In the 1960s rural side of America, a fox has just become victim to another hunting incident. Witnessing the horrifying moment, an owl known as Big Mama finds that the fox had left her cub behind. Not being able to take care of the cub herself, she uses the help of her other bird friends Dinky and Boomer to allow local Dairy Farmer Widow Tweed to take care of it, giving it the name Tod. Meanwhile on the farm next door, a hunter named Almos Slade has brought home a puppy Bloodhound which he names Copper to be brought up as his new hunting dog alongside his current hunting dog, Chief. Both Tod and Copper meet and immediately become good friends, and promise that they would stay friends forever. However, with Almos’ short temper and his reckless behaviour, as well as his hunting interests, makes people worried about Tod’s safety, especially when Copper goes away to be trained as a hunting dog. Now it’s just hope to see if both the Fox and the Hound can keep their promise, even if one of them is supposed to be the hunter and the other hunted.
In 1967, the same year that Daniel Mannix won the Dutton Animal Book award for his novel “The Fox and the Hound”; Walt Disney Animation obtained the film rights for the novel, but didn’t start production until ten years later. The initial story was considered way too dark for children, so a team of eight writers changed the story almost entirely to centre around the friendship between Tod and Copper, instead of Tod’s life as he’s constantly on the run from Copper. While Disney’s Nine Old Men, Disney’s first nine feature film animators starting on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, did the initial development and designs of the film, Disney’s new younger squad did most of the later work, including Glen Keane and Don Bluth, with NOM members Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston becoming animation supervisors and Wolfgang Reitherman being the producer. Unfortunately, conflicts between the old and new generation of animators over the film’s handling, and Don Bluth’s decision to leave with 11 other animators to form his own studio delayed the film’s release, missing the planned 1980 Christmas Season. However, with new animators hired and trained, the film was eventually released July 10th 1981, with a final success eventually granting a theatrical rerelease in 1988.
The animation of Fox and the Hound might be the best from Disney in its pre-Renaissance, but that’s mainly when talking about the animals in the film. What I like about the designs of the animals is that it’s incredibly well balanced, they look realistic and well-proportioned to look and act like real animals, yet they have a simplistic and slightly cartoonish feel. This would take the designs a little out of realism, but the animators did it to a level just about right, they don’t make them too realistic to avoid them looking uncomfortable to look at but didn’t go too basic or out of context to avoid them looking like a childish cartoon animals. If you want to watch this film, I’d like you to spend some time looking at the animal characters without focusing on their faces; you can tell that the animators took the effort of using animal body language and movements to show emotions and reactions, probably too much since there is a scene where Tod and Copper are having a stand-off and both of their expressions look really freaky, but you could tell that they could do that. However there are parts of the animation which look really cheap, the design of Amos Slade looks disproportionate, especially in comparison to the only other human character, Widow Tweed, and whoever animated Chief made him stand out too much with his grey and blurry outline. I still think it’s one of Disney’s best attempts at animal character animations, better than Bambi, but that doesn’t hide how weak the other areas are.
The musical soundtrack is your usual orchestrated scores and because this is Disney, a few songs to boot. While I like orchestrations in animated films like this, it only feels really effective at creating an atmosphere in more dark and tense moments, since the more light hearted stuff seems really shallow. There are three songs in this Disney film, ‘Best of Friends’, ‘Goodbye may seem Forever’ and ‘Appreciate a Lady’, the first and latter are sung by African-American actress and singer Pearl Bailey, and while they are beautifully sung the backing music and the lyrics are weak and the songs barely have any memorability to them, but I have to be fair and say the ‘Goodbye may seem Forever’ sung by Jeanette Nolan, despite it being the most simple song out of the three, the scene that plays with it really emphasises the emotion of this scene and saying goodbye to someone.
