Disney Animated Features
<< The Rescuers | The Black Cauldron >>
Release Date: 10 July 1981
Today's fans of the Disney Animated Features often forget how good we have it. We have been able to count on about one new film a year from Disney, since 1988 or so. But as recently as 1985, viewers were seeing only one every four years. Perhaps there was just no one around to drive the creative process with Walt gone; the managerial leadership problems didn't help any either.
Yet the animated features kept coming, albeit slowly. Coming four years after The Rescuers (and four years before The Black Cauldron) is this film, The Fox and the Hound. It was the first to be created primarily without Walt's Nine Old Men (his core group of animators), but the younger generation had learned well.
Based on a book by Daniel P. Mannix, the story tells the tale of an orphaned fox cub, taken in by a kindly old woman and named Tod. The 'hound' in the title is Tod's best friend, the puppy Copper. The two young canines get along wonderfully, but with just one problem -- Copper's owner is training him to become a hunting dog.
After the long winter, during which Copper is gone on a hunting trip, Tod eagerly looks forward to his friend's return -- but, as the kindly owl Big Mama says, "time has a way of changing things."
The plot sounds simple, and it is. It lacks the traditional 'happy ending' one might expect, however -- rather, the movie is content to accept that Tod and Copper have changed and must live their lives as their natures require. The strong point of the film is the characterization. Tod and Copper both go through a lot of emotional turmoil as they mature and are forced to grow apart. Their owners -- the kindly Widow Tweed and the fiery Amos Slade -- are colorful and show true emotion. The supporting cast (Slade's older hunting dog Chief, Big Mama, the hyperactive comic relief birds Dinky and Boomer, and Tod's love interest Vixey) is strong and provides excellent support.
The animation is typical of the era, with rougher edges and more muted colors than today's features, but it works well in this very laid-back film. There are only a couple scenes with much action in them, and they provide just the right amount of tension to keep the film interesting.
The voice work is, as always, high quality. The cast included then-almost-unknown Corey Feldman as young Tod, Mickey Rooney as adult Tod, Kurt Russell (a veteran of many live-action Disney films when he was a teenager) as adult Copper, singer Pearl Bailey as Big Mama, and Sandy Duncan as Vixey. Paul Winchell, the original voice of Tigger, lent his voice to the woodpecker Boomer; character actor Pat Buttram (previously the Sheriff of Nottingham) voiced Chief.
The music, consisting of five songs, is solid but nothing special. "Best of Friends", sung by Pearl Bailey of course, is the best-known song from the film. The movie received no Academy Award nominations, but did win a Golden Screen from Germany.
The Fox and the Hound is a perfectly fine film, but, like so many of Disney's efforts since Walt died, it lacks ... something. A bit of the Disney magic, perhaps. We know now that the missing magic would be re-captured soon; first, though, came The Black Cauldron...
Information for the Disney Animated Features series of nodes comes from the IMDb (www.imdb.com), Frank's Disney Page (http://www.fpx.de/fp/Disney/), and the dark recesses of my own memory.