What started off as a rumor that in the world of films and rights negotiations, and usually would be scoffed at, has supposedly just been signed, sealed and ready to print in the next two weeks or so when Criterion sends out their usual New Release email newsletter. According to a very trusted source, the 1946 Disney film Song of the South, much wanted in the home video market, has been loaned, so to speak, to Criterion to put out in a new special edition that most cinephiles will be ready to snatch up.
The road has been a long and treacherous one for the film, many times rumored to come out on DVD and Blu-ray, but then pushed aside or canceled outright due to fears of what society might make of a release such as this. Of course the whole racism dilemma comes up, from the Uncle Remus character to the whole ‘Tar Baby’ scene within the Brer Rabbit cartoon. It’s been an ongoing process to convince the world that the film is relevant in cinema history and that it is in fact not racist, but a sign of the times.
Watching the film recently, I still don’t get where Disney executives have gotten the idea that the film is outright racist. When I was growing up in the 80′s, I saw the film on the big screen and not once did this thought cross my mind. My parents raised me as well as any parent could, and to respect and see people not as colors, but as individuals.
The saddest part is that the whole Splash Mountain ride at Disney’s theme parks and the song “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” were never known to their origins. I would hear tons of kids asking their parents, and almost like asking about that family member nobody talks about because he’s in jail, it would be shushed and never spoken about again.
The funny thing about it is that even the NAACP were pretty positive about it, acknowledging “the remarkable artistic merit” of the film, but decried the “impression it gives of an idyllic master-slave relationship.” They understood the coin has two sides, and with both of them always at play, we can see the story as a whole. As of now there are no extras or anything else talked about, but one can only assume Criterion will put their amazing stamp on it, giving a behind the scenes look at the making of (showcasing the animation and live-action moments) and getting sociologists and other filmmakers, of different backgrounds, to speak about Song of the South and what it means to them. Positive and negative would be much appreciated but just imagine Cornel West and Spike Lee, speaking about the film. It’s a film they could easily get many people to speak non-stop about.
Tax Day, April 15th, is more than 2 weeks away, but I can’t wait to own an animated film within the Criterion Collection. Most assumed it would have been Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox, but this move is a smarter and much more marketable one for both companies. Disney might be a bit afraid to reap the benefits all themselves, but at least their finally letting the film out of the closet and into our very own collections.