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How can Tod be in two places at once? Will this destroy the universe?
The Fox and the Hound marks the beginning of what we like to call the ‘Passing the Torch Era’. The 1980s was a major transitional phase and there was a lot of experimentation taking place, not all of which worked, but we will get to that. For the first time, they had serious competition; beforehand there had been of course many independent animation producers like Ralph Bakshi, Martin Rosen, etc … but Disney was still considered to have the monopoly over mainstream animation. However, during production of The Fox and the Hound, Don Bluth, Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy, three of the most talented animators at the studio, left Disney to form their own studio: Don Bluth Productions, taking eleven animators with them.
Gary Goldman: ‘We found out that convincing the management (during the ‘70s) that we wanted to add more special effects, cast shadows on the character, water, rain, and other environmental phenomena, it was discouraged. They wanted us to cut costs, not increase costs. It seemed as though the more we tried to return to the beauty of the older films, the more difficult our jobs became. We finally decided that maybe we could turn them around if we started our own company and challenged Disney on the big screen, that maybe then they would see what we were talking about … We loved Disney, but the company was failing and at the time … management was running the show, not the artists. So, we chose to leave’.
When this major event took place, it was such a shock to the studio that production on The Fox and the Hound was delayed for a year. On top of all this, another prominent change was taking place at the studio. The older animators were retiring and the younger, less experienced animators were getting ready to take over. The former led the first half of production, while the latter led the second half, with the older animators officially stepping back, finishing their careers on the film and passing the torch. This was a real beginning for those who would go on to be some of the greatest contributors to animation in film history, such as Glen Keane, John Lasseter, Chris Buck, Ron Clements, Ron Husband, John Musker, Brad Bird, Tim Burton, and many, many more. They were eager to learn, as they were mentored and taught by the older animators …
Based on Daniel P. Mannix’s novel of the same name, The Fox and the Hound truly is a loose re-telling of Mannix’s story. You think Disney’s adaptation is bleak? Spoiler alert: In Mannix’s novel, the fox dies from exhaustion while being hunted down (plus his mate and children are all killed), and the hound is shot when his owner has to go into a nursing home where dogs are not allowed. Truly the Les Miserables or the Titus Andronicus of the animal world … albeit on a much smaller scale. But of course, Disney does go off course plot-wise, creating a less miserable version of the story – note that we say less miserable. The Fox in the Hound is definitely one of Disney’s most melancholic films. How so? Let’s find out! But first as always …
Original Trailer Time!
- Woah! Something’s different! We have a new Original Trailer Man
- Possibly the cheapest opening to a trailer so far, as we see the title of the film loom blurrily forward on a cheap blue background
- Original Trailer Man is giving a tongue-twistingly awkward speech
- TWENTIETH? What films have they attempted to airbrush from history??? And bearing in mind The Black Cauldron hasn’t even happened yet!
- We hear The Fox and the Hound, and the first thing we see is The Caterpillar and the Bear … now why was THAT never released? Seriously it writes itself:
‘We’re … we’re still friends aren’t we?’
‘Squeaks … those days are over. I’M A BIG BLACK RAINCLOUD NOW!’
- ‘Look out. Here it comes’, as we see images of WACKINESS … Yeah! Boy does that capture the essence of this movie!
- ‘Hot’ out of Walt Disney’s Productions … pardon? ‘HOT’? Cool your jets new guy!
- Amos’s bright red face interrupts Tod and Copper’s touching declaration of their everlasting friendship
- The rest of the trailer from here on out is BIG SPOILERS as we see just about everything that happens … cheers editors
- ‘A real killer’ – chipper cartoon music accompanies Tod’s moment of horror
- ‘But never can sneak up sooner than you think’ … seriously where did they find this guy?
- ‘Best friends!’ As they snarl at each other, ‘Make the worst enemies!’ Wow … signing off this trailer like a horror movie … wait hang on it’s still going?
- Jarring cut from Tod’s snarling face to rootin tootin wacky music! Dangling keys time! Forget those scary mean old animals – IT’S FUN! LOOK AT THE FUN WE’RE HAVING!
- Original Trailer Man starts emphasising how great DISNEY is … hmm could this have something to do with the fact that they now have competition?
- Original Trailer Man and the editors seem to think that we may not know that this film is about a fox and a hound, so they keep telling us that … again … and again … AND AGAIN! It’s almost as excessive as this:
Despite there being two protagonists in this film, it is Tod’s story more than it is Copper’s. Tod is the orphaned outsider who encounters prejudice and adversity, while Copper has a much simpler character arc than Tod, as he is allowed to fulfil the role that has been assigned to him; that of a hunting dog. Tod’s arc is far more varied as a fox is a wild animal without a pre-determined societal role.
