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Film / Song of the South

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It's the truth, it's actual
Ev'rything is satisfactual
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay
Wonderful feelin', wonderful day

Song of the South is a 1946 Disney film that incorporated animation and live action. You haven't heard of it? That's understandable; it has never been released in the US outside the theater, and not released at all since 1986. The film is, unbeknownst even to most of the people who have seen it (especially in Europe, where the context is lost), based on a collection of African-American folktales compiled by Joel Chandler Harris in the late 1800s. It is notable that, although the Framing Device is accused of racism today, it was considered pretty Fair for Its Day, being written by a Southerner: Harris was attempting to compile African American folk tales that had been passed down from the days of slavery before they were lost.

The popularity of the book led to the popularity of archetypes such as Br'er Rabbit, the "Briar Patch" and the "Tar Baby" (the meaning of which tropes subsequently were lost to younger viewers after the film was sealed in the Disney vault in the '80s, when the stories themselves became forgotten by later generations unfamiliar with the work) which were taken straight from the original folktales. Some who maintain that the film should not be released note, however, that keeping these tales alive ties in too much with the days of slavery and Reconstruction, a shameful period in American history that they feel children should not be subjected to, at least not in a way that could be perceived as anything but monstrous.


Set in the Deep South after The American Civil War, the film features Uncle Remus telling stories of Br'er Rabbit and friends to three kids from his rural cabin. Due to the "impression it gives of an idyllic master-slave relationship" (the film was probably set during Reconstruction, just so that Uncle Remus would not be depicted as a slave — though he almost certainly has been one) it will probably never be released in the US. It was available on VHS tape in the UK (where the associated sensitivities are still present, but further from the surface) throughout the '90s and early '00s, and shown as an afternoon family film on TV. It was also aired a few times on the Disney Channel during the 1980s. A Japanese laserdisc (with an English track version included as a bonus) was also released years ago, and it's become quite a collector's item with copies selling on eBay for several hundred dollars. Starting in 2017, Whoopi Goldberg has had talks to get Disney to release the film in a limited capacity. In the meantime, some DVDs and Blu-ray Discs at least include clips.note  The film is notably absent from Disney+, with former Disney CEO Bob Iger noting that the company has no plans to redistribute the film through the streaming service.


Most younger Disney fans recognize two things from the movie. The first is the song "Zip-a-Dee Doo-Dah", which was made for the movie and has been featured on several Disney music albums. (Disney still uses the theme in the present day, due to having completely innocuous lyrics and a catchy tune.) The second is the Splash Mountain ride at the Disney Theme Parks, which omitted Uncle Remus but prominently featured Br'er Rabbit and his buddies... At least until 2020. In a bit of odd timing, it was announced in June that the ride is being re-themed in favor of The Princess and the Frog, another Disney animated movie based around African American culture with far fewer concerns about potential racial insensitivity. While the announcement was made at the peak of the year's protests over police brutality and systematic racism after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis PD custody, it was a coincidence. The plans had been set in stone for about a year and the company had planned to announce it earlier but ended up not after the project fell behind schedule because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In some European countries, like the Netherlands and Scandinavia, Br'er Rabbit Comics were introduced in the early 50s, and remain popular and are still a regular part of the weekly Disney comics. The famous children's writer Enid Blyton wrote 15 volumes of short stories - some retelling the original folklore - featuring the Brer Rabbit characters (Although Uncle Remus is noticeably absent). And while the framing device with Uncle Remus was featured in the first comics, it has since quietly disappeared and faded into obscurity, to the point where only a few readers know that it ever existed. And while the film was released in Europe, it is virtually unknown there.

Song of the South provides examples of:

