Films and Filming. June 1979.
Children’s Alphabet book. circa 1890s.
This 1943 Warner Brothers’ Merrie Melodies animated short is entitled Coal Black and De Sebben Dwarfs. It is one of the so-called “censored eleven,” cartoons that were taken out of circulation by their then-owner Universal in 1968 due to their questionable subject matter. It is pretty plain as to why this one would be suppressed–its vile depiction of grotesque black stereotypes (and, this being wartime, at least one mention of “japs”). What surprised me is the Citizen Kane reference.
Note: I prepared this post a few days ago with a youtube video that claimed to be taken from a 16mm print with very good image and sound but that has been removed. (I guess Warner Brothers only want people to see this if it is a mess of a VHS rip.) I settled on an inferior video. If this one is removed you’ll have to try your luck here.
From the deepest recesses of my book shelf, I bring you some scans of a book that caused me deep confusion as a child. This was almost certainly a hand-me-down from my older siblings. Can you believe that my parents even let me have this? Anyway, below are pages from a storybook based on a segment of the now nearly disowned 1946 Disney feature Song of the South. Those faint twos on the left of the title I think are evidence that I was practicing my penmanship.
The story goes like this, Brer Fox and Brer Bear want to eat Brer Rabbit but he is too fast for them to catch. As anyone in their situation would, they build themselves a “tar baby”–as the name suggests, that’s a baby made of tar–and set it along side a path upon which Brer Rabbit travels.
Brer Rabbit comes bounding down the path and offers a friendly hello to the tar baby who says nothing in return. Keep in mind that the tar baby is really just a lump of tar with a hat and coat on. The book assures us that Brer Rabbit it a pretty bright fellow but he doesn’t see through this obvious trap. Brer Rabbit, disgusted with the tar baby’s insubordination, gets aggressive and roughs up the tar baby succeeding only in getting himself caught in the tar from which he is unable to free himself.
Below you can see the exact moment when Brer Rabbit realizes he’s been duped.
As the fox and bear close in, Brer Rabbit uses a little reverse psychology on his predators and totally changes the subject (the subject up until this point is that he’s covered in tar and is about to be roasted and eaten) by begging not to be thrown into a nearby briar patch. The fox can’t resist doing the exact opposite of what the rabbit says regardless of the fact that a few moments earlier he and the bear had been building a fire to roast the rabbit over. Brer Rabbit has the last laugh though, the briar patch is the place of the rabbit’s birth and he feels at home there. Conveniently, briars are apparently harmful to both bears and foxes but not to rabbits. It is never explained how he got the tar off of himself or how the fox and bear planned on extracting the rabbit from the briar patch if the impact killed the rabbit.
I figure that it is probably for the best that the Disney company keep this one in their vault, but, to their credit, they haven’t edit it out of their official history the way that they have some things. Bootleggers keep the film available (look at this pathetic website–there’s nothing official looking about it) and I was able to find this ridiculously thorough history and memorabilia website. While digging up information on Song of the South, I began thinking of that scene in Dumbo with the singing crows. I figured for sure that that business surely wouldn’t fly in this day and age but it seems as though Dumbo was released on DVD as recently as 2006.