(Special Note from Melissa: Baby Tod and Copper are so cute that it hits the maternal instincts like crazy)
There is actually a lot less screen time of Copper and Tod playing together than most people remember, likely because the marketing would rather stress upon the cuteness and familiarity for child viewers than graphic visions of animal brutality.
‘This breathtaking story of friendship and fun’
Seeing these characters as infants and children contributes to the emotional impact of later scenes. These scenes which focus on innocence and naivety of children, are more poignant than we remember. A child’s interpretation of what ‘best friends’ and ‘forever’ are is fascinating and the film uses this to excellent effect. Children can barely comprehend the notion that their best friend will most likely not be their best friend (or even their friend at all) forever. This is one of the most relatable elements of the film. Memories of times spent with childhood best friends are special, but for most of us that’s all they are – memories (exceptions notwithstanding). ‘Forever’ really did seem like ‘forever’ as a child, yet it would constantly get used in conversation, e.g. ‘We’ll be friends forever’ and ‘Are we there yet? This is taking forever’, and let’s not forget this kid:
(Special Note from Both: We found it really amusing that Copper sounds unintentionally less sincere than Tod when they’re talking about being friends forever: ‘And we’ll always be friends forever. Won’t we?’ / ‘Yeah forever’)
About as meaningful as this:
‘Yeah forever …’
Only child, Tod is lonely with no other siblings or companions to play with, and thus initially is bossy and patronising towards Copper (‘What’s your name kid?’ and ‘NO COPPER YA CAN’T PEEK!’). He is spoiled in the sense that he gets away with his actions, such ‘buttering up’ Widow Tweed by acting ‘cute’ as soon as he gets told off in an early scene. Being a fox, Tod constantly gets into trouble as foxes are naturally mischievous and curious creatures. Copper on the other hand is a stereotypical youngest child; he is used to being led, is very innocent and is more of a pushover than the wilful Tod.
(Special Note from Both: We are both the youngest in our families – we’re allowed to say this)
Copper always gets called away in the middle of playing and obediently, like a typical dog, returns to his master – while Tod does not.
As Big Mama shrewdly observes, Copper is ‘gonna do what’s he’s been told’; he is easier to mould, because dogs can be trained. Copper is more willing to embrace his societal role; Tod is confused and does not know his place in the world. Copper fits in, while Tod is the ‘other’ who encounters prejudice and speculation along the way.
The binaries of Tod and Copper are endless – the natural wildness of Tod in juxtaposition to the natural domesticity of Copper, the only child to the youngest child, the hunted to the hunter, the outsider to the insider, the sheltered to the worldly, etc. On their own, these characters may not be that interesting, but together, especially considering their differences and experiences, they are. Their story can parallel with racism, cultural prejudice, forbidden love, class wars and homophobia.
When Copper and Tod grow up, they are both given collars – a sign of maturity and domesticity which we have seen before in Lady and the Tramp. However, Tod’s collar is removed when Widow Tweed abandons him, stripping him of his domestic status and he is now ‘free’ to be a ‘natural’ fox. But he has been domesticated… we will come back to that in ‘Supporting Cast’.
Out of the two of them Tod invests a lot more in their friendship. In spite of many warnings that things will be different when they’re older, Tod tries desperately to convince himself otherwise – needing to cling onto the naïve assumption. Consequently when Copper tells him that ‘those days are over’, it is no longer possible for Tod to live in denial as he’s confronted by the sad truth, head on. Their meeting after a period apart from each other is believably uncomfortable and tense, and is a real stand-out moment in the film.
The friendship with Tod means less to Copper, as he always has companionship with Chief and Amos – whereas Tod is often left to his own devices. Copper has duties and responsibilities, whereas Tod is more of a carefree being (at least during childhood). This is further illustrated when Copper is leaving the ranch, he’s excited by the prospect of leaving and learning how to hunt – and it’s only at the last minute that he remembers the friend he’s leaving behind. On the other hand, Tod is clearly devastated at the realisation, and doesn’t even get a chance to say goodbye. It is harder for the friend who’s left behind than the friend who is leaving. Copper ‘sees the world’ in comparison to sheltered Tod, and consequently the latter has blind, naïve faith in his friend, while the former has a more ‘realistic’ view.
When Copper and Tod are no longer friends, their next meeting is vicious and frightening, as their animal instincts become much more prominent. These scenes carry a lot of weight because we’ve seen these characters play together as children, and it is upsetting that this is what it eventually leads to. Copper’s desperation to get him is as intense as Javert after Valjean.
‘My name is Tod the Fox’ / ‘And I’m Copper. Do not forget my NAME!’
To the very end, when Copper and Amos are hunting Tod down, Tod still values the friendship more – he goes against all odds to protect his attackers, and he even saves their lives. But in the process he almost dies himself.
