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Song of the South (1946) Poster

Trivia

After abandoning his studies of pharmacology for financial reasons, James Baskett supported himself as an actor, moving from his home town of Indianapolis, Indiana to New York City, New York and joining the company of Bill Robinson, better known as Mr. Bojangles. After achieving moderate success on the stage, Baskett and his family moved to Hollywood where he found work in a couple of films. In 1945, he auditioned for a bit part of voicing a talking butterfly in this film. "I thought that, maybe, they'd try me out to furnish the voice for one of Uncle Remus' animals," Baskett remarked. Upon review of his voice, Walt Disney wanted to meet Baskett personally, and had him tested for the role of Uncle Remus. Not only did Baskett get the part of the butterfly's voice, but also the voice of Br'er Fox and the live-action role of Uncle Remus as well. Additionally, Baskett filled in as the voice of Br'er Rabbit for Johnny Lee in the "Laughing Place" scene after Lee was called away to do promotion for the picture. Disney liked Baskett, and told his sister Ruth [Disney] that Baskett was "the best actor, I believe, to be discovered in years". This was one of the first Hollywood portrayals of a black actor as a non-comic character in a leading role in a film meant for general audiences. Even after the film's release, Disney maintained contact with Baskett, where the two became close friends, like brothers. Disney also campaigned for Baskett to be given an Academy Award for his performance, saying that he had worked "almost wholly without direction" and had devised the characterization of Remus himself. Thanks to Disney's efforts, Baskett won an Honorary Academy Award in 1948. Four months after the Academy Awards ceremony, James Baskett died from heart failure resulting from diabetes. After his death, James' widow, Margaret, wrote a letter to Disney and told him that he had been a "friend indeed and [we] certainly have been in need."
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On the final day of shooting, animation director Wilfred Jackson discovered that the scene in which Uncle Remus sings the film's signature song, "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah", had not been properly blocked. According to Jackson, "We all sat there in a circle with the dollars running out, and nobody came up with anything. Then Walt suggested that they shoot Baskett in close-up, cover the lights with cardboard save for a sliver of blue sky behind his head, and then remove the cardboard from the lights when he began singing so that he would seem to be entering a bright new world of animation. Like Walt's idea for Bambi on ice in Bambi (1942), it made for one of the most memorable scenes in the film."
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Once Whoopi Goldberg was inaugurated as a Disney Legend, one of her first requests to the Walt Disney Company was for them to finally release this film to the public and to stop hiding from and being ashamed of their own racist past.
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Owing to the significant and continued controversy surrounding public perception of the film's treatment of slavery (though it is set during during post-Civil War Reconstruction in the 1870s, a period in which new systems of labor emerged to take the place of slavery) and the portrayal of its African American characters, the Disney corporation has been reluctant to reissue the film in the United States, having last been seen legally there in 1986. The studio did make the film available on video in Europe and Asia, and bootleg copies are frequently derived from them.
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The film had its world premiere at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, Georgia on November 12, 1946 with a huge fanfare. Walt Disney made introductory remarks, introduced the cast, then quietly left for his room at the Georgian Terrace Hotel across the street; he had previously stated that unexpected audience reactions upset him and he was better off not seeing the film with an audience. James Baskett was unable to attend the film's premiere because he would not have been allowed to participate in any of the festivities, as Atlanta was then a racially segregated city. In fact, the second reason why Disney did not watch the film during its premiere screening was for out of respect for Baskett and the other black actors of the film, who were all, also, banned from attending the premiere and its festivities.
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The movie is based on the tales of African-Americans as recorded by historian Joel Chandler Harris. He wrote the stories in the dialect spoken by African Americans in Reconstruction era Georgia.
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Like many other Disney films, "Song of the South" was re-released in theaters several times after its original premiere, each time through Buena Vista Pictures Distribution: in 1956; in 1972 for the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney Productions; in 1973 as the second half of a double bill with the re-release of The Aristocats (1970); in 1980 for the 100th anniversary of Joel Chandler Harris' classic "Uncle Remus" stories; and in 1986 for the film's own 40th anniversary and in promotion of the upcoming Splash Mountain attraction at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.
