Book Review: Little Golden Books – Disney’s Uncle Remus

Publisher: Western Publishing Company

Year: 1986

Pages: 24

Type: Hardcover

ISBN: 0-307-01055-4

Maybe someday they’ll catch him. Do you reckon they will?”

There is a world of hate for the Disney movie Song of the South and even more debate and controversy. But it remains one of my favorite hybrid Disney movies alongside Mary Poppins. I believe it deserves a place alongside other beloved classics and James Baskett more respect than the issues surrounding the movie has afforded him.

That said, and my soapbox firmly put away, I’d like to feature a piece of merchandise from an earlier time, before Disney wanted to separate itself from Uncle Remus:

I found this Little Golden Book at a local Charity Shop and just had to save it! I’m going to reproduce the entire contents in this post in an effort to preserve its history and give people a chance to make their own judgement as to whether the subject matter is problematic or not.

So with a happy bounce in our rabbit feet and our cares behind us, let’s get to the first of the three stories reproduced from the movie:

Br’er Rabbit’s Laughin’ Place

This is a completely innocent story. It simply shows how Br’er Rabbit uses his wits and imagination to escape a precarious situation. Now on to our second story:

Br’er Fox and the Rabbit Trap

This is another example of how Br’er Rabbit both gets himself into trouble and then back out of it again by using his wits and fast thinking! Now to end with our last story, the one that is more problematic:

The Tar Baby

The Tar Baby is the second of the Uncle Remus stories published in 1881. The whole point of the story is that the more that Br’er Rabbit fights the Tar Baby, the more entangled he becomes. And so is captured by his enemies and needs to think fast to escape yet again. In later usage, tar baby came to refer to a problematic situation that is only aggravated by additional involvement with it.

But unfortunately, the reference took on a darker meaning in more modern times. Although the term ‘tar baby’ is documented as coming from a folktale of African origin, its meaning in America came to be used as a derogatory term for African Americans.

According to Wikipedia, Linguist John McWhorter argued that people are “unaware that some consider it to have a second meaning as a slur…” and it “is an obscure slur, not even known to be so by a substantial proportion of the population. Those who feel that tar baby‘s status as a slur is patently obvious are judging from the fact that it sounds like a racial slur”.

Whether it is or not, the association with racism will forevermore plague the Song of the South movie, its characters, and even these animated segments.

As for this book, it stays pretty close to the original Disney movie source material, with only small changes to locations and the omission of certain details due to space constraints. I would give it a 4 Out of 5 Stars. Although there is nothing to fault it with from the writing or the artwork, the fact that it covers a controversial subject lowers the overall score.

For a different view of this story, please check out my earlier History 101 post. It contains much of the same content but in record form with audio files: Songs and Stories of Uncle Remus is worth a look!

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