  • Accessory-Wearing Cartoon Animal: Mr. Bluebird
  • Adults Are Useless: Played straight with Johnny's mother Sally. She's so wrapped up in trying to make him feel better and raise him properly that she doesn't bother listening to anyone else's advice or explanations (not even Johnny's), and unknowingly makes things worse for him as a result. Johnny's father, John Sr., does come around, with gentle urging from Uncle Remus; Sally finally accepts what's going on.
  • Barefoot Cartoon Animal: Most of the animal characters, if not all.
  • Barefoot Poverty:
  • Bears Are Bad News: Br'er Bear. But on the other hand...
  • Beary Funny: Br'er Bear may be a villain, but a harmless and humorous one.
  • Big Ball of Violence: Br'er Rabbit gets caught in one with Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear at one point.
  • Big Brother Bully: Two of them in Ginny's case.
  • Big Fancy House
  • Brains and Brawn: Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear.
  • Briar Patching: Not just the story that the trope is named after, but after hearing the story, Johnny pulls this trope on Ginny's brothers.
  • Carnivore Confusion: The Hero of the stories is a rabbit, so the fox and the bear are villains.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The bull.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: Eventually, the Br'er Rabbit stories just drop the movie's original frame story altogether. Naturally, it's only those later stories that get reprinted. The characters, most notably Br'er Bear, also make numerous appearances in The Three Little Pigs comics.
  • Cool Old Guy: Uncle Remus
  • Counting to Three: In the Tar Baby story, Br'er Rabbit threatens to bust the silent Tar Baby wide open unless it responds to him by the count of three. As Br'er Fox eagerly waits for his plan to work, he gets frustrated when Br'er Rabbit counts "two-and-a-half".
  • Cunning Like a Fox: Br'er Fox, or so he would think. You just have to go on the ride to see Br'er Bear run into trouble.
  • Dark Reprise:
    • Both on the ride and in the movie, the song "Laughing Place" gets a dark reprise ("Burrow's Lament"). It has vocals in the dark reprise only in the Disneyland version. In Disney World, there is just an instrumental.
    • Br'er Fox singing "How do you do".
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Most of the child characters apart from Johnny although Ginny makes an exception when she's dressed for Johnny's party.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Both subverted and inverted: The Boondocks is the one asking the question, and the answer is probably "No," because Aaron McGruder's one of the few younger Americans who has seen it. For those that haven't, Song of the South has Uncle Remus, and The Boondocks has Uncle Ruckus. Plenty of Americans have seen it, just not the under-25 crowd. It used to be broadcast occasionally up until The '80s.
  • Doomed New Clothes: Poor Ginny Favers... she understandably breaks down in tears.
  • Exact Words: During the Laughin' Place scene where Br'er Rabbit tricks his two foes
    Br'er Bear: You said this was a laughin' place! And I ain't laughin'! [gets attacked by bees]
    Br'er Rabbit: [in-between laughing fits] I didn't say it was YOUR laughin' place, I said it was MY laughin' place, Br'er Bear!
  • Forbidden Fruit: You know you want to see it... you don't even care about the quality.
  • Glad I Thought of It: What Br'er Fox usually says when Br'er Bear comes up with the ideas to catch Br'er Rabbit.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Well, we never actually see Johnny attacked by the bull, do we now?
  • Half-Dressed Cartoon Animal: Br'er Bear and the moles.
  • Hats Off to the Dead: After tossing Br'er Rabbit into the briar patch (just like he wanted), Br'er Fox takes off his hat out of respect. He then notices that Br'er Bear hasn't taken off his, so he swipes it off his head and forces it onto Bear's chest.
  • The Hyena: Br'er Rabbit during the Laughing Place scene.
  • Infant Immortality: The puppy that was presumed to have been drowned by Ginny's brothers shows up alive and well at the end.
  • Ignored Expert: Out-of-universe example. Walt actually consulted with the NAACP while producing the film, then went ahead and did everything that they suggested he not do, especially with regards to the relationship between Remus and Johnny's mother. Had he chosen to take their advice, the film would probably not have been considered nearly so controversial.
    • Of course, this can swing in both directions. The NAACP's main objection to the film was that the black and white characters were entirely too friendly, thus glorifying the master-slave relationship. (Their words; confusion over the time frame set in early.) Most viewers are far more interested in the cartoon characters than the live-action ones as it is, and making them nastier probably wouldn't have improved the picture.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Uncle Remus and Johnny and the other children.
  • "Just So" Story: Towards the beginning the protagonist comes upon a gathering of black sharecroppers in the shade, singing about Uncle Remus' tales, which tell how the leopard got his spots, how the camel got those humps, and how the pig got a curly tail.
  • Karma Houdini: Ginny's brothers. Except when they pushed her into the mud and ruined her dress, Uncle Remus showed up to tell them off for bullying her.
  • Karmic Trickster
  • Kick the Dog: Ginny's brothers do this when they mistreat her puppy and threaten to drown it — and mean every word.
  • Large Ham: All of the Br'er animals, especially Br'er Fox.
  • Lean and Mean: Br'er Fox. No wonder he's so hot on that rabbit's trail; Br'er Rabbit'd be the only square meal Br'er Fox's had in a while!
  • Left Stuck After Attack: Br'er Rabbit's fist gets stuck to the Tar Baby after punching it, and his attempts to free himself just gets him more stuck.
  • Lonely Rich Kid: Johnny
  • Magical Negro: Uncle Remus. He could also be a subversion, since in the end he actually DOES step forward and save the day.
  • Mammy: The most famous mammy of them all, Hattie McDaniel, is in this movie.
  • Medium Blending
  • Mickey Mousing: As usual for a Disney film — and then played for laughs, when Br'er Bear has trouble keeping up with the background music.