‘Fly you fools’
Copper, finding his former friend weak and frail, finally sees the futility of the situation and quietly sheilds him from Amos’s gun. As characters, Copper and Tod do not necessarily become friends again, but they have a mutual understanding and respect towards one another – highlighted by beautifully subtle animation – the perfect imperfect ending for these protagonists.
(Special Note from Both: Tod overall had the better voice actors. The child actors are generally cute enough but we found Kurt Russell’s performance a tad dull and some of his deliveries a little off, such as the ‘No’ following Chief’s accident – it’s practically channelling Christopher Walken).
The film does not have a single, clearly-defined antagonist, but numerous characters create a very effective sense of adversity for the protagonists to overcome at different stages in the narrative. ‘Craft old coot’ (his words not ours) Amos, is also an antagonist, as is his disgruntled dog Chief. However neither of these characters are villainous, because they are driven by circumstance and, from their perspective, they are in the right. This does make sense to an extent, as Copper views Tod as the one who ‘killed’ (a.k.a. mildly inconvenienced) Chief, and Amos perceives Tod as a threat to his chickens, and consequently a factor of his livelihood. It is as if they have given the Hunter from Bambi a face, a name and connections with other characters. Despite his hot-tempered nature, he clearly has a great deal of affection for his dogs, which is a very redeeming quality for a character who could easily be a one dimensional villain. Although, for a hunter, Amos truly is a terrible shot … unless Tod’s mother sacrificed herself for her son, which put a protective charm around Tod meaning that he constantly escapes death …
Tod – The Fox Who Lived
… Nah, Amos is just a terrible shot
But check out his hilarious funky walk
Jack Albertson who voices Amos is likely a familiar voice for many as he played Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. He is able to make you dislike this character despite having a likeable voice. Sadly this was his final film.
Pat Buttrum … AGAIN. However this is his biggest and best role in the canon.
(Special Note from Melissa: For once Disney could have their country bumpkin characters without them seeming shoehorned in because it is actually set in the countryside in the USA)
The relationship between Copper and Chief is really interesting, especially considering the context of the film’s production as the older animators were retiring and training up the younger animators to take over. Their relationship highlights the conflict between the older and younger generations, as Chief, fond of Copper, wants to help him become a good hunting dog, and yet when Copper surpasses Chief in his abilities, Chief becomes embittered and feels pushed out. Chief is already losing his touch, and Copper is naturally better at tracking from an early age. In the arrogance of youth, Copper, delighted that he is doing so well, cockily sits up in the front on the way home, leaving Chief to sit in the back with the animal remains. One of the nine old men said that he related to Chief, as he discussed that Copper, ‘this young kid was gradually moving in on him and eventually he has to sit in the back seat. That’s so true to life’. Consequently it means that when he seems to fall to his death it is devastating … only he doesn’t. Despite getting hit by a train, falling off a cliff, his head smacking rocks on the way down and hitting water from a great height, he comes out with … a broken leg.
He could died FOUR times in that incident alone. Seriously … does Pat Buttram have it in his contract that his characters can never die???
- The Aristocats, insane perilous chase scene – SURVIVES
- Robin Hood, inside a burning castle – SURVIVES,
- The Rescuers, hit by an incoming flight bird while drunk on moonshine – SURVIVES
- And NOW! THIS!
How is this even possible??? We know that Chief was originally supposed to die, hence why the accident on film is so graphic, and he looks like he’s dying when Copper finds him. But the filmmakers were worried that it would be too upsetting … yes too upsetting … from a company that has created scenes like these:
Actually wait a minute Disney, from the first few minutes of THIS FILM:
Well, what do you know, Chief is a super dog.
Chief – The Dog Who Lived
Had he died, it would have been even more tragic as before the accident, Chief accuses Copper of being too soft, while Copper calls him an ‘old timer’. From the accident on, Copper feels guilty that he ignored Chief’s advice and was too soft on Tod, thus leading to tragedy. It hardens him and this is when he becomes the antagonist – a vicious dog wanting to avenge his mentor’s death … but as we said, Chief winds up with only a broken leg, so it makes Copper seem less justified in his violent vengeance, and thus it is fuel to the fire that never pays off.
In the third act Copper and Amos become the film’s main antagonists. Angry that Tod ‘almost killed Chief’, they hunt him down in the forest and try to trap and kill him. It is hard to view these characters as being in the right, as their actions here have driven them both to embrace their more villainous tendencies. There’s no reluctance to their actions in the later scenes; they’re hunting with deliberate intent.
(Special Note from Both: Who the hell goes hunting on a nature reserve??? Seriously when it says don’t trespass on this property, they say it for a REASON!)
So THIS won’t happen
It appears that Winnie the Pooh landed himself in ‘The Strange Case of Dr Winnie and Mr Pooh’, becoming addicted to a new concoction of ‘honey’ and thus became a BIG BLACK RAINCLOUD.