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Upon receiving an Academy Honorary Award for his performance in this film, James Baskett became the first African-American male performer to receive an Academy Award. Seven years earlier, Hattie McDaniel, who also appeared in Song of the South, became the first African-American to win an Academy Award (Best Supporting Actress, Gone with the Wind (1939)). It wouldn't be until 1964 when an African-American male performer would win the Academy Award for Best Actor: Sidney Poitier (Lilies of the Field (1963)).
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Walt Disney Productions first re-released the film in 1956. In 1970, Disney announced in Variety that the film had been "permanently" retired. The studio later changed its mind and re-released the film, four more times, in 1972, 1973, 1980, and 1986.
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As the Disney company has never released the film on home video in the USA, the film will go into public domain in 2039 and Disney will lose all copyright to the film if it does not get it released again, physically in theaters or home video or even by digitally streaming for rental or purchase.
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James Baskett originally auditioned to play the butterfly. Not only did he play Uncle Remus, he played Br'er Rabbit for the "Laughing Place" scene and sang "Laughing Place" after Johnny Lee was called away to do promotion for the picture. Baskett also played the butterfly.
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The complete film has never been released on DVD in the USA, but extensive clips appear on the Alice in Wonderland (1951) Un-Anniversary Edition DVD (2010), in the special feature One Hour in Wonderland (1950).
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When the film premiered in Atlanta, Georgia, a story went around that star James Baskett couldn't attend because no hotel would give him a room because he was black.
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Contrary to popular belief, the film takes place after the U.S. Civil War, during the period known as "Reconstruction."
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Screenwriter Dalton S. Reymond wrote a story treatment for the film. Because Reymond was not a professional screenwriter, Maurice Rapf, who had been writing live-action features at the time, was asked by Walt Disney Productions to work with Reymond to turn the treatment into a shootable screenplay. According to Neal Gabler, one of the reasons Walt Disney had hired Rapf to work with Reymond was to temper what Disney feared would be Reymond's "white Southern slant". Rapf was Jewish and an outspoken left-winger, and he himself feared that the film would inevitably be Uncle Tomish. "That's exactly why I want you to work on it," Walt told him, "because I know that you don't think I should make the movie. You're against Uncle Tomism, and you're a radical." Rapf initially hesitated, but when he found out that most of the film would be live-action and that he could make extensive changes, he accepted the offer. Rapf worked on "Uncle Remus" for about seven weeks. When he got into a personal dispute with Reymond, Rapf was taken off the project. According to Rapf, Walt Disney "ended every conference by saying 'Well, I think we've really licked it now.' Then he'd call you the next morning and say, 'I've got a new idea.' And he'd have one. Sometimes the ideas were good, sometimes they were terrible, but you could never really satisfy him." Morton Grant was assigned to the project. Disney sent out the script for comment both within the studio and outside the studio.
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Notwithstanding the criticisms he received for accepting such a "demeaning" role, James Baskett's performance as Uncle Remus was almost universally praised by critics and audiences alike. Columnist Hedda Hopper and actor/then-President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Jean Hersholt were among the many journalists and supporters who declared that Baskett should receive an Academy Award for his performance. Some time later, at the 20th Annual Academy Awards ceremony in 1948, the Academy Board of Governors unanimously voted to bestow an Honorary Academy Award to Baskett "for his able and heart-warming characterization of Uncle Remus, friend and story teller to the children of the world in Walt Disney's Song of the South."
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Final film of James Baskett.
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Widely regarded as the "black sheep" of the Walt Disney Company, "Song of the South" has been primarily disowned by the company since the early 1990s out of fear for the controversy surrounding the film's racist undertones. The classic music, however, can still often be heard throughout the Disney theme parks and other various outlets -- unknown to most younger generations, who have no association with it.
