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10 Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah Facts About Song of the South

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You’ve probably never seen Song of the South, but you’ve likely had its most famous song lodged firmly in your brain at one point or another. Let's take a closer look at what is arguably Disney’s most controversial production ever, which was released 70 years ago.

1. THE STORIES WERE WRITTEN BY TEDDY ROOSEVELT'S UNCLE.

Though Disney borrowed the Br’er Rabbit tales from author Joel Chandler Harris, the stories were originally published in Harper’s magazine as written by Robert Roosevelt, Teddy’s uncle. In his autobiography, Teddy wrote that Robert took the stories down from his Aunt Anna’s dictation, then sent them to Harper’s, where they “fell flat.” It wasn’t until Harris created the Uncle Remus stories that Br’er Rabbit and his pals became “immortal,” in Teddy’s words.

2. DISNEY’S DECISION TO MAKE SONG OF THE SOUTH RAISED EYEBROWS RIGHT FROM THE GET-GO.

The NAACP released a statement that said that while the artistic and technical aspects of the film were truly impressive, “the production helps to perpetuate a dangerously glorified picture of slavery ... [the film] unfortunately gives the impression of an idyllic master-slave relationship which is a distortion of the facts.” However, other reviewers thought that the issue was handled well. Even the actors defended their parts. Hattie McDaniel told The Criterion, "If I had for one moment considered any part of the picture degrading or harmful to my people I would not have appeared therein." Star James Baskett agreed, saying, "I believe that certain groups are doing my race more harm in seeking to create dissension than can ever possibly come out of the Song of the South."

3. IT’S BEEN RUMORED THAT JAMES BASKETT DIDN’T ATTEND THE PREMIERE BECAUSE NO HOTEL WOULD ALLOW HIM TO STAY.

It’s been a long-standing rumor that Baskett himself was unable to attend the movie’s Atlanta premiere because no hotel in town would accept the black cast members. This is unlikely, as MousePlanet points out, because there were several black-owned hotels in the city at the time, including the Savoy. What is true is that Atlanta was still under segregation laws at the time, so the cast would have been separated at the premiere anyway. To bring Baskett to the city but stop him from attending events, one newspaper article from 1946 noted, “would cause him many embarrassments, for his feelings are the same as any man’s.”

4. THE FILM WAS A SUCCESS, BUT NOT BY A WIDE MARGIN.

The original release netted the studio just $226,000.

5. WALT DISNEY HIMSELF CAMPAIGNED FOR BASKETT TO WIN AN ACADEMY AWARD FOR HIS PERFORMANCE.

Walt Disney told Jean Hersholt, then the president of the Motion Picture Academy, that Baskett’s performance was his own creation, “almost wholly without direction.” Disney’s efforts worked: Baskett received an honorary Oscar in 1948. Sadly, he died just three months later at the age of 44.

6. BASKETT’S HONORARY ACADEMY AWARD ISN’T THE ONLY ONE SONG OF THE SOUTH WON.

“Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” also won the Oscar for Best Original Song.

7. BASKETT PLAYED TWO MAJOR PARTS.

Baskett not only played Uncle Remus, he also voiced Br’er Fox.

8. THE MOVIE HAS NEVER OFFICIALLY BEEN RELEASED ON HOME VIDEO.

Though the film has been reissued several times, including a “re-premiere” that was held in Atlanta for the 40th anniversary in 1986, it has never been released on home video in the United States. Whether there are future plans for a release remains to be seen. While Disney CEO Robert Iger has called the movie “antiquated” and “fairly offensive,” fans have been rallying for years to get it released. Enterprising consumers can find copies that were released in Japan and Europe. You can also see part of it right here:

9. DISNEY CREATED A COMIC STRIP AS A PROMOTIONAL TOOL.

The Disney Company created a newspaper comic strip about Br’er Rabbit to help promote the movie. It actually ended up with a longer shelf life than the movie itself: the strip ran from 1945 through 1972.

10. CONTEMPORARY VERSIONS OF BR’ER RABBIT AND BR’ER FOX ARE VOICED BY JESS HARNELL.

These days, Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Fox are voiced by Jess Harnell, also known for providing the voices for Wakko on Animaniacs and Cedric on Sofia the First, among other things. Though Br’ers Fox and Rabbit don’t get used much, they have popped up in video games, amusement park rides, and the occasional cartoon where Disney characters mingle.