‘I wasn’t gonna eat it. I only wanted to TASTE it’
The bear is a very effective and impressive antagonist, because it is simply presented as a force of nature – if they had made the bear a speaking character it wouldn’t have been as effective. The case could be made that the bear isn’t a villain, because it is also following its natural instincts – it doesn’t attack because of a grudge, it’s just doing what angry primal bears do. In any case it is a very effective threat to the main characters, and it comes very close to killing both Copper, Amos and Tod at several points. This violent fight was animated by Glen Keane (he boldly went back and re-animated material that he felt was sub-par) and it is one of the best pieces of animation in the canon so far – a victory for a young animator!
During the climactic scenes Amos and Copper are suddenly turned into the victims, as the arrival of the bear changes everything. They are completely taken unawares and their hunting prowess is rendered useless; Amos gets caught in one of his own traps, and Copper attempts to fight the bear but is outmatched. Their transition from hunters to victims is done very well, and it’s impressive how easy it is to feel concerned for their well-being, when moments earlier they were trying to kill Tod and Vixie.
(Special Note from David: I forgot how the scene ended, and kept expecting another timely-intervention during the scene above the waterfall. I was very surprised and impressed that there wasn’t one)
When Amos is ready to kill Tod, despite Tod having saving their lives, Copper shields him, which is such an evocative and powerful moment, especially when Amos slowly relents, his facial expression changing from angry to sad, and he walks away. It is a wonderful moment because it highlights Amos’s realisation that killing Tod is not going to change anything (and if following the original idea in which Chief dies, it is grief that killing Tod is not going to bring Chief back).
Big Mama the Owl is an overseer who likes to impart wisdom to many of the characters, although manages to avoid becoming too involved in any storylines. She’s more than happy to be a surrogate mother-figure to the animals of the forest (clearly the Badger missed out on her counsel) but she doesn’t want to be an actual mother, as demonstrated at the start with Tod.
‘WOAH. I may be Big Mama but I’m ain’t your Mama!’
Big Mama must have an Emma Woodhouse-impulse as she plays the role of matchmaker throughout the film, pairing Tod off with a mother-figure after he has been orphaned, and when he grows up, pairing him off with a mate. Although she does provide some hard-hitting truths, Big Mama is the heart and centre in a bleak film, mainly due to Pearl Bailey’s warm and lively performance.
Dinky and Boomer are a fairly typical comedy double-act, the short fast-talking wise-guy, and his big, clumsy sidekick – the fool who thinks he knows everything and the fool who knows nothing (Disney are going to milk this for all it’s worth soon …). Their scenes are amusing but they don’t stand out at all, as they all follow a very simple formula: they chase a caterpillar which outsmarts them and gets away, rinse and repeat.
(Special Note from David: Blundering air-based characters – one of whom is voiced by Paul Winchell – constantly pursuing a smug, elusive target; I’m sure there’s a TV show in there somewhere…)
We get that it’s a nature’s law subplot to parallel with the main plot, but really it feels superfluous and is just a means to throw in some zany Hanna-Barbera-like ‘comedy’, which does jar somewhat with the main plot’s sensitivity and hard-hitting material.
A fox dies in the film’s first few minutes, and yet these guys come out unscathed:
About as believable as this …
As characters they are well-meaning enough, but are far too caught up in their own affairs to be proper friends to Tod; they’re a bit like embarrassing uncles as opposed to surrogate father-figures.
(Special Note from Both: Although really Paul Winchell, you couldn’t have disguised your voice? Boomer even has the Tigger laugh!)
Widow Tweed, terrible at plant maintenance but more efficient with a gun than a man who hunts for a living, is Tod’s surrogate parent. Big Mama sets them up.
(Special Note from Melissa: Though it is not like they had many options in the middle of nowhere)
‘What do you think guys? Crazy old woman or the mad old hunter?’
The film is full of lonely characters, and Widow Tweed is a strong example of this; not only a widow but also an isolated figure, living a long way from others’ company. It’s understandable why she feels such affection towards Tod, because she doesn’t seem to have any children of her own (at least that we hear about) – and consequently she treats him more like a child than a pet.
She feeds him birthday cake … likely almost killed him
Widow Tweed is a hands-off parent; she lets Tod roam around (until he gets in trouble), while Amos is hands on, immediately disciplining Copper by tying him up. It is a case of liberal parenting versus strict parenting.
It is heartbreaking when she has to abandon him, seemingly for his own good because she realises that she can’t keep a fox domesticated – but her treatment of him has had a softening effect, and he’s therefore not prepared for the wilderness.
Nice job, idiot!
(Special Note from David: It’s just like Homer’s treatment of Pinchy the lobster)
It truly is frustrating that she abandons a domesticated fox – it feels like animal cruelty, especially when Tod has no idea what she’s doing.