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Walt Disney had long wanted to make a film based on the Joel Chandler Harris stories of "Uncle Remus", but it was not until the mid-1940s that he had found a way to give the stories an adequate film equivalent in scope and fidelity. "I always felt that Uncle Remus should be played by a living person", Disney commented, "as should also the young boy to whom Harris' old Negro philosopher relates his vivid stories of the Briar Patch. Several tests in previous pictures, especially in The Three Caballeros (1944), were encouraging in the way living action and animation could be dovetailed. Finally, months ago, we 'took our foot in hand,' in the words of Uncle Remus, and jumped into our most venturesome but also more pleasurable undertaking." The film represented Disney's first foray into live-action filmmaking with story, drama, depth, and heart, although it features animated sequences of the adventures of Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Fox, and Br'er Bear. Treasure Island (1950), four years later, would be Disney's first all live-action motion picture. For Song of the South, Disney pulled out all the stops to hire the best and well accomplished in Hollywood to work on the film's live-action sequences, including the legendary cinematographer Gregg Toland (The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Citizen Kane (1941), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The Long Voyage Home (1940), Wuthering Heights (1939)).
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Walt Disney frequently met with director King Vidor, in hopes of hiring him to direct the live-action sequences. Vidor, however, had to turn down the offer, as he was busy with his directing duties on Duel in the Sun (1946). Vidor is best known as the director of films that include The Big Parade (1925), The Champ (1931), The Citadel (1938), The Crowd (1928), The Fountainhead (1949), Hallelujah (1929) (a groundbreaking film, especially in its time, with an all-black cast and a non-stereotyped depiction of African-American life), Show People (1928), Stella Dallas (1937), and War and Peace (1956). He is also responsible for directing the sepia-tone Kansas sequences in The Wizard of Oz (1939), which includes Judy Garland's legendary "Over the Rainbow" musical number.
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Br'er Rabbit's laughter heard during the "Laughing Place" sequence of this film was reused in The Jungle Book (1967) when Baloo tickles King Louie before Baloo, Bagheera, and Mowgli make their escape from King Louie's palace.
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When "Splash Mountain", an amusement ride based on this film, opened in Disneyland in 1989, the local NAACP and others protested.
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Walt Disney first began to negotiate with Joel Chandler Harris' family for the film rights of the "Uncle Remus" stories in 1939, and by late summer of that year he already had one of his storyboard artists summarize the more promising tales and draw up four boards' worth of story sketches. In November 1940, Disney visited the Harris' home in Atlanta. He told Variety that he wanted to "get an authentic feeling of Uncle Remus country so we can do as faithful a job as possible to these stories." Roy O. Disney had misgivings about the project, doubting that it was "big enough in caliber and natural draft" to warrant a budget over $1 million and more than twenty-five minutes of animation, but in June 1944, Disney hired Southern-born writer Dalton Reymond (Jezebel (1938), The Little Foxes (1941)) to write the screenplay.
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In Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), the characters from this film had five cameo appearance scenes, the most from any single film: Br'er Bear can be seen walking off the Maroon Cartoons studio lot; In the first Toontown sequence, the three Sis Moles pop up from the ground; Afterwards, the Tar Baby can be seen sitting on the back fence; The three hummingbirds say "Hi Eddie" and "Bye Eddie" as Eddie Valiant drives by; and Br'er Bear can be seen in the toon crowd of the final scene.
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Despite the fact that the story takes in place in Georgia following the conclusion of the U.S. Civil War, most of the outdoor live-action scenes were filmed in Phoenix, Arizona, while some additional live-action scenes were filmed at the Samuel Goldwyn Studios in West Hollywood, California.
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The stories used in the film were recorded by Atlanta journalist Joel Chandler Harris who spent a great deal of time speaking with freed slaves and other African Americans recording their stories for posterity. Many of the stories were written in the regional dialect of the African Americans of the period. Many consider the portrayal of reconstruction African Americans as offensive even if the spirit of the film is to give an authentic look into the lives and times of Southern African Americans in the time following the Civil War.
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The top-grossing US film of 1946.
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"The Hedda Hopper' Show - This Is Hollywood" broadcast a 30-minute radio adaptation on February 1, 1947, with James Baskett reprising his film role.
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James Baskett spoke the part of Br'er Fox so quickly that the animators were unable to sync their animation with complete accuracy. Animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston calculated that Baskett spoke about eight words a second, or 1/8th of a second per word.
