Song of the South

A Disney Tale: Join Uncle Remus as he helps Johnny, Ginny and Toby cope with the trials and tribulations of childhood by telling them the stories of Brer Rabbit.  One of Disney's most notorious films.

Disney Hero: With Song of the South being a mix of live action and animation, it's 'hero' is not easily identifiable.  To some extent, Uncle Remus is the 'hero' of the story, helping to protect the children from harm.  

Johnny, the young boy who comes to live on his grandmother's plantation., is the focus for much of the film's jeopardy.  

In the animated segments, Brer Rabbit is almost a hero - defeating the machinations of Brers Fox and Bear, although he is better described as a trickster.


Disney Heroine: The female characters in Song of the South all feature in the live action segments.  Ginny, Johnny's young friend, provides support to Johnny, whilst his mother and grandmother fulfill the usual roles that those characters have in films of this nature - nurturing, caring, loving and a smattering of embarassment (such as making Johnny wear a horrendous 'Little Lord Fauntleroy' outfit).  Aunt Tempy adds to the role call of female characters, as the feisty maid to the white plantation owners.

Disney Villain: The villains of this story are very clearly Brer Fox and Brer Bear.  Brer Fox spends the film (or at least the animated segments) determined to catch prey, including Brer Rabbit, for dinner aided, or more often hindered, by his accomplice, Brer Bear.  Whilst Fox is presented as a traditional sly, conniving fox; Brer Bear is a lumbering, slightly dopey sidekick.  They are a highlight of this film.  

Paralleling these two animated villains are Ginny's older brothers, Joe and Jake, who bully both Ginny and Johnny.

Disney Sidekicks: The main character that could be described as a sidekick is Toby, the young boy who plays with Johnny and Ginny.  Toby is, it is presumed, a plantation worker, although this is never made explicit.

Disney Creatures: The animated segments of the film are packed to the rafters with animals.  Alongside Brers Rabbit, Fox and Bear, we also meet Brer Frog and Brer Terrapin as well as Mother Possum and her children, numerous other creatures and, of course, the famous Mr Bluebird.  

The live action sections feature a puppy who Ginny gives to Johnny as a pet only for Johnny's mother to refuse him permission to keep it.  There is also a bull in a field that Johnny is warned never to cross, only to do so and end up badly injured (forming the climax of the live action segments of the film).

Disney Magic: Magic in Song of the South is manifested in the character of Uncle Remus.  Through the magic of Disney he not only exists in the real world, but also in the animated world of Brer Rabbit.  He interacts with the animals whilst singing and telling his stories.  The suggestion is that Remus himself is as much a character from a story as Rabbit, Fox and Bear.  At the end of the film, the children, Ginny, Johnny and Toby, walk off with Uncle Remus into the sunset which becomes the animated world of Brer Rabbit, with them becoming animated silhouettes on the horizon. 

Disney Land: Song of the South is set in the deep South of the USA during the Reconstruction era.  This was during the late Victorian era after the American Civil War.  This setting is why Song of the South is a film which Disney find difficult to acknowledge.  The inherent racism of this era is not overt in the film, but is evident in the positioning of the white and black characters.  That said, however, Uncle Remus is clearly greatly respected by Johnny's grandmother, the plantation owner, and that respect seems mutual.  Also, Johnny and Ginny play with Toby without a second thought.  Whilst the real life attitude and history of this period may be difficult to Americans to reconcile, it seems to me that Disney have managed to make a film which acknowledges but doesn't dwell on it.  There is no political agenda to this and whilst the stereotypes may well be present in characters such as Aunt Tempy, I do not feel that Disney really has anything to be ashamed about with this film.  As a Brit, maybe it is difficult for me to truly empathise with the strength of feeling about this film.

Disney Songs: For all of Song of the South's controversy, aspects from it still manage to be high-profile in the wider world of Disney.  One of these is the classic song, Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.  This is a song that has entered the collective consciousness.  Everyone knows this song, even if they have never seen the film.  It is a joyous, upbeat song with easily remembered lyrics and hummable tune.  The other two principal songs are How Do You Do? and Everybody's Got a Laughing Place.  Both of these are fun, memorable songs.  There are a selection of other songs sung by the plantation workers including Sooner or Later and Let the Rain Pour Down.  In the film, these are often just snatches of song rather than full-blown musical numbers, although the soundtrack to the film has them in full.
Disney Finale: I like Song of the South.  It mixes live action and animation incredibly well and both halves are interesting in their own right.  Uncle Remus is a great character (and a good performance from James Baskett) and the rest of the cast - even the children - give good performances.  The animated sections are a delight - colourful, vibrant and funny with some great songs and memorable characters.  After the disappointing Make Mine Music and the Latin American package films, it's good to have a proper narrative back, even if it is a little disjointed and punctuated by what are effectively animated shorts.


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