The Most Controversial Disney Classic You Probably Forgot
A review of Jim Korkis's fascinating new book Who's Afraid of the Song of the South? And Other Forbidden Disney Stories.
April 8, 2013 - 4:00 pm
For years now, Disney has taken great care of its classic films. The company pulls beloved videos in and out of the “Disney Vault,” both as a clever marketing strategy and as a way to share the best of the best (along with the occasional Eisner-era cheapquel) with new generations of enthusiasts. The advent of new technology — from DVD to Blu-Ray to whatever a Platinum Edition is — means that the classics will remain in fans’ collections for years to come.
That is, except for one film. Believe it or not, one Disney classic has not seen the light of day since 1986. The company has kept it under wraps for over a quarter century in spite of two Oscars and a revolutionary blend of live action and animation — not to mention the fact that the film inspired a popular attraction that appears in three Disney theme parks. To this day, collectors scramble for bootleg copies — my brother owns two DVDs along with a VHS copy with Japanese subtitles — and at the shareholders’ meeting every year, someone inevitably asks CEO Bob Iger when the movie will finally make its way out of the Disney Vault.
The film? Song of the South. For years critics have derided the picture as an example of the racism of the first half of the 20th century, while fans of the Uncle Remus tales have long pleaded for Disney to rerelease this beloved classic.
The great Leonard Maltin has gone on record advocating Song of the South‘s release as recently as December 2012, in an article which:
…discusses the Walt Disney Treasures series. On these DVDs, Maltin himself introduces the cartoons which might now be considered “politically incorrect,” explaining how times have since changed. The article mentions possibly using this same approach for Song of the South:
“I very much hope that the folks at Disney will release ‘Song of the South’ sometime soon,” Maltin said, “and use this same approach — to be responsible in explaining the times it depicts and the attitudes of the period in which it was made.”