What’s the Truth About an Animated Film Titled ‘Slaves’ in Production at Disney Studios?

disney's song of the south imagery
Credit: Disney/Canva

*This post contains images that may be unsettling for some. Viewer discretion is advised.

Recently, there’s been chatter online about some fairly questionable films reportedly in production at Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios–films that most Disney fans would deem not only insensitive and inappropriate but also wholly unnecessary and unfitting for any studio to produce, especially a studio like Disney’s.

disney's song of the south

Br’er Rabbit and Uncle Remus in Disney’s “Song of the South” (1947)/Credit: Disney

Disney isn’t new to controversy–or to controversial films. Disney’s soon-to-be-released live-action take on the 1937 feature film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is only the latest example of such controversy, some of it spurred on by the lead actress in the film, Rachel Zegler.

But many of Disney’s classic films have been criticized lately for various reasons–reasons that might not have been so prevalent decades ago when the films were originally released. Thanks to the undeniable staying power of Disney’s many productions over the years, new generations of fans have come to love the wonder and the magic of Disney.

RELATED: This Hollywood Actor Suggests Many of Disney’s Classic Films Need an “R” Rating from the MPAA

Others, however, have taken issue with films that were released more than 50 years ago, citing problematic themes, harmful depictions, and the use of over-generalizations and stereotypes. As such, many of Disney’s classic films are shown on Disney+ with related content warnings that allow viewers who’ve never seen the films to know beforehand about the presence of potentially insensitive or harmful content.

crows is disney's dumbo film

Crows with Timothy Mouse in Disney’s “Dumbo” (1941)/Credit: Walt Disney Animation

Recently, however, images of movie posters claiming to be the work of Disney and Pixar have appeared in various places across social media outlets, leaving some to wonder why the studios would produce such films and others to wonder whether the images are authentic in the first place, especially as the posters depict themes and imagery reminiscent of one of Disney’s most controversial films of all time.

Disney’s Most Controversial Production Yet

Though Disney+ features content warnings on many of Disney’s older films, the general consensus is that the company’s most controversial film of all time is Disney’s Song of the South¬†(1947), so much so that it’s virtually impossible to find the film today, as it’s not on DVD or 4K, nor is it streamable on Disney+.
Set in the Reconstruction Era of the American South following the conclusion of the Civil War and the end of slavery, Disney’s¬†Song of the South tells the story of Uncle Remus, a freedman who serves as the voice of wisdom in conversations with a young boy, Johnny, played by Bobby Driscoll (Peter Pan, 1951), who goes to visit his grandmother’s plantation. While he’s there, Johnny is devastated to learn that his parents are separating. The story of Song of the South is really a story of stories, as told by Uncle Remus, in an effort to teach Johnny various life lessons related to his current circumstances.
disney's song of the south

Credit: Disney

The Disney film is based on the work of author and editor Joel Chandler Harris, who compiled, adapted, and published a collection of African-American folktales in 1881. Uncle Remus is a fictional character created by Harris to serve as the narrator of stories about Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear, and Brer Fox–each with its own moral and points of wisdom. Regardless, some have found the film offensive as they claim it perseverates a romanticized view of the life of slaves in the 1800s.
That’s despite the fact that James Baskett, the black actor who portrayed Uncle Remus in the film, won an honorary Academy Award for his role in¬†Song of the South and despite the fact that shortly after the film’s debut, even the NAACP noted Disney’s “effort neither to offend audiences in the North or South” in its production, though it acknowledged what it perceived as a perpetuation of a distortion of the truth about master-slave relationships.
disney's song of the south

Credit: Disney

As recently as the late 1980s, Walt Disney Imagineering used Song of the South¬†as the inspiration for one of the parks’ most popular attractions at Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort, Splash Mountain. But in recent years, growing frustrations and complaints from some about the ride only grew louder, and Disney ultimately decided to do away with the attraction, despite its popularity among guests of every skin color.

RELATED: Disrespectful & Unforgivably Insensitive: Disney Parks Has Reimagined the WRONG Attraction

Splash Moutain Lives On Thanks To a Hilariously Bad Disney Promotional Video

Credit: Disney/Canva

“Disney” Film Posters Appear Online

In recent months, images of film posters with the Disney and Pixar names on them have emerged online across various social media platforms, which at first seems like a non-issue. Disney-owned studios routinely release film posters ahead of the theatrical and streaming debuts of their films as part of their branding and marketing campaigns.

But the posters in question are extremely questionable in content.

One poster features an image of a black man standing in front of a group of black people of various ages. He’s wearing a cowboy hat, leather suspenders, and a cream-colored shirt, and the words “Disney Pixar presents‚ÄĚ can be read at the bottom of the image. The image also reads, “based on a true story.”

fake movie poster for film called slaves ai-generated

Credit: TikTok/sigma__squidward

The type of animation seen in the poster looks similar to the animation styles used by both Disney and Pixar, making it all the more believable for some. But the poster campaigns for a fake film–just one of dozens of fake film posters making their rounds across social media platforms, and it’s all thanks to artificial intelligence or AI.

Some of the posters feature animated versions of Adolf Hitler on fake posters for a film titled ‘Caust, while other posters feature AI-generated imagery of the World Trade Center, allegedly part of a branding campaign for a Pixar film titled Towers.

fake disney pixar movie posters for caust and towers

Credit: AI-generated/Creator unknown

The Age of Artificial Intelligence 

While the use of artificial intelligence is hailed by some as the way of the future–and even necessary for the livelihood of the human race by others–society is already getting a taste of some of the things that can happen when technology is used for nefarious purposes.

In early October, imagery depicting Mickey Mouse at the controls of a 747, brandishing a gun, and setting a course directly for the now-fallen Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City surfaced online.

RELATED: Disney’s Losing the Rights to Mickey, and That’s Not the Weirdest Part of the Story

mickey mouse with gun openAI

Credit: Microsoft Bing AI/DALL-E3/OpenAI

Though the image features Mickey, an animated character, the imagery itself is difficult to view. But it left some asking why Disney would allow such imagery to be created–and why corporations like Microsoft, OpenAI, and other entities include such capabilities within their respective AI image generators.

Not only do the fake film posters, as well as other potentially harmful AI-generated imagery, raise questions about copyright infringement, but they can also lead to more serious issues as consumers attempt to make the distinction between what is real and what is AI-generated. Hint: not everyone who views AI-generated imagery is capable of making that distinction.

What’s the Truth?

Is Disney or Pixar making an animated film titled Slaves? Absolutely not.

But as AI becomes more and more sophisticated, viewers will have to be even more cautious about what they accept as the truth and what they recognize as fake. Uncle Remus, in his wisdom, would likely encourage consumers not to believe everything they see–but instead, look more closely and seek the truth above all else.

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!