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Rhett Wickham: Beggar at the Feast
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by Rhett Wickham (archives)
April 25, 2006
Rhett gives his opinion on Disney's recently announced decision not to release Song of the South.

Beggar at the Feast

Rhett Wickham Argues That Now Is The Best Time
To Re-Release "Song of the South"... For Real

There's an old rhyme that reads "Marry when the year is new, he'll be loving, kind and true." Similarly it is written that the January Bride will be a prudent housekeeper and very good tempered. So, based on folk wisdom, things look rather good for the soon to be consummated courtship of Disney and Pixar. Of course, there's very little written about what to expect when the Father of the Bride from Emeryville, who doubtless will end up dancing on the Disney Board Room table with glee, pushes the Groom into the family business. But with each passing week it's become clearer and clearer that Disney under the leadership of Robert Iger is a very progressive company ready for some very progressive approaches to content delivery. Like a Nora Ephron comedy, where the rude, bullying, ill mannered and ego maniacal older brother all but destroys any hope of a marriage between two great families, Robert Iger entered in act two in the role of the more savvy, sophisticated, and charming younger brother who emerged from his idiot sibling's shadow and proved himself to be the kind of man his grandfather was - determined, polished, civil and maybe, just maybe, a man with vision.

The Mouse House that roared once to often in the 90's, resulting in having its cheese stolen gleefully by competitors, appears at long last to actually have tapped a favored son who has some humility. Determined to take back the markets they relinquished with pattern production, talent-dismissive layoffs and over marketing of all things magical, a wiser Disney has finally stopped shuffling its feet and done the right thing, wedding the one that almost got away. The Pixar merger feels like a wide wake-making swan dive into the deep end, but we'll still have to wait at least a year before the real ripples hit the shores of theatres. Still, it's a good deal more than just touching a toe to the water and quickly withdrawing it. They're ankle deep now, and once John Lassater is lap-dancing with the bridesmaids at the reception, there will be no turning back and Disney will be dunked deep into the font of re-thinking their approach to how they recycle their extremely valuable animated film library.

Now, pretend you're the Groom (or domestic partner, depending on the state you live in) there you are looking over a happy reception of the two families. The stables of beloved animated stars are picnicking under a clear blue sky when suddenly, you notice Buzz Lightyear and Briar Rose smile as they shoo little Simba on through the desert line, averting his attention from that band of twangy, rubbery, better-animated n'er do wells down in the hollow. Suddenly you see little Stitch with Nemo in a bowl racing down the hill past the three-Pig-legged race shouting indiscernible, guttural greetings as he introduces the finny little lad to a Jed Clampett-clad rabbit, fox and bear. Here comes your most profitable, home-grown, new-era franchise and your prize step-child dragging the family secret up the hill where everybody can see them.

At this point, auntie Ursula turns to you with some words of wisdom, "life's full of tough choices, innit?" Poppa Steve is whispering "blue ray" in one ear, and Uncle Roy is championing "pencils" in the other, but you can no longer avoid the proverbial "bastard at the family picnic" and the time has come to find "Song of the South" a place at the table. Now is when you prove to be a mouse or a man. Here's a hint - one is a corporate symbol and the other is a corporate leader. Okay, go!

Alas, when Robert Iger heard the starting pistol on March 10th at the Annual Shareholders Meeting, rather than step up without apology he ran for cover under the leaky tent of "social sensitivity" and here's exactly what he said:

"We've discussed this a lot. We believe that actually an opportunity from financial perspectives to put Song of the South out (sic) uh, I screened it fairly recently, because I hadn't seen it since I was a child, and I have to tell you after I watched it, even considering the context that it was made (sic) I had some concerns about it because of what it depicted. Uh..and thought that it's quite possible that uh people wouldn't consider it in the context that it was made, and there were some, um, um, .uh.yuh uh depictions that I mentioned, earlier in the film, that I think would be bothersome to a lot of people. And so owing to the sensitivity uh that exists our culture, uh balancing it with a desire to uhm maybe increase our earnings a bit but never putting that in front of what we thought were our ethics and our integrity we made the decision not to re-release it. It's not a decision that's made forever. I imagine this is going to continue to come up, but for now we simply don't have plans to bring it back because of the sensitivities that I mentioned. Sorry."

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