Movie Review – Song of the South (1946)

In our youth, many of us have heard of author Joel Chandler Harris‘s animal tales told by fictional character Uncle Remus.

The tales, initially passed down through oral folklore by the African-American slaves, often focused on trickster hero Br’er Rabbit (Brother Rabbit), and his encounters with other friendly and evil animals such as Br’er Fox, Br’er Bear, Br’er Terrapin, and Br’er Wolf down in rural parts of Georgia.  The first of Harris’s Uncle Remus books was published back in 1880.

The tales of Uncle Remus were brought to life by Walt Disney in the 1946 feature film, Song of the South.  Using a combination of live action and animated segments, Song of the South tells a story of a young boy living in Georgia during the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War.  When he runs into trouble in life, he listens to the tales told by Uncle Remus and learns the wisdom behind them.

Song of the South (1946) - movie poster

Directed by Harve Foster and Wilfred Jackson, Song of the South stars James Baskett in the role of Uncle Remus as well as providing the voice of Br’er Fox.  Supporting him are Bobby Driscoll as Johnny, and Luana Patten as Ginny Favers.  Hattie McDaniel has the role of Aunt Tempy, the family’s chef and caretaker.

Song of the South takes place in rural Georgia during the Reconstruction Era after the War Between the States (a.k.a. American Civil War).  It’s a time period where the slaves have been freed though many of them continue to work on plantations as sharecroppers.

Song of the South (1946) - Riding to grandmother's plantation in Georgia.

Song of the South (1946) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures / Disney

The film begins as seven-year-old Johnny (Bobby Driscoll) arrives at his grandmother’s plantation along with his mother, Sally (Ruth Warrick), and his father, John, Sr. (Erik Rolf).  Accompanying them on the journey from Atlanta is Aunt Tempy (Hattie McDaniel), the family’s cook and caretaker.  She watches out for Johnny as if he was her own son.

Song of the South (1946) - Johnny learns that his father is leaving to go back to Atlanta.

Song of the South (1946) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures / Disney

After they arrive at grandmother’s plantation, Johnny meets Toby (Glenn Leedy), a young black boy who quickly becomes Johnny’s friend.  The trip to the plantation initially seems like a vacation until Johnny learns that his father is returning to Atlanta by himself, and his parents will be living apart for a while.

Song of the South (1946) - Uncle Remus enjoys telling stories to children.

Song of the South (1946) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures / Disney

Johnny is horrified of the thought of his father leaving him and his mother, even if it’s just for a little while.  That night the boy packs a bindle and runs away to find his father.  After sneaking away from the plantation, Johnny overhears a bunch of black people sitting around a campfire and singing about Uncle Remus.  He then discovers Uncle Remus (James Baskett) nearby and telling tales to a small group of children.

Uncle Remus notices Johnny hiding behind a tree, but he does not turn in the boy when workers from the plantation come looking for him.  He only informs them that the boy is safe with him.  After the workers return to the plantation, Uncle Remus befriends Johnny and takes him back to his cabin.

Song of the South (1946) - It's a Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah day!

Song of the South (1946) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures / Disney

At the cabin, Uncle Remus tells Johnny one of the story of “Br’er Rabbit Runs Away.”  The film transitions to an animated segment and we see Uncle Remus singing “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” while interacting with animated butterflies, bees, possums, hummingbirds, and Mr. Bluebird.  He then meets Br’er Rabbit (voiced by Johnny Lee), and we learn that Br’er Rabbit is unhappy at home and running away.  He boards up the front door to his Briar Patch and leaves for good.  Uncle Remus warns Br’er Rabbit that he can’t run away from trouble as “there ain’t no place that far,” but the rabbit doesn’t seem to care.

Song of the South (1946) - Br'er Rabbit tells Uncle Remus that he's leaving home for good.

Song of the South (1946) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures / Disney

Br’er Rabbit is hopping along a path when he’s suddenly captured by one of Br’er Fox’s rabbit traps.  A snare holds the rabbit above the ground while a bell rings, announcing of his capture.  Up at his lair on Chick-a-Pin Hill, Br’er Fox (voiced by James Baskett) hears the alarm and gets excited when he sees Br’er Rabbit caught in his snare.  He sharpens his axe and then runs down the mountain to claim his prize.

Song of the South (1946) - Br'er Rabbit tricks Br'er Bear into helping him out of Br'er Fox's snare.

Song of the South (1946) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures / Disney

Br’er Rabbit is in trouble until he spies Br’er Bear (voiced by Nick Stewart) walking down the path.  Br’er Rabbit convinces Br’er Bear that he’s not actually caught in a trap but rather is working a job.  He’s being paid a dollar a minute to keep crows out of the corn field.  He offers his job to Br’er Bear, but Bear is too modest to take a job away from the rabbit.  As Br’er Fox races down the path, Br’er Rabbit finally convinces Br’er Bear to take his spot in the snare.  He does so and Br’er Rabbit hides behind a rock as Br’er Fox arrives.

