Note: All photos used in this series are used solely to illustrate the subject, and are consistent with Fair Use doctrine.
Song of the South was released 12 November 1946, having its première in Atlanta’s Fox Theater and being distributed by RKO Radio Pictures. Prior to the première showing, Walt Disney made some opening remarks and introduced the cast, and then went back to the Georgian Terrace Hotel across the street. He preferred not watching his films with an audience, since unexpected reactions upset him.
Also not in attendance was James Baskett (Uncle Remus), owing to how Atlanta was under the domain of Jim Crow.
For pre-release publicity, Disney launched a Sunday newspaper comic called Uncle Remus & His Tales of Br’er Rabbit on 14 October 1945. In 1937, he’d done the same for Snow White, though unlike that previous strip, Uncle Remus ran until 31 December 1972 and branched out to be more than just a comic adaptation of the film.
Starting in late 1946, comic books about Br’er Rabbit also began appearing. That same year, Simon & Schuster published a Giant Golden Book entitled Walt Disney’s Uncle Remus Stories.
The film earned $3.3 million, though Disney’s profit was a mere $226,000.
In spite of the success, some critics weren’t so keen on it, particularly the live-action segments. New York Times critic Bosley Crowther felt the Disney magic was decreasing with the ever more frequent intrusion of real actors in place of “animated whimsies.”
At the 20th Academy Awards, 20 March 1948, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” won the Best Song award. The score was also nominated for the Scoring of a Musical Picture award.
Baskett received an Honorary Academy Award, becoming the first African–American man to win an Academy Award. His co-star, Hattie McDaniel, had in 1939 been the first African–American to win an Academy Award altogether.
Bobby Driscoll (Johnny) and Luana Patten (Ginny) were considered for Special Juvenile Awards, but it was ultimately decided not to give such awards to anyone.
Over the years, the film was theatrically re-released five times—1956, 1972, 1973, 1980, and 1986. I saw it at its final theatrical re-release, on its 40th anniversary. That final re-release was also used to help with promoting the upcoming Splash Mountain ride, which uses “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” and several other songs from the soundtrack.
Then Disney buried it and began pretending it doesn’t exist. Disney has released so many obscure, completist films, like its war propaganda cartoons, their Zorro TV series, and their Davy Crockett miniseries, yet complete silence when it comes to Song of the South. There’s not even any merchandise, like keychains or stuffed animals.
There are, however, home media releases in the U.K., Japan, and Hong Kong. As recently as 2006, the BBC broadcast it on TV.
Though the film itself has been buried, the characters of Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox, and Br’er Bear have appeared in comic strips and other Disney shows over the years. They’ve also appeared in the 2011 video game Kinect: Disneyland Adventures. On the non-Disney front, Br’er Bear and the Tar Baby appeared in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
The popular ride Splash Mountain is based around the Uncle Remus stories, with the additon of a new character, Br’er Turtle. The ride also uses several songs from the soundtrack. It’s like Disney expects people to believe they just pulled all this out of thin air, instead of adapting it from a very popular movie.
The film will enter public domain in 2039, and it’s hard to believe Disney would let that happen and miss a golden chance to make more money!