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Simply the Worst: Disney’s “Song of the South”

Simply the Worst: Disney's "Song of the South"

Whether or not you’ve seen the 1946 Disney film Song of the South—and if you have, you probably haven’t seen it since at least 1986, the last time it was released to theaters—you’ve almost certainly been touched by it through some form of cultural osmosis. Perhaps, while at Disneyland, Disney World, or Tokyo Disneyland, you rode Splash Mountain, populated by the movie’s animated characters, Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox, and Br’er Bear. Maybe you’ve seen a clip of James Baskett performing the movie’s Oscar-winning song “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” Or if Baskett’s version is unfamiliar to you, you might have heard the Muppet bunnies sing it, or Paula Abdul, or Miley Cyrus. Or it’s possible you received a “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah Tip for the Day” during one of your trips to a Disney resort.

These redeployments are anecdotal evidence that Song of the South—which is, by almost any measure, alternately good, bad, and ugly—has had an undeniable cultural influence. Yet despite that, the movie is now available to the public thanks only to video transfers of dubious quality on YouTube. Disney has willingly commodified “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” and the movie’s animated characters, but it has buried the film that first brought them to the public’s attention. Br’er Rabbit and the other residents of Splash Mountain, along with Baskett’s altogether “satisfactual” number, are cultural orphans—references without a referent. This is because Disney executives seem to believe, for good reason, that Song of the South is unacceptably racist. Read Chris Wisniewski’s entry in Reverse Shot’s “Simply the Worst” symposium.

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