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14 Facts About Disney's Adventurers Club
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September 27, 2008 was a memorable day in Disney history. On that Saturday, patrons at the Adventurers Club—a nightclub at Walt Disney World’s Pleasure Island complex—witnessed the final public performance at the venue. Considered more than an ordinary watering hole, the nightclub was filled with surprises, including animatronics, live performances, audience participation, club chants, and magical drinks.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Disney made the decision to close Pleasure Island and its bevy of bars, revamping the area to make it more family-friendly with shopping and restaurants. If you miss the Adventurers Club—or want to know what you missed out on—read on for a little behind-the-scenes trivia.

1. THE IDEA CAME FROM A THEME PARTY HELD BY A DISNEY IMAGINEER.

According to Craig McNair Wilson, who developed the shows and trained the actors, the idea for an old-explorer-themed hideaway came from “our shared love of the world of the pith helmet and all that circled around it.” A party held by Imagineer Joe Rohde, called “The Last Days of the Raj,” helped nudge the idea along. Another major influence was a play called Tamara, a show based in the 1930s that allowed theatergoers to physically follow characters from room to room in an Italian Villa (really an old Elks lodge).

“There’s also more than a pinch of Rick’s Cafe,” Wilson said.

2. THE ORIGINAL CONCEPT FEATURED BAR PATRONS SIPPING COCKTAILS NEXT TO GHOSTS.

Had the design been executed as originally planned, guests could have pulled up a stool next to a spectre. The “Illusions Bar” would have utilized the Pepper’s Ghost optical effect to fade ghosts in and out of the atmosphere. It was likely never realized because the whole Pleasure Island concept ended up being over budget, and certain details had to be sacrificed. Another idea that got the axe? A room where a gypsy named Madame Zenobia would tell fortunes and read palms.

3. IT WAS ONCE HOME TO THE MISSING LINK.

The early days of the Adventurers Club included a character named Marcel, who was referred to as the Missing Link. Part gorilla, part human, Marcel could be seen (but not heard—he didn't speak) doing chores and helping the performers. He was eventually deemed unnecessary and replaced with an Amelia Earhart-inspired character named Samantha Sterling.

4. THE HERO CHARACTER "EMIL BLEEHALL" WAS SEMI-AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL.

Created by head writer Roger Cox, explorer Emil Bleehall was meant to mirror his own creative journey. According to Cox's widow, Sybil:

"The Adventurers Club's unlikely hero, Emil Bleehall, is based on a long-standing semi autobiographical character Roger created. He is the funny little guy from Ohio who wins over the higher authorities and gains their respect and admiration with his seemingly awkward modest but ultimately unique crowd-pleasing talents. Roger felt Emil's struggle at the Adventurers Club paralleled his own story at Disney getting his Adventurers Club ideas off the ground and accepted there."

Here's Emil in action:

5. A THEMED FIREWORKS SHOW WAS NEVER REALIZED.

The back story was that the founder of the club and island, Merriweather Pleasure, had once owned a steamboat that had been blown up by Pleasure’s greedy cousins. Every night, the ghost ship would appear on the water surrounding Pleasure Island and re-enact the spectacular explosion of yesteryear before disappearing back into the night. Presumably, the idea was canned when the nightly New Year's Eve bash became Pleasure Island's big draw instead.

6. THEY DISCUSSED AN EXPANSION IF THE CLUB BECAME A BIG HIT.

"The physical design of the club grew out of Chris Carradine’s brilliant and dangerous mind," Wilson said. "Chris explained it to me on a series of cocktail napkins, late one night in NYC." Carradine envisioned that the club would have "twice as many rooms as . . . guests will ever see." Wilson suggested that they would add or open additional rooms after the club proved successful. "New treasures, now arriving from around the globe... Adventurers Club: bigger, wilder, crazier. Kungaloosh!"

7. “FINGERS” ZAMBEZI WAS INSPIRED BY ANOTHER PHANTOM PIANO PLAYER.

The team that concepted many of the club’s special effects were big fans of the Magic Castle in Los Angeles, another exclusive hangout featuring mysterious characters and magical encounters. They borrowed the idea for Fingers Zambezi, an invisible organ player, from the Magic Castle’s “Irma,” a ghost that not only plays the piano, but even takes requests.

