Posted December 17, 2010 by editor in Retrospectives

Disney: The Fox And The Hound


Come the 1980s, Disney was as comfortable in its own shoes as an elderly shoe maker with a decade old pair of self-made shoes. But following a string of hits including Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred and One Dalmatians and The Aristocats, ideas were wearing a bit thin. Enter The Fox and the Hound, the unlikely tale of two friends just trying to have untainted, innocent fun. The story is nothing we haven’t seen before, and indeed even the characters seem familiar (Young Tod closely resembles an Aristocat). I suppose the argument for the film would be ‘why change a winning formula?’ and why indeed.


The Fox and the Hound is certainly a darling film and despite the fact I’ve watched it at least ten times still never fails to turn on the waterworks. Tod, an abandoned fox cub is taken in as a companion for the lonely Widow Tweed after his is found shivering in the snow by her gatepost. Almost simultaneously Copper, a young huntin’ dawg is adopted by Amos Slade, a hunter (gatherer) of Neanderthal proportions. The two young’uns curiosity and need to explore soon gets the better of them and before long they are the best of friends. When Copper is taken away for the winter and trained up into a vicious killer this puts something of a strain on their relationship. Will their friendship go the distance or will circumstances and societal boundaries turn the two friends against one another?


Pretty standard stuff for Disney, really, and the characters do little to deviate from their tried and tested formula. Chief especially is pretty much Napoleon from The Aristocats, even down to their same voices, provided in both cases by Pat Buttram. Certainly there is no shame in using the same talents, but it would be nice to see them applied to different characters. The stars of the show are Kurt Russell as Copper and Mickey Rooney as Tod, two voices which perfectly suit their respective characters and show off the actors’ talents very well. Another memorable presence is the beautiful Pearl Bailey as the kindly old owl, Big Mamma who regales us with the only song of film, ‘Best of Friends’.


After its release, The Fox and the Hound was regarded as a huge success which is just as well considering that at $12m, it was the most expensive animated feature to be released to date. It has been met with critical acclaim for being “one of those relatively rare Disney animated features that contains a useful lesson for its younger audiences”, so says the Chicago Times, an incredibly valid point. Whilst it may be similar in its format to Disney’s earlier releases, The Fox and the Hound is making an incredibly pertinent point, particularly given that by 1981 the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘60s was beginning to make a real practical impact.

Thinking for a moment of Martin Luther King’s ‘dream’ that one day ‘little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls’, there is nothing to say that in another district of Washington in 1963, a Hound Dog wasn’t addressing a group of awe-struck Poochies and declaring his dream that one day ‘little Houn’ Dawgs will be able to join paws with little Fox Cubs’… it’s at least a possibility, right?


It is this sentiment which adds the ‘relatability factor’ to the film and makes it genuinely tense. Once Copper returns from Hunting Boot Camp, Tod is none the wiser to his new killer instinct; he has been protected by society’s harmful boundaries by his sheltered upbringing, and can see no reason why he and Copper can’t adhere to their ‘friends forever’ vow.  But Copper just wants to fulfil his prescribed role and appease his master, and when a high speed chase ends in Chief falling off a bridge, Copper’s hatred towards Tod reaches a new high.


Now, this is a Disney film after all, so no one is going to end up dead, but what’s remarkable about The Fox and the Hound is that at the end Tod and Copper are still not friends – perhaps this is the conclusion we would expect from a Disney film. Whilst sugar-coated, Disney is not so far removed from reality that it is unbelievable and whilst The Fox and the Hound does certainly contain a “useful message for its younger audiences”, that message is not what Martin Luther King was thinking: it is simply ‘live and let live’. The Fox and the Hound are not destined to be friends and the moral of the film is not unreasonable, just practical and something we can all hope to achieve. The Fox goes to his burrow and lives with his Vixen, and the Hound carries on with his duties, and the two animals who were best friends will probably never see each other again. And you thought Disney was all about happy endings…

Dani Singer