Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., has removed the Oscar-winning classic “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” from its twice-daily “Magic Happens” parade, which was relaunched on Feb. 24 following a three-year, pandemic-triggered hiatus. The park has replaced the earworm with a song from Peter Pan.
“Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” originated in the 1946 film Song of the South. The movie was based on a series of short stories by Joel Chandler Harris centered on Uncle Remus, a Black man in the Reconstruction era who spoke nostalgically about a time when things were better. That would presumably be a time when slavery was legal.
In 2020, Bob Iger, then-chairman of Disney, told stockholders the film was “just not appropriate in today’s world.”
In the 1940s, when there was much less sensitivity to race issues than there is today, the film was seen in a different light. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences presented James Baskett, the actor who played Uncle Remus, with a special Oscar “for his able and heart-warming characterization of Uncle Remus, friend and storyteller to the children of the world in Walt Disney’s Song of the South.”
Disneyland had previously announced plans to reimagine Splash Mountain, a popular ride that features images and themes from Song of the South. The ride remains open, but it closed at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., in January. Both rides are scheduled to be overhauled to include images, characters and themes from The Princess and the Frog, a 2009 film that featured Disney’s first Black princess, Tiana, who was voiced as an adult by future Tony winner Anika Noni Rose.
“Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” was the second song from a Disney film to receive an Oscar for best original song, following “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Pinocchio. The song was composed by a man named Allie Wrubel, with lyrics by Ray Gilbert.
“Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” was a popular song in 1947, with hit versions by Johnny Mercer, Sammy Kaye and The Modernaires with Paula Kelly. Mercer performed the song on the Academy Awards in March 1948 in tandem with The Pied Pipers, a top vocal group which included Jo Stafford.
Producer Phil Spector revived the song 15 years later in a soul- and rock-infused version he produced by Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans. That group featured Bobby Sheen, who took the stage name Bob B. Soxx, and backing vocalists Darlene Love and Fanita James, both of whom were also members of the girl group the Blossoms. Their version reached No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1963.
“Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” ranks No. 47 on the 2004 list AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs. Song of the South was among 180 films nominated for the 2006 list AFI’s Greatest Movie Musicals, but failed to make the list.
If you’re wondering why a 1946 film competed in the 1947 Academy Awards (which were presented in 1948), the Academy has an explanation for that: “Song of the South did not open across the country at the same time. It opened in Los Angeles on Jan. 30, 1947, making it eligible in the 1947 awards year.”
The Los Angeles Times was first to report the news of the song’s removal from the “Magic Happens” parade.