‘Song of the South’ Might Be a Lot Easier to See in the Near Future

Tim Grierson
The Projector
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For all the crown jewels in the Disney catalog, nobody in the Mouse House is particularly thrilled to talk about "Song of the South," their 1946 mixture of live-action and animation that earned two Oscars. Released by RKO Pictures and featuring the classic song "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah," "Song of the South" has never been available on VHS or DVD in the U.S., although there was a Japanese laserdisc at one point. The reason for this burying of the film is because of what's widely perceived as its, shall we say, racially insensitive portrayal of happy, singing Southern blacks right after the Civil War. We've never seen the film and had basically figured that we'd never be able to -- at least legally. But suddenly there's news that maybe it might resurface.

It all started when Cartoon Brew alerted readers that someone on eBay was selling a 16mm print of the film, with the starting bid at around $1,500. Hey, we don't have that kind of money lying around for second-tier Disney prints, but then a commenter on the site dropped this bomb:

Disney is remastering Song of the South from the original negatives in 4K resolution. It's not in the immediate pipeline for a Snow White or Bambi level restoration, but they'll have complete digital files by the end of next year.

The commenter's name is Egbert Souse, which is also the name of the character W.C. Fields plays in "The Bank Dick." So maybe that's a pseudonym? And maybe he doesn't know what he's talking about anyway? Souse hasn't elaborated since making that comment, so it's merely a rumor at this point.

Or maybe not: Back in 2007, Disney acted as if they might be open to the idea of possibly removing "Song of the South" from that deep, dark vault from which nothing can escape. At the company's annual shareholders meeting, Disney President and CEO Bob Iger was asked about finally releasing "Song of the South" -- it was the second year in a row the question had come up -- and Iger sounded at least open to the idea, although he added, "Our concern was that a film that was made so many decades ago being brought out today perhaps could be either misinterpreted or that it would be somewhat challenging in terms of providing the appropriate context."

So, in the meantime you'll have to pony up the dough for that 16mm print or look around online for bootlegs. Or you could just watch it in pieces on YouTube. Here's the first 10-minute clip. By the way, we love that "Song of the South" was shot by Charleston, Illinois's greatest cinematographer, Gregg Toland. From "Citizen Kane" to "Song of the South" in five years: That's an eclectic career.

"Song of the South" can be yours — for $1,499 [Cartoon Brew via Movie City News]