51 Days of Disney (Day 24): The Fox and the Hound

If you are reading this on the day it is released, I am currently on a plane flying to California. Don’t worry, the posts will continue on schedule, and there will be a major amount of Disneyland content coming in future weeks.

After the critical and commercial success of the Rescuers in 1977, Disney is looking for another movie to continue this recent high point, but unfortunately for them, it is just that: a high point. It’s all downhill from here for a number of years.

The Fox and the Hound opens with a mother fox being chased by hunting dogs while carrying her infant child. She is shot and killed, but the baby is found by Big Mama (an owl, voiced by Pearl Bailey) and her friends, Boomer (a woodpecker, Paul Winchell) and Dinky (a finch, Dinky Bakalyan) who help the baby get found by Widow Tweed (Jeanette Nolan) and she adopts him and names him Tod (Kieth Mitchell as a child, Mickey Rooney as an adult).

At the same time, a hunter by the name of Amos Slade (Jack Albertson) adopts a coonhound named Copper (Corey Feldman, Kurt Russel (which made me imagine MacReady incinerating the Thing as a dog when I found that out)) to assist his old hunting dog, Cheif (Pat Buttram).

Tod and Copper eventually meet due to mutual boredom and become fast friends. What follows is a Romeo and Juliet-esque bromance. Amos eventually finds out about Tod coming onto his land and chases the fox with the intent of killing him. Widow Tweed stops him from doing so, but Amos tells her that if he catches Tod on his land again that he will finish the job. Big Mama warns Tod about the dangers of being too close to a hunting dog when you’re a fox, but he wants nothing to do with what she says. That day, Amos, Chief, and Copper leave for a hunting trip that will last until the following Spring.

Spring arrives and Tod and Copper are fully grown and Tod goes over to see his friend, but Copper realizes that they can’t be friends anymore because he’s a hunting dog and Tod is a fox. Tod is seen by Chief and the three of them chase Tod off of Amos’ land, but Copper lets Tod go that one time, Chief is not so forgiving, though. He ends up chasing Tod up onto some train tracks and gets knocked off, breaking his leg in the process. Copper swears revenge on his once friend. Widow Tweed is forced to take Tod far away to a nature reserve and leave him there as so that Amos won’t end up killing him.

After a hard first night in the woods, Tod is introduced to a female fox named Vixie (Sandy Duncan) via Big Mama. He falls in love at first sight. Eventually, Amos goes onto the nature reserve to get Tod and Copper is 100% behind him. This leads to the most climactic scene in the entire film.

One of my problems with the movie is that I just do not care about the subplot about Boomer and Dinky trying to catch the caterpillar. They devote a large portion of the film to this subplot and it just isn’t interesting. It’s funny on occasion, but it just goes on for way too long and takes up way too much screen time.

The music is largely forgettable. There is a score done by Buddy Baker that fits the subject matter and location of the movie well, but there just isn’t anything particularly special about the score. Even the songs aren’t fantastic. The best one is “When You’re the Best of Friends” and in the grand scheme of Disney music, it just isn’t anywhere near the top or even the middle. It’s not bad, it’s just very average, which is sometimes worse than being outright bad.

The effect of the multiplane camera was drastically scaled back in the Fox and the Hound in order to cut animation costs, and it really shows. The backgrounds look exceptionally flat and there just isn’t any depth. This is most prevalent in the bear fight scene near the end of the movie. So many people have told me that they were terrified of that scene, but I’ve never quite understood why. There isn’t as much of a fear that Tod is actually going to fall to his death because the fall just doesn’t look that far. It saddens me to say these things about this scene, especially because it was partially animated by a young John Lasseter. The animation is great, but the lack of the budget cuts would have made the scene and the rest of the movie as a whole look significantly better. Feature length animation is not something that can be easily done on a budget and still have it look good.

It was decisions like this that forced Don Bluth to leave the studio, stating that Disney animation was “stale.” Bluth ended up taking 17% of the animators at the studio along with him and created his own studio, Don Bluth Productions, which kept the animation industry alive and kicking in the 80’s but fell into relative obscurity and even notoriety in the 90’s when the Disney Renaissance was going strong. The sudden lack of animators pushed the release date of the Fox and the Hound back from late 1980 to mid 1981 as so that they could hire more artists to finish the film.

The Fox and the Hound is decidingly average. It’s better than some of the other Disney films in the 80’s, but is not exactly the best way to start out a decade. The story is good, but the subplot is unneeded fluff and some aspects of the animation and music is fairly mediocre.

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