(Special Note from Melissa: God it’s like Homeward Bound – he has absolutely no idea. Tears are flowing HARD! It is one of the saddest moments in the canon)
It is lucky that Big Mama comes to sort him out otherwise … Wow … If Big Mama hadn’t stepped in to give Tod a reason to hold on, he would likely have lost all of his will, been killed by Amos and Copper, who in turn would have been eaten by a bear.
But we will say, in spite of everything, it is devastating to see Widow Tweed on the verge of an emotional breakdown as she lets Tod go and delivers a sad monologue to Tod about all the good and bad times that they had together and how hard it is to say goodbye … although she says all of this in her head.
Tod meets a few characters on his arrival to the forest; one is an almost too-friendly porcupine who offers him bed and board for the night:
Tod when you leave home for the first time, we all do things that we may regret
While the other character he meets is a mean old bigot badger who cycles through all the classic bigot lines such as ‘A stranger eh? Why don’t you go back where you came from?’
He seemingly hates everything and everyone. We honestly don’t get what his deal is – he is just there to be rotten.
A match made in heaven
Plus Tod meets these creatures:
Initially Vixie, a Southern Belle-like fox seems to be more of a contrived plot-device than a character (an understandable one though, as poor Tod has been having a pretty miserable time) but as her relationship with Tod develops, so does her character.
(Special Note from David: I do like the casual way in which she’s introduced: “Oh, it’s you Vixie!” It’s like the film-makers are saying “What? She’s been here the whole time!”)
(Special Note from Melissa: Plus is it me or have Robin Hood and Maid Marian been recycled and stripped of their ‘humanity’ to make Tod and Vixie?)
It is awkward that Vixie is … well there is no other way to say this, being ‘pimped out’ by Big Mama for Tod, especially as she is set up to pose and bat her ‘bedroom’ eyes at Tod, accompanied by a convenient sun beam, while Tod makes dopey faces.
Tod acts like an arrogant ignoramus in front of Vixey. ‘Farm Boy’ Tod needs to take tips from other farm boys.
He lies that he is an expert at catching fish …
And when he fails, Vixie and the whole forest (including his bedtime porcupine pal) laugh, then Tod proceeds to calls his love interest a ‘silly empty-headed female’ and exclaim ‘raspberries!’
Good job idiot
See Tod this is why you can’t have nice things!
Of course Vixie doesn’t take to misogynistic insults and turns her back on him, until Big Mama sings about appreciating ladies, and Tod gives Vixie a flower … because that makes everything ok.
Despite the supreme awkwardness of this set up, once they are together and Tod is not acting like a moron, it is pleasant for Tod that he has found a partner, and for once is beginning to find his place in the world, as he adapts to wild life and finds happiness.
Although Bigot Badger is not impressed. Seriously what is his deal???
It moves super fast as minutes after meeting, Vixie excitedly decides that they will have six children – naïve Tod doesn’t get it, only for Vixie to giggle, the scene to fade out and for Tod to wake up with a stretch saying that he has never been happier … subtle.
Unlike Tod, Vixie is more adjusted to the forest, and her natural instincts are more attuned to the environment, thus protecting Tod. Their relationship becomes very like that of Faline and Bambi, as the two find themselves in very serious danger during the climactic scenes – driving the protagonist to extreme acts of courage, as he has another life besides his own to concern himself with. We do wish they could have handled bringing Vixie into the plot in a much more sophisticated way, but we are glad that in the final image, Tod is not alone.
Artwork and Imagery
Considering all of the changes that were taking place during production on The Fox and the Hound, one might expect the end product to look very uneven as far as animation and artwork are concerned. Surprisingly this is not the case, and the film looks really great. The backgrounds look like they could have come straight out of the Golden Age (particularly Bambi) with a similar colour scheme to match. In fact when Tod is abandoned in the forest, it is straight out of the Bambi universe. The character animation is also very solid throughout; the animators at Disney have always excelled when animating animal characters, but throughout the Modern Era they had ventured more and more into anthropomorphic characters, so this is a return to a more conventional style and it works really well. Animal behaviours are very believably observed, and the animators don’t shy away from showing them in their more vicious, predatory states. The human are still a little clunky and cartoony, but it is not an invasive issue. We think that this is the first Disney full-length animated film to use CGI, but it is very subtly and skilfully integrated.
The film is full of thought-provoking imagery – for example, the spider web metaphor at the film’s beginning is such a striking image. It shimmers, and looks eerily pretty, especially as the camera tracking in to it is accompanied by tinkly sounds that emulate chimes or a child’s musical box. It looks beautiful, but it is a deadly thing of beauty – a trap. The camera tracks through the web to reveal the forest, and a beat later we see Tod’s mother, foreshadowing her imminent death.
The change of the seasons highlighted in the artwork is practically a character in itself. We see the warm, green glow of summer (Tod and Copper meet), the orange, leafy autumn (they are separated), the cool and snowy winter (they are growing up), and the gentle and colourful spring palette (they have grown up) – Four seasons in one film, symbolising a journey full of change, development and the life cycle.