  • Missing Your Own Party: Johnny leaves his birthday party to pick up Ginny, but he refuses to go back after Ginny's brothers ruin her new dress.
  • Motor Mouth: Br'er Fox. The Disney animation directors actually had to invent a new animation process to keep up with James Baskett's rapid-fire delivery of Br'er Fox's dialogue.
  • Nice Hat: Mr. Bluebird's top hat.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: You see the bull chasing Johnny in the climax, but you never see it strike. It is up to you to imagine the extent of the little boy's injuries...
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Johnny, Ginny, Toby, and Uncle Remus walk away with Br'er Rabbit and the cartoon critters as the live-action scenery gradually transforms into an animated one.
  • Oh, Crap!: Br'er Rabbit gets progressively more and more nervous during his plan to escape via reverse psychology when Br'er Fox keeps ignoring him. He finally gets one big 'Oh Crap' expression when Br'er Fox states that he'll skin him.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: In case you were wondering, "Br'er" is just short for "Brother". (And it should actually be pronounced more or less like "bro." Both Br'er Rabbit and Br'er Bear use this pronunciation, while Uncle Remus and Br'er Fox do not.) Some of the comics imply that they do have real names, but they are otherwise unmentioned. Joel Chandler Harris gives Riley as Br'er Rabbit's real name. A very few Disney comics mention it now and then.
  • Only Sane Man: Or in this case, woman as Johnny's grandmother Miss Doshy knows from the beginning that John Sr.'s absence and Sally's parenting methods are only doing Johnny more harm than good, she has a mutual respect with Uncle Remus and approves of his and Johnny's friendship and is the only member of Johnny's family to the seize the initiative and summon Uncle Remus when a delirious, bedridden Johnny pleads for him.
  • Poor Communication Kills: No-one bothers to tell Johnny’s mother that Johnny got the puppy fair and square or what would happen to the puppy if it were returned to its previous owner, so she chalks up any disobedience on Johnny's part to Uncle Remus' influence.
  • Precision F-Strike: In the Mexican Spanish dub, Br'er Rabbit says "maldito" while boarding up his house in his very first appearance in the first animated segment.
  • Real After All: All the cartoon characters show up at the end, in the real world, then the kids and Uncle Remus go off into the sunset with them.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Br'er Bear whenever he gets mad at Br'er Fox for laughing at his expense and Br'er Rabbit for making a fool of him.
  • Reverse Psychology: The Briar Patching moment. In the ride, this moment cues when your log crests the belt for the big final drop.
  • Roger Rabbit Effect: Not the Ur-Example, as some might tell you — that would be Gertie the Dinosaur — but the first time it was used in the mainstream Disney features (The Alice Comedies and The Three Caballeros notwithstanding).
  • Sand In My Eyes: Inverted by Uncle Remus to crying Johnny.
  • Scary Stinging Swarm: As part of Br'er Rabbit's "laughing place" scam. Lampshaded by Br'er Bear when he is the first to fall for this and emerges with the beehive on his nose, saying, "There ain't nothin' in here 'cept beeeeeezzzzzzz!" and a swarm of bees comes flying out of his mouth.
  • Simpleton Voice: Br'er Bear.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Uncle Remus shares a pipe with Br'er Frog. This overlaps with Fair for Its Day. Back when the film was released, most people smoked, and those who didn't were frowned upon, if not shunned or hated. By showing Uncle Remus smoking on screen, they were attempting to make the audience like him more. More so because it's the only scene in the movie where anyone is seen smoking. Br'er Frog blows a smoke ring. Uncle Remus blows a smoke square. How cool is that?!
  • Stating the Simple Solution: Br'er Bear has his doubts about Br'er Fox's scheme to trap Br'er Rabbit in the Tar Baby being a success, and usually prefers the quickest, simplest, probably most effective way.
    Br'er Fox: That big ol' rabbit won't get away this time. No sir, we'll catch him, sure! I'll catch him, sure!
    Br'er Bear: But, uh, that's what you said the last time before, and the time before that, and the... Look, let's just knock his head clean off.
    Br'er Fox: Oh, no, indeed, ain't nothing smart about that. I'm gonna show him who the smartest is, and that Tar Baby'll do the rest!
    [and once they've caught Br'er Rabbit]
    Br'er Bear: I'm gonna knock his head clean off!
    Br'er Fox: No, no, no, that's too quick! We gotta make him suffer!
  • Sticky Situation: Trope name for "Tar Baby", an expression which at least traditionally refers to this.
  • Stock Beehive: Br'er Rabbit finds a grey one hidden in a bush. He tricks Br'er Bear inside saying that it's his "laughing place". Bear gets the hive stuck on his nose.
  • Those Two Bad Guys: Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear, obviously. Also, Ginny's brothers.
  • ¡Three Amigos!: Johnny, Toby, and Ginny.
  • Three Shorts: Three gorgeously animated sequences.
  • The Trickster: Br'er Rabbit
  • Villainous BSoD: Br'er Fox has one at the end of the "Tar Baby" sequence: a sickly look on his face after Br'er Rabbit tricked him and hopped off. Br'er Bear silently clubs the fox on the head, knocking him out, then walks off, leaving the fox lying there.
    Remus: [narrating] So now it's Br'er Fox's turn to feel humble-come-tumble. But ol' Br'er Bear, he don't say nothin'. And Br'er Fox, he lay low — mighty low.
  • Villainous Glutton: Br'er Bear, though Br'er Fox is the one with the most pointed culinary interest in Br'er Rabbit.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Br'er Bear, dumb as he is, is typically opposed to Br'er Fox's overly complicated schemes to catch Br'er Rabbit and constantly voices his preference to just "knock his head clean off".


Video Example(s):



As Tony Goldmark points out, the most memorable element of Song of The South and the only part of it, that's still prominently known, is the song Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, which has had many covers over the years.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / SignatureSong

Media sources:

Main / SignatureSong