Each week in my inbox I find a copy of the D23 e-newsletter “FanFare”. It promotes Disney activities, profiles cast members, and special travel features of all sorts. In today’s issue I found a an article called “Songs of the South” which features Bill Hill and the Hillbilles who preform at Disneyland’s Golden Horseshoe Saloon. It’s a lovely article about the group and the authentic Appalachian bluegrass sound that brings you down home. Southern charm can’t be denied by many, yet for all the tribute paid in both the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland, few people today remember the movie the inspired such honor.
First used by Joel Chandler Harris in 1876, “The stories Uncle Remus told were all based upon a composite of African-American storytellers he had known and grown up with as a child.” The stories of black and white are seemingly made gentler by the animals behaving like humans, a formula which many Disney movies continue to use today. The tales of Uncle Remus taught basic life lessons that were difficult to articulate between black and white society post Civil War. But even with the delicate nature of the subject of slavery, the lessons remain: be clever, be a friend, find your laughing place.
Some of the first books Walt Disney ever read were Uncle Remus’ stories of Brer Bear and Brer Rabbit. He carried the love and memory of them through to 1946 when “Song of the South” was released to critical, yet mixed, acclaim. In Disney’s version of the stories, Uncle Remus draws upon his animal friends. He tells tales of Brer Rabbit to help the young boy, Johnny, deal with loss and confusion over his parents separation, as well as displacement and his new home on a Southern Plantation. The tales of The Briar Patch, The Tar Baby and Brer Rabbit’s Laughing Place earned the film two academy awards. The film was released four more times, with the last release being in 1986.
In 1989 Disneyland, paid the ultimate tribute to the movie, with a $75 million dollar project: Splash Mountain. At it’s time it was one of the most expensive projects ever. What could be a bigger honor? A mountain ride, resplendent in it’s story-line, precise in it’s detailing, loved by fans around the world for it’s music and 52 foot plunge.
For right or wrong, most children can sing along to Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, yet few can tell you where it first came from. This Disney treasure has been shelved in a dark corner of the vault, under the guise of being politically correct. If you get a chance to screen this piece of our nations history, sit down with your children and share in it. For those who that can not remember are doomed to repeat it. At least the southern charm and tribute by character, ride and song remain to make a lasting and loved impression on visitors around the world.
Contributed by: Kristen K. (NDM #252). Kristen is our resident D23 expert and creator of The DVC Mom Blog