(Special Note from Melissa: This perspective is so odd that as a child I thought that Vixie had shrunk a la ‘Honey I Shrunk the Fox’ … perhaps I needed this little talk below:
On another note, here are some beautiful shots from the film:
Best of Friends appears upon first hearing it to be a gentle number about friendship, but it actually goes much deeper than that. It reminds us of the Summer Sequence from Blood Brothers. When scratching the surface, the song is foreshadowing the death of childhood, the end of innocence, and of course, prejudice. It is straight-forward, simple and yet etched with sadness, foreboding and melancholy.
‘If only the world wouldn’t get in the way / If only people would just let you play / They say you’re both being fools / You’re breaking all the rules / They can’t understand / The magic of your wonderland’
It is a contented tune, accompanied by pretty acoustic rhythms, but the lyrics become progressively more morose, softening the eventual blow for the audience. Pearl Bailey sings the song beautifully and sincerely, showcasing her range and ability, as she comments on a jaded society who enforce these unfair systems and dismiss the children’s fun together as foolishness. The first act is like a Romeo and Juliet tale, and consequently it is the best song in the film.
Lack of Education … really didn’t need to be a song. Wow Big Mama sure has changed her tune! Previously she was commenting on the fault of society but now she is not encouraging Tod to challenge conventions. It is probably one of the most unsubtle and indelicate ways of explaining the situation – education or elimination? Then they proceed to show him the skins of animal corpses, one of them likely being the mother that we saw at the film’s beginning, exposing a child to major horrors – to quote Shakespeare, ‘the truth you speak doth lack some gentleness’. It is about as tactless as this:
It seems to occur to the characters that this may not be the most sensitive way of breaking the news, so they seem to give up the song a quarter of the way through, and even then they were not even trying to begin with. It falls into the Dalmatian Plantation territory of just not being bothered to finish and thus giving up immediately.
A Huntin’ Man … Err that’s it? We have nothing to say about the song except for the sheer confusion as to why they even put it on the soundtrack. Jack Albertson, go back to singing about Golden Tickets … perhaps that is why they only gave him one line of song to sing.
And perhaps why Amos never dances
Unless you count this as a dance move
Goodbye May Seem Forever is a tragic monologue set to music … it reminds us of a monologue in which an actor tries to do all of their acting in one go during an audition:
Joking aside, it is very movingly performed and not overdone at all. But it is so bleak that out of context, you would assume that a character is dying. The song is full to the brim with grief, both lyrically and musically, as we hear the theme played on strings, piano and harmonica. But of course, the Disney Chorus just had to interfere … not only the Disney Chorus but the Disney Chorus from the 1940s. It really would have been more impactful had they just done this specific moment in silence or piano. However they do not completely ruin the scene and consequently it is one of the saddest moments in the canon.
Pearl Bailey sings Appreciate the Lady really well, but to be honest Pearl Bailey could sing Old Macdonald really well, it does not make the song great. We appreciate (pardon the pun) the message of the song very much, which is to treat your partner with respect … although in this context, it’s essentially ‘If you’re good to Vixey, Vixey’s good to you’. Best of Friends is a much more layered and complex song despite its simple surface.
Truth be told, Pearl Bailey is wasted in terms of singing. She is a musical legend and the material that they give her is really sub-par.
Buddy Baker stepped up even further from his work on Winnie the Pooh – the score is fantastic, compensating for short, few and underwhelming songs. Like the seasons, the score is so expressive that it becomes a significant character in the film, beginning with the quiet ‘calm before the storm’ opening with the eerie wind sound effects, building into an exciting and intense musical arrangement. The underscore overall is warm, melancholic and gentle, with a range of musical themes. But when the score gets dark it is intense! The score for the film is incredibly strong, often used to create tension and atmosphere – a slow pounding, heartbeat-like drum, momentary stillness and then a fast-paced racing urgency. Interestingly enough the use of silence is when the film is its most powerful. Akin to Bambi, when it is too quiet something is very very wrong. The finale plays out with hardly any dialogue, and it works really well. It’s the type of film where the strength of the animation and the underscore are so effective, the whole film would work without any dialogue – rather like Fantasia, or minimal dialogue like Bambi.
The only moment that put annoyed expressions on our faces was the barn dance rootin-tootin chase scene music as Tod is fleeing for his life, chased by a shotgun wielding man and a huge dog, as it really undermines the situation.
The main storyline in The Fox and the Hound is one of the film’s biggest strengths, showcasing how Disney are generally at their most effective when they keep it simple, as this allows them to be more focussed. The birds/caterpillar subplot was harmless, but really superfluous and not worth going too much into detail about. The main narrative follows a linear structure as the characters go from infancy to adulthood, learning about life’s complications as they grow older. Any deviations within the main narrative (such as Tod’s courtship of Vixie) still contribute to the story as a whole, as they add layers to where the story eventually leads.
