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Ever wonder where the characters from the Splash Mountain ride at Disney World come from? Song of the South is a 1946 Disney film that incorporated animation and live action. You haven't heard of it? That's understandable; due to Unfortunate Implications it has never been released in the US outside the theater, and not since 1986.
The film is, unbeknownst to even many 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 Patching" 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 subject to.
Set in the Deep South after the 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 1980's. 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 in recent years.
You likely do know a song from it, that being "Zip-a-Dee Doo-Dah."
In some European countries, like the Netherlands and Scandinavia, Br'er Rabbit comics was introduced in the early 50's, and remains popular and are still a regular part of the weekly Disney comics. 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 few readers know that it has ever existed. And while the film was released in Europe, it is virtually unknown there.
If you ever come across a tape or find it online, you will notice the film provides examples of:
- 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 Animals: Most of the animal characters, if not all.
- Big Fancy House
- Black Best Friend: Toby.
- 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 Gun: The bull.
- Comic Book Adaptation: Eventually, the Br'er Rabbit stories just drop the movie's original frame story all together. Naturally, it's only those later stories that get reprinted.
- Chorus-Only Song: Zip A-Dee Doo-Dah, zip a-dee ay...
- Cool Old Guy: Uncle Remus.
- Cowboy Bebop at His Computer: Even sympathetic viewers tend to think that the "Tar Baby" is supposed to be some kind of racial insult. They apparently don't know that the basic folktale not only exists in many cultures around the world, but that it originated in Africa.
- Dark Reprise: Both on the ride and in the movie, the song "Laughing Place" gets a dark reprise.
- Br'er Fox singing "How do you do".
- Did Not Do the Research: The characters are referred to as "Brayer" (a mispronunciation of "brier"?) Rabbit, Bear & Fox. It's actually supposed to be "Bruh" (brother). Correct pronunciations of this pop up in the music of Melvin Van Peebles (who has an album called Brer Soul) and in Ralph Bakshi's deconstruction of Song of the South (among other things), Coonskin.
- 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 Eighties.
- Doomed New Clothes: Poor Ginny Favers... she understandably breaks down in tears.
- Everything's Worse with Bears: Br'er Bear.
- Everything's Worse with Bees: 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 bees!"
- Forbidden Fruit: You know you want to see it...you don't even care about the quality.
- Glad I Thought of It
- Gory Discretion Shot: Well, we never actually see Johnny attacked by the bull, do we now?
- Most of us don't actually see any of it, so...
- Half-Dressed Cartoon Animal: Br'er Bear and the moles.
- Infant Immortality
- 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.
- Your Mileage May Vary; 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.") 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.
- 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.
- Reverse Psychology
- Roger Rabbit Effect: Believed to be the Ur Example.
- Sand in My Eyes: Inverted Trope by Uncle Remus to crying Johnny.
- Stating the Simple Solution:
Brer Bear: Look, let's just knock his head clean off.
- Sticky Situation: Trope name for "Tar Baby", an expression which at least traditionally refers to this.
- 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.
- Those Two Bad Guys: Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear.
- Three Amigos: Johnny, Toby, and Ginny.
- Three Shorts: Three gorgeously animated sequences.
- The Trickster
- Villainous Glutton: Br'er Bear, though Br'er Fox is the one with the most pointed culinary interest in Br'er Rabbit.