Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Fox and the Hound (1981) - A Heartwarming Disney Movie

"The Fox and the Hound": A Nice, Heartwarming, Uplifting, Dull Disney Movie

Dvd cover "The Fox and the Hound" 1981
"The Fox and the Hound" (1981).
The Disney movie "The Fox and the Hound" (1981), directed by Ted Berman, Richard Rich, and Art Stevens, marked a very subtle passing of the torch. Producer Wolfgang Reitherman, who had been an animator at Walt Disney Productions since the "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" days and had directed every animated Disney movie from "101 Dalmations" through "The Rescuers," made this his last Disney movie, this time as a producer. He was still heavily involved in the Disney movie creative process, and even brought his son's pet fox in to help the animators model their characters.

The Fox and the Hound 1981

One of those animators was a talented young man just starting out named John Lasseter. Young Mr. Lasseter had his first animation assignment contributing to "The Fox and the Hound"'s climactic fight scene. Today, John Lasseter runs the whole animated Disney/Pixar Film show, just as, in his own way, Reitherman did in his day, and arguably is the single most powerful man on the creative side in animation since Walt Disney himself.

The Fox and the Hound 1981

Competition from the Pixars and the DreamWorks, the Rankin/Basses and the Ghibli Studios come and go, but transitions like that show the continuity at Disney and why it maintains its hegemony over the years. Disney thinks in terms of decades when other studios struggle to see past their next project.

Young Copper "The Fox and the Hound" 1981
Copper is so cuddly.
Widow Tweed (Jeanette Nolan) takes in the orphaned red fox Tod (Mickey Rooney) because he reminds her of a child. Her neighbor, Amos Slade (Jack Albertson), is a hunter who around the same time brings home Copper (Kurt Russell), a hound puppy, to join his hunting dog, Chief (Pat Buttram). Tod and Copper become fast friends and intend to stay that way forever. They play together all the time, which isn't such a good thing for their owners.

Tod and Vixey "The Fox and the Hound" 1981
Why, nice to meet you!
Slade places Copper on a leash because Copper always is leaving to play with Tod and is never around when Slade wants him. When Tod comes over to play anyway, he awakens Chief, who along with Slade chases him back to Tweed's house. Slade threatens Tweed and tells her to keep Tod away from his property. Tweed explains to Tod that dogs like Copper and Chief are born and bred to kill red foxes like him, so Tod has to stay away from them henceforth. Tod still wants to be best friends with Copper.

Tod and Vixey "The Fox and the Hound" 1981
Could it be... true love?
When hunting season arrives, Slade goes out with his dogs. When they return, Tod goes to visit as usual, but Copper stiffly tells him that he is a hunting dog now, and he can't be friends with a fox. Slade and Chief find Tod there and almost catch him, but Tod runs outside. Chief chases Tod to some train tracks, but gets hit by a passing train and badly wounded. With Slade and Copper blaming Tod for the accident and wishing to destroy him, Tweed decides to leave Tod at a game preserver for his own safety.

Copper and Tod playing "The Fox and the Hound" 1981
Happy times for the Fox and the Hound.
At the preserve, Tod meets Vixey (Sandy Duncan). Slade and Copper are determined to kill Tod and his new companion, so they enter the game preserve illegally and track them through the forest, setting traps. When a bear startles Slade, he falls into his own trap and loses his gun. Copper can't protect Slade from the bear, and things look bad for both of them. Tod intervenes to save them both, though, falling with the bear over a waterfall. Copper and Slade then appear, Slade with his gun, and it is unclear whether he will kill Tod or not.

Slade with gun "The Fox and the Hound" 1981
Say your prayers, varmint.
"The Fox and the Hound" was an adaptation of a 1967 novel by . Almost everything was changed from the novel, which was very dark with a lot of killings, but it did provide a central structure.

Slade with gun "The Fox and the Hound" 1981 Slade with gun "The Fox and the Hound" 1981
Slade with gun "The Fox and the Hound" 1981 Slade with gun "The Fox and the Hound" 1981

Production commenced around the time that the previous animated feature Disney film, "The Rescuers," was released. The studio went through a lot of turbulence during this Disney film's development, as the old guard led by Reitherman was moving on and a new crop of animators was being ushered in. Veteran Don Bluth, who had played a key role in the animation of "The Rescuers," raided the Disney film animation ranks for his own new enterprise (which resulted in "The Secret of NIMH" not long after "The Fox and the Hound" was released).

The Fox and the Hound 1981

This delayed release of the Disney film by a year as the studio rushed to train new animators. There were conflicts between one camp led by Producer Reitherman and the other led by Director Art Stevens, with Stevens eventually winning. Riven by factions, the studio barely survived the turmoil. In the end, the animation in this Disney film was of the usual high quality, but the harmony that had existed for fifty years was gone.

Slade and Tweed "The Fox and the Hound" 1981
Do what I want or you'll be pushing up daisies!
In terms of the quality of this Disney film, there are many who love it and others who are bored with it. Unlike the animated Disney film features before it, "The Fox and the Hound" hammers home a message about how society shapes us into who we are and what we can do. Disney films aren't usually "message" movies, so it was somewhat surprising that the studio would go that route. One can read into this Disney film cautionary notes about prejudice and the importance of getting along. There are no tragic occurrences like in "Bambi," and it is a good family Disney film that makes some cry at the end in joy, not sadness, but there is an underlying sense of sadness that pervades this Disney film.

Slade rocking "The Fox and the Hound" 1981
You can hear him cackling.
A sequel, "The Fox and the Hound 2," was released in 2006, one of the last of the non-theatrical Disney film sequels before that process was terminated by Lasseter and the other reigning bosses at Disney. It covers happy times when Copper and Tod played together as youngsters before the real world intruded. The Blu-ray edition came out on the film's 30th anniversary in 2011 and includes the sequel "The Fox and the Hound 2" as well as a lot of new bonus material.

Bear attacking Slade and Copper "The Fox and the Hound" 1981
That is a pretty cool bear animation.
"The Fox and the Hound" is heart-felt and contains a strong message, which makes it ideal for the sentimental viewer and less so for those looking for a little unpredictability and adventure. It will make you think and relate to the characters in ways that are unusual for a Disney film. It isn't quite the classic that some would like to think it is, but rather a solid Disney film that lies somewhere in the middle of the Disney film pack.

The Fox and the Hound 1981


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