What I typically find about Disney animated films is that most of the best part of the cast isn’t the main protagonists, but the supporting cast and the villains, since they mainly drive the entertainment of the film. With the Fox and the Hound it seems to be the other way round, the main protagonists are actually better than the supporting cast. I agree that Pearl Dailey as Big Mama is very likable and memorable as a supporting member, being kind hearted, supportive, and looking out for Tod but the other two birds in this film, a stammering woodpecker named Boomer and a tiny but bossy finch named Dinky, don’t contribute much entertainment outside of being a generic comedy duo performing a single running gag of trying to catch a single caterpillar, and both the voices of Chief by Pat Buttram and the hunter Almos Slade by Jack Albertson is very stereotypical and the latter especially is done way over the top to be taken seriously. However the main protagonists Tod and Copper, played by Mickey Rooney and Kurt Russell, are likeable, Russell does have some good range, I like Mickey Rooney and how he made Tod shy and slightly awkward without being annoying, and even though their younger counterparts lack in range you can’t help but liking them since they were portrayed by young boys that acted like young boys, and even they try and be serious.
If you’ve read my review of Arrietty you should know that the one thing I care the least about when it comes to film adaptations is how faithful a film is to its original story because both are usually very different mediums with different styles of storytelling, film adaptation or not, it should be viewed on its own merit before being judged purely on how much it follows or strays away from the original. That being said I find it a little frustrating when feel like I have to make this point when the most detailed points to make about a film’s story relates to the fact that it was a loose adaptation to an existing story, like with Arrietty, The Black Cauldron, Howl’s Moving Castle, Tales from Earthsea and even this film. This film especially has this problem because even if you read the original novel once before looking at the film, you would hate it, because the closest the film gets to the original plot is entirely in the third act, and yet it’s still incredibly toned down. In fact the only time I would agree with the kind of people who follow the book, is when one of the main characters was clearly meant to die, only to be revealed later as having non-lethal injury, which really bothered me for the rest of the film because it felt like Disney was too afraid of children being upset over a main character death, despite an incredibly minor character being killed off very early in the same film. The only other problem I have is once again, a problem I see in many other animated films, and that’s the love interest, as fifty minutes into the film, Big Mama tries and succeeds in hooking up Tod with a vixen, and it’s played up so much it bothers me since the Vixen, cleverly named Vixie, only contributes some tension and drama in the film’s climax. I like romantic relationships as a side plot or subplot, and if the characters are written well with a good amount of time to build up the relationship, then it’s easier for the viewer to understand and enjoy the moments between the two characters, but when the main focus of your film is establishing a relationship and you throw in a romantic interest very late into the film like it was an afterthought, then you should’ve either established it earlier or made a longer film.
Nevertheless, The Fox and the Hound still has its charm of lovable characters, colourful moments and it’s control and transitions of atmosphere throughout the film, it knows when to take itself seriously and it definitely builds itself up to a tense and action filled third act and climax. It’s story and premise actually reminds me of a more recent film a reviewed some time before, Arashi no Yoru Ni, an anime film about the unlikely friendship between a wolf and a goat. Both films involve a friendship between member’s two sides which despise each other, and that their friendship could mean danger to each other, but Fox and the Hound actually has slightly more complexity because unlike Arashi, the conflict in the Fox and the Hound isn’t because of natural instinct. To explain, the conflict between wolves and goats is mainly due to their natural instincts, since wolves eat animals like goats to survive and therefore goats wouldn’t trust them, in fact if the main protagonists immediately knew who each other were, they wouldn’t have found that they had stuff in common to become friends in the first place. However in the Fox and the Hound, both Tod and Copper aren’t that much different at all, so they both know exactly who each other were and could get along, even Big Mama has a positive attitude of their friendship despite what she knows about them, the only reason that a conflict exists between these two is that Copper is brought up by a hunter and his dog, who themselves were brought up to believe that hunting certain animals like foxes is fine, a cause which isn’t nature but influenced by peers, which is almost similar to conflicts between difference social groups and races.
I’ve always found it hard to sum up my views to reach an overall judgement for this film, especially considering the time this was shown and what Disney’s aftermath was after it. On one hand, the animation is only strong in one area and not as a whole, the soundtrack overall is half-baked and the film has some flaws along with a weak set of supporting characters. On the other hand, when the animation is good, it’s really good; the film has its heart-warming charms as well as serious and dark moments, and if you really think hard about the overall story, you’ll go really deep.
The Fox and the Hound is available from Walt Disney. The original novel by Daniel Mannix was available from E.P Dutton but I think it’s either out of print or only available in North America because I can’t find any books available other than Disney’s film book adaptations, written by Heather Simon and also available by Walt Disney. A direct to video midquel simply titled Fox and the Hound 2 is also available from Walt Disney and can also be found in combo packs with the original film.