The story is about the unlikely friendship between two animals who are expected to be natural enemies. The other characters within the film represent the social pressures which dictate that their friendship simply cannot last, and despite Tod’s unwillingness to accept the inevitable, everything plays out as nature/society decrees it must.
(Special Note from David: I really appreciate that this film doesn’t sugarcoat certain elements. When I first watched it, I was concerned that it would end with the two of them as friends again)
The Fox and the Hound offers a variety of story types – it is a coming-of-age story, a prejudice morality tale, a social fable (The Fox and the Hound practically sounds like something out of Aesop’s Fables) and a forbidden love narrative – it is a Romeo and Juliet tale (if Juliet had decided to vow vengeance on Romeo after Tybalt’s death). The film naturally falls into a three act structure, as Act I is when they are children, Act II is when they are growing up, and Act III is when they become enemies.
Tod and Copper’s days of playing together as children only constitutes a small section of the running time – they truly have a brief encounter. Theoretically these scenes could go on longer, but it wouldn’t really add a great deal, as the point has already been made. It certainly wouldn’t require a mid-quel; that would just be stupid…
Really, really stupid!
Even during its more light-hearted moments there’s always a sense of foreboding; it’s only a matter of time before childhood innocence is over. Tonally the film is really bleak, commencing with a fantastic slow atmospheric build-up over the credits. The opening credits are the bravest and most impactful opening credits that we have seen so far in the canon. The slow build, the use of silence, and the music coming in at just the right moment contributes to an incredibly dark and sinister opening. The Mother is killed off in the first few minutes in an intense and consequently violent manner (presumably by Amos).
(Special Note from Both: Everyone remembers the death of Bambi’s mother, but here the mother is killed off before there’s been a single line of dialogue – a very bold way to open the film!)
The story hits moments when it becomes so threatening and foreboding. Like the Golden Age films, The Fox and the Hound addresses bleak subject matter, interjected with moments of sweetness. Akin to horrors and thrillers, there are many ‘calm before the storm’ moments and jump scares, including the opening, Tod and Copper’s reunion, Copper and Amos ambushing the foxes in the forest, and the bear’s entrance. The stakes are high in these moments, evoking a frightening atmosphere, especially when Tod and Vixie become trapped in the burrow, and of course when the bear arrives.
On paper, this story sounds striking, but there is a major issue. The decision not to kill off Chief is the biggest problem in the story as it detracts from the dramatic impact of the scene, but then removes some of the logic of the plot going forward – Amos and Copper’s obsession for revenge against Tod doesn’t really make sense as Chief survived. The fact that they go to such extremes – including breaking into a private reserve – specifically for the purposes of catching Tod, seems a bit far-fetched. It is easy to compare this decision with the choice to not kill off Trusty in Lady and the Tramp, but the difference is that Trusty’s accident happens so close to the film’s ending, that whether or not he lived or died, it did not have any bearing on the plot. Therefore in that case, we were happy that they gave Trusty a reprieve. Here, as much as we like Chief’s character, and how devastating it would have been had he been killed off, it was necessary for the film’s direction and rhythm, and the characters’ motivations.
(Special Note from Both: While discussing this scene, we surmised that perhaps a factor in choosing not to kill off Chief was the character’s connection with the older generation’s animators – Chief represented the older animators, and perhaps killing him off felt too painful)
I had seen this film once before – in fact I remember watching it around a similar time to Lady and the Tramp – shortly before deciding to write The Disney Odyssey. There were some things that I was very impressed by when I first watched it; such as fight with the bear, and the effectiveness of the climax. My appreciation of these elements has increased even more over time, but something else that has crept up on me is how believable the film is. I would go so far as to call The Fox and the Hound the most realistic film in the canon, as the lead characters are impeccably well observed in the way they imitate the actions of their real-life animal counterparts, but also through the ways in which they exhibit human behaviours.
It has probably one of the simplest stories of any Disney film, and yet through its simplicity it is able to tackle a number of complex themes. The film is centred around the theme of friendship, but it goes far beyond that and deals with social pressures, prejudice, racism (even homophobia) and the death of innocence; we see Tod go from being young and naïve, to growing older and being confronted by a harsh reality.
The biggest blemish against the film’s story is the inexplicable refusal to kill-off Chief (which also messes with my “most realistic Disney film” accolade). His ‘death’ sets in motion the events of the film from that point onward, so changing it to just an injury has a lot less impact. Also, he was hit by a train! And fell off a cliff! Smashing his head on some rocks on the way down! And then landed face-first in a river – which he’d likely drown in, being unable to raise his head! They should have re-dubbed him Chiefsputin after that!