When he sees the big bear in his trap, Br’er Fox is furious.  He cuts Br’er Bear free and tells him that he’s a fool and that Br’er Rabbit is laughing at him for being so stupid.  This enrages Br’er Bear and he marches off to fight Br’er Rabbit.  Rabbit tries to escape, but there’s a three-way fight between Br’er Bear, Br’er Fox and Br’er Rabbit.  Br’er Rabbit manages to sneak away from the scuffle.  He then runs back to his home in the briar patch.

Just as Uncle Remus said, Br’er Rabbit couldn’t run away from trouble.  There ain’t no place that far.

Song of the South (1946) - Uncle Remus takes the blame for Johnny being away from home.

Song of the South (1946) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures / Disney

Johnny learns the lesson from “Br’er Rabbit Runs Away,” and he decides to return to the plantation.  Knowing that the boy will probably get into trouble for running away, Uncle Remus escorts Johnny and Toby back to the plantation.  Uncle Remus takes the blame by explaining that he was telling Johnny tales of Br’er Rabbit, and he simply lost track of the time.  However, when Toby shows Sally Johnny’s bundle, she knows that there’s more to the story than what she was told.

The next day Johnny and Toby are out playing when they find themselves next to a pasture.  Johnny wants to cut across it when Toby stops him and shows him the bull standing in the field.  They’re upwind from the bull, and he’ll charge them if they cross into the field.  The boys wisely stay out of the pasture.

Song of the South (1946) - Joe and Jake make fun of Johnny's clothes, calling him a girl.

Song of the South (1946) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures / Disney

The boys then pass by the Favers house (a poor white family) and see the two boys, Joe (Gene Holland) and Jake (George Nokes), tormenting a small puppy, the runt of the litter.  They want to drown the runt, but their little sister, Ginny (Luana Patten), stops them.  Joe and Jake then see Johnny standing by the fence and wearing girlish clothing, so they ridicule him until he runs away.

Song of the South (1946) - Johnny takes Ginny for a boat ride.

Song of the South (1946) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures / Disney

Ginny follows Johnny and finds him by an old mill.  She gives him the puppy and he gives her the lace collar that her brothers were making fun of.  Ginny and Johnny quickly become friends.  They sing “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” while playing in a boat.

When Johnny brings his new puppy back to the plantation, Aunt Tempy tells him to return the puppy where he found it.  Knowing that Joe and Jake will harm the puppy, Johnny instead takes it to Uncle Remus.  He convinces Uncle Remus to take the dog.

Song of the South (1946) - Uncle Remus defends Johnny and the puppy from Joe and Jake.

Song of the South (1946) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures / Disney

Later, Joe and Jake find Johnny at Uncle Remus’s cabin with the puppy.  They threaten to take back the dog, but Johnny refuses as he was given the dog by Ginny, making it his.  Ginny is hiding in the bushes.  When her brothers leave, she tells Johnny to just ignore them.  If they cause any more trouble, then all Johnny has to do is tell their mom what happened.

Song of the South (1946) - Uncle Remus goes fishing with Br'er Frog.

Song of the South (1946) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures / Disney

Inside the cabin, Uncle Remus tells the story of “Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby” to Johnny and Toby.  The animated segment begins with Uncle Remus singing “How Do You Do?” to the animated critters.  He ultimately joins Br’er Frog (voiced by Roy Glenn) sitting on a log, and the two of them go fishing.

Meanwhile, Br’er Fox has a new plan for catching Br’er Rabbit.  He constructs a figure made of tar, a Tar Baby, and places him on a log along the path.  They disguise and make it look human enough to fool the rabbit.

Song of the South (1946) - Br'er Rabbit wonders why the Tar Baby doesn't say hello.

Song of the South (1946) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures / Disney

Sure enough, Br’er Rabbit comes down the path and tries to talk to the Tar Baby.  When the Tar Baby remains silent, the rabbit tries to talk to him again.  Again there’s silence.  Now Br’er Rabbit believes that the Tar Baby is just being rude.  He picks a fight and ends up punching the Tar Baby in the face.  The tar grabs hold of Br’er Rabbit, and just like that the rabbit is captured.  Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear are thrilled that they’ve finally caught the elusive rabbit.

Br’er Fox surrounds Br’er Rabbit with wood and prepares to cook him for dinner.  As Br’re Fox and Br’er Bear bicker with each other, Br’er Rabbit spies a briar patch in the distance.  He quickly thinks of a plan to escape from them.  The rabbit eggs on Br’er Bear, encouraging him to knock off his head.  He just does *not* want them to fling him into the briar patch.  Br’er Fox thinks of other ways to kill Br’er Rabbit, and the rabbit accepts all of the ideas.  He continually tells them NOT to fling him into the nearby briar patch.