8. THE JEKYLL AND HYDE CLUB WAS CREATED BY A FAN.

According to Wilson, the Jekyll and Hyde Club in New York, a similarly interactive restaurant but with a Gothic theme, was created by a stockbroker who was enamored with the Adventurers Club. "They even hired away several of the actors I had trained from Streetmosphere at Disney-MGM and Adventurers Club," Wilson said. "When I met the manager, he said, 'It is based on and totally inspired by the Adventurers Club.'"

9. THERE WAS AN OFFICIAL NEWSLETTER.

Adventurers Club members were so beloved that fans from around the world wrote them letters. At first, cast members wrote back, in character. But soon, they were receiving so much mail that show writer Chris Oyen created a four-page newsletter, based on a real newsletter from a real turn-of-the-century explorers’ club, instead. To make it seem as if Adventurers Almanac had really been around for decades, volume numbers were not sequential. That tactic drove collectors nuts—they thought they were missing copies.

10. A NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN CHARACTER APPEARED ON THE FINAL NIGHT.

During performances and conversations, club members often referenced a fellow explorer named Sutter Bestwick. Like Norm’s wife Vera on Cheers, Sutter never actually showed his face—until the last night. He even inducted new members:

11. SOME OF THE PROPS HAVE FOUND A SECOND LIFE.

The club was packed full of artifacts and knickknacks, some of which were dispersed to other Disney projects when the place closed. A selection of the tribal masks are now on display at the Explorers Club at Hong Kong Disneyland.

12. YOU CAN SPOT REFERENCES TO THE CLUB AT VARIOUS OTHER LOCATIONS ON DISNEY PROPERTY.

The Adventurers Club gang may be gone, but they’re certainly not forgotten. For example, if you scan the walls at Trader Sam’s tiki bar at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, you may notice some framed correspondence from club members Pamelia Perkins and Samantha Sterling. An avian "resident" of the club, Scooter the peacock, still resides in the vicinity—he's displayed at a Downtown Disney store called D Street.

There are also references to other members in the Jungle Cruise queue, and there’s a dish called “Kungaloosh!” at the new Skipper Canteen restaurant at the Magic Kingdom—although it's chocolate cake, not the fruity alcoholic drink with a cult following from the club.

There are even references at Aulani, Disney's Hawaiian resort; though designers are tight-lipped, it seems that the proprietors of "Aunty's Beach House" are related to one of the original members of the Adventurers Club.

13. THE CAST HAS REUNITED ON A FEW SPECIAL OCCASIONS.

In 2009, a private gathering for WDW Radio was held at the venue, with the cast performing. The event below was arranged courtesy of D23, the official Disney fan club, in November 2014 for a tribute to Pleasure Island:

14. THERE WERE MYSTERIOUS GLYPHS ON THE EXTERIOR THAT WERE NEVER INTERPRETED.

One article in the club newsletter recounted the fictional tale of how the real glyphs were discovered. As the story goes, a pre-Columbian statue was being placed by the front door of the club when the crane operator accidentally bumped the wall. Plaster fell away, revealing these mysterious glyphs. The article was accompanied by an “editor’s note” that said the club curator had determined that the glyphs represented jokes told by a Pharaoh who had citizens thrown from an obelisk if they didn’t laugh.

There really were glyphs painted on the building, and as Wade Sampson of MousePlanet notes, there’s usually a meaning behind things that appear to be random at Disney parks. However, no Imagineers have ever stepped forward to provide an interpretation.

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32 Things You Should Know About Epcot
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Happy Birthday to Epcot, the only place where you can drink in 11 countries without ever leaving Florida. In honor of its 35th birthday, we've rounded up some facts about Walt Disney’s vision for the future.

1. EPCOT is an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow.

2. Epcot turned out much differently than Walt had originally imagined it. Before Disney’s death in 1966, EPCOT was actually intended to be a real community where people would live, work, and play. See his intentions here:

3. To build the park, more than 54 million cubic feet of dirt had to be excavated.

4. With its two distinct halves—Future World and the World Showcase—it may seem like two different theme parks smushed together. In fact, that’s exactly what it is. When plans for the park changed after Walt’s death, some Imagineers wanted to go with a World’s Fair theme while others were pushing for a futuristic park. Two Imagineers put their models up against each other, and Epcot as we know it was born.

5. With 11.25 million visitors every year, Epcot is the world’s fifth most-popular theme park—right behind the Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland, and Tokyo DisneySea.