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As of 2020, the film has never seen an official release from The Walt Disney Company or any of its subsidiaries worldwide. However, due to distribution and copyright differences that exist in various countries for Disney films, Song Of The South entered Public Domain status in Japan in 2000, making Disney essentially powerless from stopping it from being available to purchase worldwide.
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James Baskett is the first actor to win an Academy Award (although an honorary one) for his performance in a Walt Disney film. Seventeen years later, at the 37th Annual Academy Awards ceremony in 1965, Julie Andrews became the first actor to win an Academy Award for competitive acting for her performance in a Walt Disney film: Mary Poppins (1964).
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According to page 93 of James Snead's book, "White Screens/Black Images", "At the film's New York premiere in Times Square, dozens of black and white pickets chanted, 'We fought for Uncle Sam, not Uncle Tom,' while the NAACP called for a total boycott of the film, and the National Negro Congress called on black people to 'run the picture out of the area.'"
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This is the first motion picture that the legendary cinematographer Gregg Toland worked on that was filmed in Technicolor. All of the films Toland had worked on prior to this film were filmed in black and white, including Citizen Kane (1941), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), Wuthering Heights (1939), and The Long Voyage Home (1940).
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James Baskett, and Gregg Toland, the film's cinematographer, were both born in 1904. Sadly, both men died in 1948 at the age of 44, Baskett from heart failure caused by diabetes and Toland from a coronary thrombosis.
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The only project by Disney that was not released on their Disney+ streaming service alongside their other films and shows.
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Although it was not his first starring role, the then-nine year old actor Bobby Driscoll rose to prominence with his first lead starring role in this film. He garnered great critical acclaim for his performance in the film and, along with his co-star Luana Patten, shot to stardom. For the next seven years, Driscoll was one of Hollywood's top box-office attractions and one of its critically acclaimed actors, which was quite an impressive achievement for a juvenile actor in the film industry in the 1940s and 1950s. At the 22nd Annual Academy Awards ceremony in 1950, Driscoll was recognized with the Academy Juvenile Award, honoring him as "the outstanding juvenile actor of 1949" for his performances in So Dear to My Heart (1948) and The Window (1949). He also continued to appear in more films for Walt Disney Productions, starring in some of the studio's most popular and acclaimed films like So Dear to My Heart, Treasure Island (1950), and Peter Pan (1953). In his biography on Walt Disney, Marc Elliot described Driscoll as the producer's favorite "live-action" child star: "Walt often referred to Driscoll with great affection as the living embodiment of his own youth [...]"
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Nicknamed by the American press as Walt Disney's "Sweetheart Team", Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten, following their great success in this film, appeared in two more films together: Melody Time (1948) and So Dear to My Heart (1948).
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The movie was mentioned in a Saturday Night Live (1975) "TV Funhouse" animated sequence called "Journey to the Disney Vault".
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Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten were the first actors to enter into a contract with Walt Disney Productions after when they were cast in their respective roles for this film.
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Despite playing an elderly gentleman, James Baskett was actually only 42 years old at the time of the movie's release. He did actually have a naturally gray head of hair however, but a full one at that - he had shaved the top of his head to give the illusion of a receding hairline.
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Robert A. Iger, the current CEO and Chairman of The Walt Disney Company, stated that he can: ride Space Mountain as many times as he wants, dig out the still unreleased-on-home-video "Song of the South" and give it a spin if he feels like it, get a reservation at Club 33 without problems, and watch Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2015) a few times before its Christmas 2015 release. He said that "I have that right" as CEO of The Walt Disney Company.
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In an article titled "Disney's Laughin' Place," Frank Stephenson said "Following its debut, the NAACP registered its official displeasure of what it called the film's 'racial stereotyping', a charge echoed by the National Urban League."
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The film was parodied in the BBC sketch comedy show Not the Nine O'clock News (1979).
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On May 8, 2007, the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, which includes representatives from the Los Angeles Civil Rights Association, the NAACP National Board, and the Youth Advocacy Coalition, sent out a press release denouncing Disney's rumors to re-release the film again.
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