Song of the South (1946) - Br'er Rabbit pleads for Br'er Fox to NOT throw him into the briar patch.

Song of the South (1946) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures / Disney

Br’er Fox finally looks at the briar patch and sees all of the long thorns.  Thinking that it’s really the best way to kill Br’er Rabbit (after all, the rabbit kept saying how he did not want to be thrown in there), he flings the rabbit into the thick patch.  It’s a trick, of course.  Br’er Rabbit’s home is the briar patch.  He’s perfectly safe in there.  His trick of using reverse psychology worked.

Song of the South (1946) - Joe and Jake think that they've outsmarted Johnny.

Song of the South (1946) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures / Disney

When Johnny and Toby are returning home they’re ambushed by Joe and Jake.  They threaten to tell Sally and his grandmother about the puppy.  Johnny uses reverse psychology and tricks the boys into telling their own mother about the puppy.  They do just that and end up receiving a spanking from their mother.

Song of the South (1946) - Sally learns the truth about the puppy from Joe and Jake.

Song of the South (1946) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures / Disney

After receiving their punishment, Joe and Jake go to the plantation and tell Sally anyway.  Uncle Remus tries to scare away the boys, but they don’t move.  When Sally hears the story from the boys she tells Remus to return the puppy to them.  She also tells him to stop telling Johnny the stories about Br’er Rabbit as it’s only confusing and turning him into a disobedient child.

Song of the South (1946) - Johnny learns that the puppy is gone and Uncle Remus will not tell any more Br'er Rabbit stories.

Song of the South (1946) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures / Disney

When Johnny later goes to Uncle Remus’s cabin, he learns that the puppy was given back to the Favers boys.  He is then told that Uncle Remus will not tell him any more stories.  Devastated, Johnny returns to the plantation.

Song of the South (1946) - Ginny's party dress is ruined from the mud.

Song of the South (1946) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures / Disney

The following day is Johnny’s birthday.  There’s a big party and Ginny is invited.  Her mother made her a dress out of her old wedding gown.  Johnny meets Ginny and escorts her to the plantation.  Along the way they’re tormented by Joe and Jake, and Ginny is pushed down into a patch of mud.  Johnny then fights Joe, and the two of them keep fighting until Uncle Remus separates them.

Uncle Remus finds Johnny and Ginny sitting by the old mill.  To cheer them up he tells them the story of “Br’er Rabbit’s Laughing Place.”

Song of the South (1946) - Br'er Fox is ready to cook Br'er Rabbit for dinner.

Song of the South (1946) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures / Disney

The animated segment begins with Br’er Rabbit tied up and being held in Br’er Fox’s lair.  Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear are preparing to cook him for dinner.  Just as he’s being placed over the fire, Br’er Rabbit starts laughing.  He explains that he was just visiting his laughing place before he was captured.  The concept of the laughing place intrigues Br’er Bear, and he insists on Br’er Rabbit showing him the secret place.

Song of the South (1946) - Br'er Rabbit shows Br'er Bear the secret location of the laughing place.

Song of the South (1946) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures / Disney

Br’er Rabbit sings “Everybody’s Got a Laughing Place” while leading Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear along a path.  Just when Br’er Fox is suspecting that Br’er Rabbit is just stalling and trying to trick them again, Br’er Rabbit spots a beehive.  He suddenly announces that they found the secret laughing place, and it’s right in the middle of a patch of bushes.  Br’er Bear goes running inside and then emerges with the beehive lodged on his nose.  Br’er Fox laughs at him, calling him a fool, and Br’er Bear shoves the beehive onto Br’er Fox’s head.  As the two of them fight each other and the bees, Br’er Rabbit manages to escape.

The story of the laughing place cheers up Johnny and Ginny.  When they go off searching for their own laughing place, Sally discovers them.  She’s upset that Johnny ran away from his own birthday party.  She’s also upset that Uncle Remus told another story despite being told not to.  She tells Uncle Remus to stay away from Johnny at all costs.

Song of the South (1946) - The bull chases and injures Johnny.

Song of the South (1946) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures / Disney

After Ginny is returned home, Johnny heads back to Uncle Remus’s cabin.  But the cabin is deserted.  Uncle Remus has left.  Toby spies Uncle Remus getting into a wagon.  Johnny runs through the pasture to try to catch up to him, but the bull in the pasture chases and seriously injures Johnny.

Song of the South (1946) - John heard of his son's serious injury and returned to the plantation.

