Song of the South is a 1946 American live-action/animated musical film produced by Walt Disney and released by RKO Radio Pictures. It is based on the collection of Uncle Remus stories as adapted by Joel Chandler Harris, and stars James Baskett as Uncle Remus. The film takes place in the southern United States during the Reconstruction era, a period of American history after the end of the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery. The story follows seven-year-old Johnny (Bobby Driscoll) who is visiting his grandmother’s plantation for an extended stay. Johnny befriends Uncle Remus, one of the workers on the plantation, and takes joy in hearing his tales about the adventures of Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox, and Br’er Bear. Johnny learns from the stories how to cope with the challenges he is experiencing while living on the plantation.
Walt Disney had wanted to produce a film based on the Uncle Remus stories for some time. It was not until 1939 that he began negotiating with the Harris family for the film rights, and finally in 1944, filming for Song of the South began. The studio constructed a plantation set for the outdoor scenes in Phoenix, Arizona, and some other scenes were filmed in Hollywood. The film is predominantly live action, but includes three animated segments, which were later released as stand-alone television features. Some scenes also feature a combination of live action with animation. Song of the South premiered in Atlanta in November 1946 and the remainder of its initial theater run was a financial success. The song “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” won the 1947 Academy Award for Best Original Song and Baskett received an Academy Honorary Award for his performance as Uncle Remus.
Since its original release, Song of the South has remained a subject of controversy. Some critics have described the film’s portrayal of African Americans as racist and offensive, maintaining that the black vernacular and other qualities are stereotypes. In addition, the plantation setting is sometimes criticized as idyllic and glorified. Because of this controversy, Disney has not released Song of the South on any home video format in the United States. Some of the musical and animated sequences have been released through other means, and the full film has seen home video distribution in other countries. The cartoon characters from the film have continued to appear in a variety of books, comics, and other media. The Disney theme park ride Splash Mountain is based on the film.
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