By the 80s, Disney’s golden era of prestige animation was long, long gone. The glory days of things like Snow White and Cinderella were already close to half a century old. And the rebirth of prestige animation via Disney and Pixar with Toy Story was still 15 odd years away. But Disney was still plugging away, releasing movies on the regular. And it’s in this period that you get movies that, I’m sure are beloved by people of a particular age who saw them at the time, but are largely go forgotten. Movies like The Fox and the Hound.
Because this is a Disney movie, things kick off with a main character dealing with the death of a parent. In this case, that grieving character is Tod (Keith Coogan), a fox whose mother was just shot and killed by a hunter. Taken literally under the wing of a wise old owl, Big Mama (Pearl Bailey), she arranges for the pup to be found and adopted by the kind old Widow Tweed (Jeanette Nolan).
Not far form the widow’s home lives Amos Slade (Jack Albertson), a cranky old hermit and hunter. Amos’ old, grey hunting dog Chief (Pat Buttram) is put out when his master brings home a new hound dog pup, Copper (Corey Feldman). Wandering from his new home, Copper meets Tod in the woods and they become immediate best friends. But, as Chief explains to Copper, a fox and a hound are born enemies. Something reiterated when Amos spots Tod on his land and assumes he’s there to kill chickens.
The two young’uns believe their friendship is stronger than any old traditions about the natural order of things, and pledge to remain friends forever. After a winter away hunting with Amos, Copper returns as a skillful hunting dog, now voiced by Kurt Russell). While Tod has spent the winter growing up to be voiced by Mickey Rooney. When the two not so young’uns see each other, it’s clear straightaway that their pledge to stay friends will be put to the test in more extreme ways than either ever imagined.
Kids’ movies, especially Disney kids’ movies, love a message. They want their audience to learn something along the way. But The Fox and the Hound had something new for me that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a Disney kid’s movie. It has all the haughty, uppity pretensions of a movie with an obvious message that it’s cramming down my throat, but I couldn’t see what the actual message was.
It’s kind of about loyalty and friendship, only every character, except for Tod, is pretty quick to abandon and betray each other at the drop of a hat. It’s kind of about accepting the responsibilities that come with growing up, only there are no real consequences for anyone who shirks those responsibilities. Everyone gets to live happily ever after with only the tiniest displays of redemption.
I can’t imagine that The Fox and the Hound is regarded as one of Disney’s animated classic’s. It’s pretty slight and inconsequential. But that doesn’t mean it’s terrible. It moves along at a good clip, the animation is cute and the characters are fun enough. It just never really has enough substance to support the big emotional payoffs it attempts in its climax.