Song of the South (1946) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures / Disney

Johnny is still seriously injured when his father and Uncle Remus return to the plantation to see him.  Uncle Remus decides to finish telling the story of “Br’er Rabbit’s Laughing Place” to cheer up the boy.  Johnny then sees his father in the room.  He’s overjoyed when his father tells him that he’s staying right there.  All of this lifts Johnny’s spirits and he makes a full recovery from his injury.

Some time later, Johnny, Ginny and Toby are playing and singing “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.”  Along with them is that puppy that was initially returned to the Favers.  The children encounter Br’er Rabbit and Mr. Bluebird.  Br’er Frog then joins the group.

Song of the South (1946) - Uncle Remus re-joins the children in the end.

Song of the South (1946) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures / Disney

Song of the South ends with Uncle Remus joining the children and walking into the animated world.

FINAL THOUGHTS

So is Song of the South a good film?

As a whole, Song of the South is a great film that tells some great tales of American folklore.  The only problem is that this film is set in the deep south during the Reconstruction Era, and because of the way that black people are represented, many people have deemed this as a racist film.

Personally, I didn’t see anything racist in this film.  Is it wrong to show a plantation owned by white people and having black people as the workers?  Last time I checked, that’s how it worked in the vast majority of farms and plantations throughout the south.

The people here weren’t slaves.  They were free people who chose to work on the farm for their own reasons.  They were free to leave and seek a new life elsewhere if they desired.  Are we supposed to forget about this period of history that immediately followed the War Between the States?

People need to get with the program and realise that what scenes may be depicted as being racist are nothing compared to the reverse racism that’s a major part of today’s society.

Song of the South is a film that primarily focuses on a young boy and the problems he encounters after moving to his grandmother’s plantation.  He seeks advice and guidance through Uncle Remus, an older man who is a former slave.  Uncle Remus tells Johnny the stories of Br’er Rabbit as a way of giving him advice.  The stories work and Johnny figures out how to deal with his problems.

Imagine how much better the world would be if we all had an Uncle Remus in our family, somebody who could act like a kindly grandfather and always be there for support and guidance.

The live-action parts of this film are rather simple and predictable.  The advice in the Br’er Rabbit stories works, and everything works out for Johnny in the end.  It just would have been nice if there was more animation with the Br’er Rabbit characters.  What’s in the film is rather short but still fun and entertaining.

It’s really a shame that Song of the South has such a negative reputation, even now almost seventy years since its initial release.

Magic Kingdom - Frontierland - Splash Mountain - 01 Magic Kingdom - Frontierland - Splash Mountain - 02 Magic Kingdom - Frontierland - Splash Mountain - 03

What’s ironic is that this controversial film is the basis for Splash Mountain, one of the greatest and most popular rides in the history of the Disney theme parks.

Splash Mountain is a log flume ride that uses an extensive number of Audio-Animatronic characters to tell the story of Br’er Rabbit.  The general story in the ride is that Br’er Rabbit is leaving home to go on an adventure.  Mr. Bluebird warns him not to leave, and Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear are eager to catch and eat him.

Like in the film, Br’er Fox tries to set a snare trap but ends up catching Br’er Bear instead.  Br’er Rabbit laughs at them.  He then tricks Br’er Bear into finding his laughing place, but like in the film, he only finds beehives and lots of angry bees.  While Br’er Rabbit is laughing at Br’er Bear’s misfortune, Br’er Fox catches him with a beehive.

As our log vehicles climb the final lift hill, Br’er Fox is ready to cook Br’er Rabbit.  It’s okay to the rabbit as long as he’s *not* thrown into the nearby briar patch.  The reverse psychology works and Br’er Rabbit is tossed into the briar patch.  Our log vehicles race down the front of the mountain and mysteriously disappear into the briar patch.

The ride ends with Br’er Rabbit learning his lesson and glad to be returning home.  The ride features many of the songs from the film including “How Do You Do?,” “Everybody’s Got a Laughing Place,” and of course, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.”

Splash Mountain is a highly themed adventure that features great characters, memorable music, and plenty of thrills as you go down a series of drops during the ride.

Song of the South re-release trailer

As far as Song of the South, the film will be most appeasing to lovers of the Disney animated films as well as those people who love Americana and American folklore.  The only problem is that if you want to view this film, you’re going to have to order it from somewhere overseas as it’s not available in this country.

four stars

Uncle Remus – “You can’t run away from trouble. There ain’t no place that far.”

—————–

Br’er Rabbit – “Please don’t throw me in dat briar patch!”

—————–

Uncle Remus – [singing] “The weather’s good; the fishin’s fine / Now what do you do with all your time?”
Br’er Rabbit – [singing] “Oh, I zigs and I zags; I tos and I fros / That’s what you ask me, and that’s what you know.”

—————-

Br’er Bear – “You said this was a Laughing Place. And I ain’t laughing.”
Br’er Rabbit – “I didn’t say it was your Laughing Place, I said it was *my* Laughing Place, Br’er Bear.”

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