6. In 1991, Disney announced plans to build WestCot in Disneyland’s parking lot in Anaheim. Michael Eisner put a halt to those plans when Disneyland Paris flopped. California Adventure later opened on that spot instead.

FUTURE WORLD

7. Spaceship Earth, a.k.a. the giant golf ball, weighs 16 million pounds, is 165 feet in diameter and takes up 2.2 million cubic feet of space. The geodesic sphere is made from 11,324 aluminum and plastic-alloy triangles.

8. The term “Spaceship Earth” was coined by famous futurist and theorist Buckminster Fuller, who wrote a book called Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth in 1968.

9. Ray Bradbury conceived the original storyline and penned the original script for the Spaceship Earth ride.

10. The 5.7 million-gallon body of water at The Seas with Nemo & Friends is home to more than 3000 fish and other sea creatures. The sheer size makes it one of the largest man-made ocean environments in the world.

11. Captain EO cost an estimated $30 million to make. At just 17 minutes, that makes the film $1.76 million per minute.

12. The “Living with the Land” attraction is home to a Guinness World Record—the most tomatoes harvested from a single plant in one year (1151.84 pounds).

13. The food grown in Epcot greenhouses is actually used in the restaurants there, including the Garden Grill.

14. The Sea has a panel of experts that they use for consulting purposes. The panel has included Robert Ballard, most famous for discovering the wreck of the Titanic; Sylvia Earle, the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and Gilbert Grosvenor, a former president and chief executive of the National Geographic Society.

15. Two people have died after riding Mission: SPACE. One was a four-year-old with an undiagnosed heart condition, and the other was a woman who suffered a stroke due to high blood pressure.

16. Leonard Nimoy directed the popular Body Wars movie at the Wonders of Life pavilion.

17. The score for Soarin’ Over California was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, who said that he loved the project so much, he would have done it for free. Goldsmith’s many noteworthy scores include The Omen, Planet of the Apes, Alien, Poltergeist, Patton, and Rudy.

18. The Wonders of Life pavilion once contained a film where Martin Short explained how babies were made. Really.

THE WORLD SHOWCASE

19. The World Showcase promenade is 1.2 miles long.

20. The World Showcase lagoon spans 40 acres.

21. The Rose and Crown pub in the U.K. has a special machine that can cool your Guinness to exactly 55 degrees, the temperature recommended by the company.

22. Russia, Switzerland, Spain, Venezuela, United Arab Emirates, and Israel have all been mentioned as additions to the World Showcase side of Epcot at one point or another.

23. There were once plans for a boat ride called The Rhine River Cruise in the Germany pavilion. The show building was partially constructed, but the rest of the ride was trashed shortly after Epcot opened.

24. Contrary to popular belief, for the most part, the countries in the World Showcase are not funded by that country’s government. There’s one exception: Morocco.

25. Morocco’s King Hassan II reviewed a detailed scale model of the Morocco Pavilion for "authenticity and artistic effect." 

26. Imagineers have long considered a roller coaster inside of the Japan pavilion. It would be similar to the Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland, but would instead revolve around Mount Fuji.

27. The American pavilion is built at a slightly higher elevation than all of the other countries'. This is to show that it's a host country to all of the other pavilions, and also to help it stand out as the centerpiece.

28. For 17 years, Epcot’s Japan pavilion was home to Miyuki, the world’s only female amezaiku artist. She learned the art of creating small, edible animal sculptures out of brown rice toffee from her grandfather. Miyuki retired in November 2013.

SPECIAL EVENTS

29. More than 30 million blooms fill the park during the Flower and Garden Festival every spring.

30. The Food and Wine Festival in the fall represents 25 nations with 1.5 million food samplings, 300,000 wine pours, 360,000 beer servings, and 100,000 dessert portions.

PARADES AND FIREWORKS

31. The puppets for the now-defunct “Tapestry of Nations” parade were designed by Michael Curry, the same man who designed the puppets for the Broadway production of The Lion King. He has also worked on five Cirque du Soleil shows and multiple opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics.

32. Jim Cummings is the man who provides the voiceover at the beginning of “IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth.” You may know him better as the voice of Darkwing Duck. He’s currently the voice of Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, and Pete. Listen to the first 30 seconds of this video—you can probably hear a little bit of each of those characters.

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