Disney Animator praises “Song of the South”


Former Disney animator Floyd Norman was just a boy when Walt Disney’s feature film “Song of the South” was released into the theaters. Norman has just written a powerful blog post about the film. While he doesn’t come right out and ask for Disney to release the film on DVD, he does come “this” close.

If you are unfamiliar with the movie, it features a mix of live-action and animation. It shares a number of African American folk tales as retold by Uncle Remus as he tries to help a young boy make a big decision. The stories are happy, colorful, and more than a bit sappy at times.

I feel like I have to relay this, because the film has been out of circulation for years. A few international releases are out there, but other than the very rare private film screening, Disney has pretty much buried the film.

Every other year or so, someone asks at the yearly stock holders meeting when Disney is planning to release the film and the answer is always, there are no plans at this time.

Norman, who is African American, recalls showing a print at a local church back in the day:

“Because employees were able to check out 16mm prints on occasion, I set up a special screening of the Disney film in a local Los Angeles church. The screening of the Disney motion picture proved insightful. The African American audience absolutely loved the movie and even requested a second screening of the Disney classic.”

I’ve seen the film on a VHS copy of the Japanese laserdisc version. Artistry wise, it’s not the tip top example of Disney animation, but it’s not horrible either. There is definitely some beautiful scenery and great characters. What could be considered horrible is the setting of the film. It’s set in an America just emerged from slavery and the topic both ignores a lot of the harsh realities of that time period and contains a few big stereotypes.

According to Norman’s post, that may be true, but it’s besides the point. The movie was not there to denigrate, but to entertain, said Norman.

“It’s a long time from Song of the South’s initial release and a magazine’s strident editorial. Yet even today the film continues to be mired in controversy and that’s a shame. I often remind people that the Disney movie is not a documentary on the American South.”

Disney hasn’t completely buried the film. It does have Splash Mountain – a major theme park attraction based on the attraction. If the adventures of Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear, and Brer Fox are good enough for millions of guests to experience on a ride every year, why keep the movie buried?

I don’t know the answer to that. But I do think it’s good that Norman is speaking out on the issue. It’s definitely time to start a dialogue about a potential re-issue this nearly forgotten film.

What would you do if given the opportunity to release “Song of the South?”

9 thoughts on “Disney Animator praises “Song of the South””

  1. I’ve always felt that it should have been released under the Vault Disney or Walt Disney Treasures series with Leonard Maltin giving context.
    It has it’s issues like that Harris was white giving his version of African trickster tales and the reconstruction setting with former slaves happily still on the plantation.
    But the Hollywood history such as Walt’s failed campaign to get James Baskett a best actor nomination, he was granted an honorary Oscar instead, should be told.

    1. Walt didn’t fail in getting James Baskett that OSCAR. He succeeded and Baskett is the first black man to receive such an honor….

  2. Everyone always points to the negatives regarding this film. Yeah, the time period is an unflattering one (to say the least) in our country’s history. Yeah, there are black AND white stereotypes that are also unflattering (to say the least). BUT…How about the job it did to take people out of groups and humanize them as individuals? How about the friendships formed among the children? How about the happiness they found together regardless of skin color? How about the things they learned together, helping Uncle Remus overcome his pain & self-doubt? How about the valuing of character winning the day over something as superficial as race?

    If nothing else, this film showed perspective — not skin color — is the issue because wisdom, kindness, togetherness and love can blossom anywhere with anyone. That’s huge. And if we really want to overcome racial divides and tensions, then we need to actively give more credence and credit to films, stories, people and ideas that do these kinds of things…putting humanity over skin tone.

  3. I believe the movie should be released immediately. It was a very warm and entertaining movie. I enjoy the setting of the film and disagree with negative views about it. A movie isn’t required to address every “harsh reality” of it’s time, nor is such “harsh reality” the only condition that existed for all. Reflecting “stereotypes” in a short movie isn’t awful either, as a “stereotype” is intended to represent an average image, not necessarily to abuse an image.

  4. It’s no more stereotypical of the times than Gone With The Wind, yet one is a classic and one is villified.

    I’ve downlaoded it and shown it to my kids. They realize it’s not a documentary of the times, but a good story.

  5. When cleaning out my father in law’s house before we moved in, I found a book called Uncle Remus Stories copyright 1947! I love that book! And I love they way it’s written. Total classic.

  6. Pingback: What to do about "Song of the South"? | ***Dave Does the Blog

  7. People often post the entire film on youtube. I have watched it a few times.I would release the film and as part of the special features I would include a discussion of the context of the time period of it’s release and the racism of that time and how that influenced entertainment stereotypes even at Disney. Possibly share some production art from it’s creation. An earlier release of Bambi has a wonderful documentary that shared insight into production meetings Walt himself contributed to. Maybe things of that nature could present the film in a more historical context relating to race in this country and where it’s been and where we are now. Side note: How about a Bobby Driscoll documentary?

  8. “It has it’s issues like that Harris was white giving his version of African trickster tales and the reconstruction setting with former slaves happily still on the plantation.”

    If they would release it, part of the history Disney could relate in a feature is that Joel Chandler Harris pretty much WAS the little boy in the movie. That was the life he grew up in, and he learned those stories from black storytellers (whom he loved) and stated he was merely writing down what he had heard, as accurately as possible, trying to preserve them. He refused to take credit for the stories. As for the dialect, it’s not “racist,” it what he really heard. He also went on to become a strong advocate for the rights of African Americans.

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