Director: Ted Berman, Richard Rich, Art Stevens
Cast: Mickey Rooney, Kurt Russell, Keith Mitchell, Corey Feldman, Sarah Duncan, Jack Albertson, Jeanette Nolan, Pat Buttram, Paul Winchell, Dick Bakalyan
Plot: Orphaned fox cub, Tod (Rooney) is adopted by an elderly lady (Nolan) and makes a dangerous friendship with the hunting dog next door (Russell).
Since Walt Disney’s passing, the animated Disney company had been doing a fine job of replicating the vision that Walt had. Using the films he supervised as a template, the team crafted a series of touching stories. The core ingredient that the company seemed to adopt was the cute animal factor. It was a staple of the early Disneys (Bambi, Dumbo, Lady and the Tramp), and even the films where the leading character wasn’t an animal, often had cute critters as the supporting cast. However, as each passing Disney saw a dip in quality, it was clear that something more was needed. With The Fox and the Hound, it appears that Disney has finally found that missing trait that made the earlier Disneys so great: the courage to go dark in order to create a memorable story.
The Fox and the Hound marks the first time in quite a while where a Disney film has emotionally tested the audience. Its story is instantly hard-hitting with a mother fox fleeing from hunters, stashing her new-born cub in a hiding place, before being shot and killed. That is a cold opening to start a children’s film with. Even as it becomes a more comfortable, warm-hearted story about a fox making friends with the young hunting dog next door, there is this uneasy atmosphere sat on top of the entire affair. While this story is based on a novel of the same name by Daniel P. Mannix, there is clear connections to another famous text: Romeo and Juliet. Two parties from warring factions are destined to fight each other, but they are unsure exactly why they have to do that. However, while the Shakespearian text has climbed to the realms of melodrama and therefore robbing it of its realism, the Fox and the Hound is painfully grounded in authenticity. Fox hunting is a gruesome subject and hotly controversial. It means that this is a film that is constantly compelling, dragging the viewer right into the heart of the story. Tod, the orphan fox, is blissfully unaware of why foxes shouldn’t tangle with hounds. He has a zest for life, adorably cheeky as an infant and keen to make friends with everyone he meets. Copper, the hunting hound Tod befriends, has a better knowledge of the food chain, but he doesn’t quite understand it, more of a cog in the system, rather than an active player in it. While there are some fun scenes as the two of them become firm friends, that impending doom hovering over them is hard to shake off. It gives The Fox and the Hound the freedom to evolve naturally, rather than worrying about the next step. In a way, one flaw of this film is that these early scenes aren’t quite long enough. The Fox and the Hound might be a close descendant to Walt’s great works, but it is lacking the power of Bambi, because it rushes the central relationship. They are fun, cute and likeable, but their partnership isn’t quite as three-dimensional as you remember it. When comparing the Disneys, the Fox and the Hound feels slightly middling due to a rushed opening.
It is stronger when the action jumps forward a year. Now grown up, Tod and Copper find themselves being forced from friends to enemies. The transformation is beautifully written, giving understandable reasons for Copper to become the hound that he promised he would never become. Much like watching King Kong or Marley and Me, it is the inevitability of the story that makes Fox and the Hound so raw. Another issue this film has is that it could be just a little bit too nail-biting for younger viewers. As Tod becomes targeted by the vicious hunter and his dogs, the tension is unbearable. There are quite a few scenes that will have you digging your nails into the sofa. For me, the toughest moment to watch was Copper trying to burn Tod out of his burrow. Because fox-hunting is something that happens, the fact that this method has likely been the actual final moments of several poor foxes out there, is a tough fact to stomach. There are quite a few more moments that might wander into the realms of too much. The finale sees Copper accidentally awake a scary, angry bear, resulting in a strong finish, but one that is fairly terrifying. Gone is the comical villainy of Prince John from Robin Hood and Edgar from the Aristocats – here we have a very real danger. Sometimes it is just seeing these firm friends growl at each other for the first time. The sight of Tod finally fighting back against the friend he promised to always cherish is the kind of moment that hits you harder than you thought it would. However, even if you argue that Fox and the Hound is that little bit too uncomfortable, it is never dull. In fact, this is the most exciting Disney I have watched in quite some time, a pumping thriller from start to finish. And if it pulls on your heartstrings a little too tightly, it just means that this is a film that won’t wander from your memory.
Final Verdict: The Fox and the Hound borrows from classic Walt Disney and emerges stronger for it. A strong entry.