Other problems with the film are a lack of memorable songs (so unmemorable the writers forgot to finish them) and a shortage of interesting content outside of the main narrative; a three act-subplot focussing on two birds trying to catch a caterpillar is evidence of that. With that said, there’s nothing about the film that I think is bad – per-se – just a little underwhelming. However, what the film gets right, it really gets right. The story is really well done, and the ending actually does something that’s quite rare for a Disney film; it ends on a more ambiguous note as opposed to a happy one. A happy ending in which Tod and Copper become best friends again wouldn’t work, and the actual ending is much stronger. The score is also really effective, and the artwork is some of the best – and most consistent – that I’ve seen from Disney in a long time. It’s a more sombre and more understated Disney film than most – but it gets the thumbs up from me.
I have very fond memories of The Fox and the Hound. It is one of those films that I remember being bought for me on VHS as a child in 1995 (it was advertised a lot on other videos around that time and I thought it was a new film, not understanding the notion of ‘re-release). The first time I ever had any contact with the film was the ‘Best of Friends’ sequence which was on a Sing-Along-Songs video. I watched the film a lot when I was little, but only bought it on DVD a few years ago. When re-watching it, David and I had a long chat about it, and The Fox and the Hound, along with Lady and the Tramp were what inspired us to start writing The Disney Odyssey. These films are just so interesting to talk about!
While some animated films quickly date, The Fox and the Hound, like a good bottle of wine, gets better with age. The film was not that well received at the time of its release, but I think it does better retrospectively – it does not seem like a film that was made in the 1980s. I find the more I watch the film, the more details I begin to notice and the more I enjoy it. Like some of the better Disney films, The Fox and the Hound hits the emotions hard, and I really felt for the characters. The score and its use of silence are striking; it truly could have been a film with no dialogue at all, and the meaning would still be evocative. The voice acting (with the exception of Pearl Bailey who has a really lovely voice and warm presence) is not the film’s most memorable element, but the performances through expression and body language are powerful, and often speak more volumes than the lines that are spoken. I love the film’s seasonal passages of time and its softer use of lines and colours that hearkens back to the looks of 1940s and 1950s films. I was drawn in by the plights of the protagonists and those in connection to them – it is a film in which everything and everyone is entangled in each other – like that spider web at the film’s beginning. Thematically the film is rich with so many layers and possible parallels that it does mean that you can talk about it for hours. The way in which the film handles tension and creates atmosphere akin to a thriller had such an impact on me – I was very impressed with the opening and the climax in particular.
However there are definitely major issues with the film. I did not particularly care for the Dinky/Boomer/Squeaks plotline. Out of context, say for example if it were a short, the sequences are fine and completely inoffensive, but the wacky flavour feels somewhat jarring in this dark film about prejudice and the death of innocence. As I said before, the voice acting is not stand-out material, other than Pearl Bailey, and at times Jack Albertson and Jeanette Nolan have some good moments. I do like that Tod finds a mate, but I wish that they had introduced Vixie into the plot in a much more sophisticated way. Plus I am not too keen on how many times ‘female’ gets used with a negative slant – fortunately it’s delivered by characters who we know are in the wrong, but it does rub me up the wrong way. But as we’ve talked about constantly in this review, the biggest problem that I have with the film is their decision to not kill off Chief, especially as the rest of the film’s journey still has that tragedy in mind in the characters’ motivations, responses and actions.
There is so much bravery in The Fox and the Hound, and had they gone that extra mile by killing off a significant character, it would have made a strong film much stronger. I completely understand why a lot of viewers don’t like The Fox and the Hound – it is a very bleak film that goes to dark places, there are no hit songs, and it does not have a happy ending. It is a quiet, subtle film that handles tension and terror fantastically, with rich layers, a melancholic grace, and a bittersweet ending. Fix those problems here and there and it could have been a masterpiece.
The Fox and the Hound did well financially and received mixed reviews in its initial release. Roger Ebert gave it 3 out 4 stars: ‘“The Fox and the Hound” is one of those relatively rare Disney animated features that contains a useful lesson for its younger audiences. It’s not just cute animals and frightening adventures and a happy ending; it’s also a rather thoughtful meditation on how society determines our behaviour’.
It won an 1982 Golden Screen Award, it was nominated for Best Fantasy Film at the Saturn Awards and for Best Motion Picture – Fantasy or Comedy at the Youth in Film Awards.
It had a direct-to-video sequel in which Copper joins a band, and this makes Tod mad and jealous – scintillating. Ghastly.
The greatest legacy that The Fox and the Hound left is that is marks the end of an era for the older animators, and the beginning of a new era introducing new talent into the animation world, many of whom will become famed animators that will go on to create wonderful work. It also marks the difficult split in which some animators leave to create their own company, Don Bluth Productions, and thus the battle of the animators has begun. Watch this space from now on as new reviews will contain a new feature called ‘Meanwhile in another studio’. Rocking the boat time!