It’s become well known that Disney has an immense history with creating some of the most racist characters of pop culture. There’s their noted hatred toward the Jewish religion, and even the infamous lyric to “Arabian Nights” in “Aladdin” that reads: “Where they cut off your ears if they don’t like your face,” and that film came out in 1992. But many of them are considered rather irrelevant when you bring up the name Uncle Remus.
“Song of the South” is pure fluff from beginning to end that depicts a South where slavery is more a job than it is something enforced on African Americans. The implication that slaves not only were comfortable in servitude but relished bonding with their masters is something of an insulting idea. But then again a movie like “Song of the South” is worthy of release because it encapsulates the sentiment toward minorities in the golden age of cinema and really should be observed and viewed in its context. Though it’s never had (and likely never will have) a DVD or Blu-Ray release, “Song of the South” can still be found and is quite an interesting film to sit through.
Given the proper frame of mind behind the writers, and explanation for its subject matter, “Song of the South” could become a collector’s item for film buffs as an odd little title. But Disney, like most of America, chooses to pretend this overt racism didn’t exist. Truth be told, Remus isn’t as cringe inducing as most depictions of the African American race during that time. He’s something of a guiding angel and a delightful aversion for a young boy who is planning to run away. So powerful is his ability to tell stories, that he distracts the young boy from attempting to flee his mansion. The white characters are for the most part uncaring and cold hearted, giving no mind to the cries of a young boy as he pleads for his father to stay home as he leaves to travel for a few months.
Only Remus manages to take pity on him and give him some hope. From there, Remus is around to ensure the young boy doesn’t get in to trouble by teaching him about the responsibility of owning a dog, and dealing with local bullies. James Baskett is the heart and soul of “Song of the South,” a brilliant performer who embodies this role and tries with every inch of his talent to turn a stereotype in to a dignified hero who has the best intentions of everyone in mind. He strikes awe in the hearts of children with his stories about Br’er Rabbit, and that’s mostly when the picture picks up. True, the animated characters are all mostly just animal representations of black stereotypes, but the voice work and animation are entertaining.
The story about young Johnny and his apparent coming of age is conventional and for the most part a lag in the general theme of the movie. His exploits are rarely ever compelling and the director obviously doesn’t try to stretch the weak young performers beyond their dramatic limits. Remus, even in the end, is something of an unsung hero who is still pushed in the background when his young friend asks for him after a horrible accident. Like most films at the time, even when the minority hero saved the day, they still just played as props for the white performers. “Song of the South” is not by any means a special title in Disney, and it’s not a hidden gem, but it warrants watching for its misguided naive look at slavery.