This day was special for me in so many ways. This is the Fox Theater in midtown Atlanta Georgia. I remember pouring through the photo archives on the Walt Disney Studio lot many years ago searching for information on Walt Disney's “Song of the South.” One of the items I uncovered was a old black&white photograph of the Fox theater on the evening of the premiere. I believe this was the same theater that premiered David O. Selznick's “Gone With the Wind” some years earlier. What a special evening that must have been for Walt. I heard he greeted the Atlanta theater guests before heading across the street to his hotel to await the outcome. Walt Disney paced the floor and smoked more than a few cigarettes that evening. He was clearly nervous how “Song of the South” would be accepted by this particular audience.
When the film finally came to an end the reception was positive overall. Though the motion picture failed to garner glowing reviews, most found the Disney film immensely entertaining. James Baskett was particularly delightful in his portrayal of Uncle Remus and the animated cartoon sequences were clearly the funniest stuff ever put on film. In time, the film opened to wider audiences across the country, but “Song of the South” continued to have its troubles. Sadly, those troubles continue today.
While Walt Disney can be fairly criticized for his rather naive approach to the post civil war south, the Old Maestro can also be praised for his heart warming story of a kindly old gentleman helping a young boy through difficult times. Young Johnny eventually finds his “Laughing Place” and the audience finds theirs as well. Yet, the controversy continues, especially among those with a political or social agenda. The Disney motion picture remains an easy target for those anxious to color the story to fit their own needs. I'm convinced that this charming film will eventually be made available to all to enjoy - and maybe even argue over. After all, some arguments are worth having.
That morning, I strolled through the lobby of the Fox theater and tried to feel what it must have been like on that evening back in 1948. Though hardly perfect, Walt Disney and his creative team put a lot of love into “Song of the South.” Let's hope that one day this amazing motion picture can be appreciated for what it is - rather than what some would like it to be.