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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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A Physicist Weighs In On Whether Scrooge McDuck Could Actually Swim in a Pool of Gold Coins
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Batman has the Batcave, Superman has his Fortress of Solitude, and Scrooge McDuck has his money bin. For 70 years, the maternal uncle of Disney’s Donald Duck has been portrayed as a thrifty—some might say miserly—presence in cartoons and comics, a waterfowl who has such deep affection for his fortune that he enjoys diving into his piles of gold and luxuriating in them.

It’s a rather gross display of money worship, but is it practical? Can anyone, including an anthropomorphic Pekin duck, actually swim in their own money, or would diving headfirst into a pile of metal result only in catastrophic injury?

According to James Kakalios, Ph.D., a professor of physics at the University of Minnesota and author of the recently-released The Physics of Everyday Things as well as 2005’s The Physics of Superheroes, the question really isn’t whether someone could swim in a mass of gold. They could not. It’s more a matter of how badly they’ll be injured in the attempt.

Diving into a gold pile the Scrooge way—hands first, prayer-style, followed by your head—is the most efficient way to begin breaking bones. “Keeping his arms stiff and his elbows rigid, he’s definitely going to break his wrists,” Kakalios tells Mental Floss. “Gold is a granular material like sand, a macroscopic object. You can’t swim through sand or dive into it easily.” Launch yourself off a diving board from 3 or 4 feet up and you will meet a solid surface. Landing with your feet, a far better bet, is unlikely to result in injury—provided you try to bend your knees.

In that sense, diving into gold is not dissimilar from “diving” into a concrete floor. But with gold being granular, it might be possible to break the surface and “swim” if the friction were low enough. “A ball pit is a good example,” Kakalios says. “The balls are lightly packed and have low friction relative to one another. The key is to have objects in front of you move out of the way in order to advance.”

Despite being a fictional character, McDuck hasn’t totally ignored the impossible physics of his feat. His creator, Carl Barks, has written in repeated references over the years to the implausibility of using his money vault as a swimming pool and has depicted the villainous Beagle Boys trio as getting hurt when they tried to emulate the stunt. Scrooge smirked and said there was a “trick” to making the gold dive.

That’s led to one fan theory that McDuck has used his fortune to coat the gold coins in some kind of lubricant that would aid in reducing friction, allowing him to maneuver inside the vault. Ludicrous, yes. But is it possible? “You would need a massive amount of lube to slide your body past the coins with minimal effort,” Kakalios says. “The ball pit is easier because the weight of the elements is low. Gold is a very dense material.” Diving and swimming into it, even with lubricant, might be analogous to trying to shove your hand into a deep bowl of M&Ms, he says. “M&Ms have a low friction coating. Continuing to move is really the problem.”

Presuming McDuck could somehow maneuver himself deeper into the pile, his delicate duck bones would almost surely succumb to the crushing weight of the gold above him. By one estimate, diving under one of his 5-foot-tall gold piles would put 2492 pounds of pressure on his bill.

We'll see if he tips his top hat to any further gold-diving tricks—or if he's in a full-body cast—when Disney XD relaunches DuckTales this summer.

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There Will Be Plenty of Easter Eggs in DuckTales
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Call them duck eggs. In an interview with io9.com, producers of Disney XD's new DuckTales reboot have promised fans that the series—which continues the adventures of gold-hoarding Scrooge McDuck and his excitable nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie—will feature nods to previous incarnations of the characters.

“There’s so much even in what we’ve released already,” executive producer Matt Youngberg said. “There are so many Easter eggs and even some that people haven’t picked up on yet.”

Fans who study the available footage like the Zapruder film may have spotted paintings in the background that are beautifully reminiscent of Carl Barks, the celebrated illustrator who created Scrooge and drew many of his comic book adventures, as well as the eight-bit theme to the original Nintendo game. There will also be nods to the previous series, the games, and other DuckTales-related media. That, Youngberg said, is because not everyone has had quite the same DuckTales experience.

“A lot of people watched the cartoon,” he said. “There’s also the comics, the international comics, the video game, the old Disney duck cartoons. There’s so much to draw from. We want to try to put that all together in a version that speaks to everyone.”

Already, fans have been quacking (sorry) about the inclusion of Darkwing Duck, the cloaked lead of the 1990s series of the same name. The new DuckTales has a one-hour film premiering August 12, with the series debuting September 23.

[h/t io9]

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