‘Song of the South’: 14 Things to Know About Disney’s Most Controversial Movie

This piece was originally published in November 2019. It has been updated since and is most current as of June 12, 2024.

“Song of the South” remains the most controversial film in the history of Walt Disney motion pictures, live action or animated. But you’ll never see directors Harve Foster (handling the live action) and Wilfred Jackson’s (behind the animation) 1946 Uncle Remus adaptation on the Disney+ streaming service even as the company continues to roll out its vast library of legacy titles on the home-viewing platform. And not even with a disclaimer. Disney CEO Bob Iger made that clear back in 2020, even before the dated racial politics of classic movies returned heavily to discussion around the Black Lives Matter movement’s impact on entertainment later that year.

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Set in a Reconstruction-era American south just as the Civil War has concluded and slavery has ended, “Song of the South” is most famous for inspiring the widely revered Disney theme park ride Splash Mountain. (It was last re-released in theaters, a common Disney practice for decades, in 1986, before being pulled from circulation altogether.) The Magic Kingdom version at Florida’s Walt Disney World closed officially in January 2023, while the Disneyland iteration of the once-beloved log flume ride shut down in California in May that year. Its official successor, the ride Tiana’s Bayou Adventure based on the 2009 Disney film “The Princess and the Frog,” opens this summer at both locations and is already open at Walt Disney World.

Back in 2023, Disney removed the film’s Oscar-winning song “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” from all parades and park festivities, including the Festival of Fantasy Parade. It’s a song we all know from our childhood, but one mired in implications we didn’t understand at that the time — and it remains a source of pain for Disney and audiences alike. In the film, James Baskett voices Uncle Remus, a character of African American folklore from the 1800s adapted into a published collection by white author Joel Chandler Harris, a journalist and Georgia native. The tales’ interpretation of Deep South African American dialect has since been reevaluated, and despite Uncle Remus’ influence on celebrated authors like Beatrix Potter, has been largely pulled from the American literary canon.

Baskett received an Honorary Oscar for his portrayal in 1948, the year he died after suffering poor health during production on the 1946 movie.

Film historian and “You Must Remember This” podcast host Karina Longworth explored the buried legacy of “Song of the South” in her 2019 edition of the audio series, bringing to light the minstrelsy on display in the picture and its troubling depiction of the lives of post-Civil War plantation workers in Georgia.

But up until recently, “Song of the South” remained a bankable commercial property and presence throughout Disney properties. Several change.org petitions since the ride’s initial temporary closure have accused Disney of capitulating to the culture wars. But those attempts have fallen on deaf mouse ears as Disney parks continue to reinvent themselves following an embattled legal dispute with Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who argued Disney had too much self-governing power; the parties reached a settlement in March 2024.

Below, read 14 things to know about “Song of the South,” which will not be coming to any streaming service any time soon or attract parkgoers at any Disney location in the United States. Splash Mountain, however, still stands at Tokyo Disneyland in Japan.

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