THE FOX AND THE HOUND
Directed By: Art Stevens, Ted Berman, & Richard Rich
Produced By: Wolfgang Reitherman & Art Stevens
Based On: Daniel P. Mannix’s The Fox and the Hound (1967)
Premiered On: June 10, 1981
Distribution By: Buena Vista Distribution
Now while it can be argued on some earlier films deviating from their source materials, there has never been one that deviated as much as The Fox & the Hound from its original novel though plenty more would come to follow in the years to come.
The basic premise of the film goes that a orphaned fox kit is brought to an old widow by name of Widow Tweed, who cares for the fox kit and names him Tod for how much he resembles a toddler in her eyes. Meanwhile, old hunting man Amos Slade comes home to his old hunting dog Chief and presents him with a young bloodhound puppy named Copper, to be trained and grown into a proper hunting dog. Inexplicably, and rather unsurprisingly given the circumstances, the fox and the hound end up as friends and promise to remain friends forever even when everyone else thinks otherwise.
Of course, time moves on and when winter comes, Amos takes Copper and Chief out hunting and when the two friends are reunited once more the following spring, they are both fully grown adults and while Tod is glad for his friend’s return, Copper tries to impress upon them that while he too values their friendship, he is now a proper hunting dog and things are different between the two of them.
The situation is made a heck of a lot worse when Chief wakes up and alerts Slade to Tod’s presence on his land, something that had already angered the old codger enough to threaten killing the fox outright as a kit should he catch him their again. Chief gives chase after Tod who tries to escape but ends up caught upon a railroad track as a train swiftly approaches. While Tod manages to evade injury by ducking under the train as it passes, Chief is hit dead on and falls into the river below the bridge, breaking his leg as a result.
Only in a Disney film could such a thing occur but I digress.
Amos and Copper are both angered by this and vow vengeance upon Tod, who is taken into a game preserve by Widow Tweed when she realizes that Tod is no longer safe with her. Tod’s first days in the wild are nothing short of disastrous at first but somehow, rather miraculously might I add, he manages to woo a fox vixen appropriately named Vixey. Unfortunately for the new couple, Copper and Amos have broken into the preserve and are in hot pursuit of Tod, chasing him atop a hill near a waterfall.
By sheer dumb luck on Amos’ part, the commotion draws the attention of a very ticked off bear, which startles the old hunter into falling and stepping into one of his own traps, dropping his gun just out of reach. Though Copper tries to defend his master, his efforts are wasted on the bear until the intervention of Tod, who fights the bear off just long enough to send them both tumbling over the waterfall where only the fox emerges from the water, exhausted but alive. A bewildered Copper approaches Tod and with but a moment’s thought puts himself between the fox and his master’s gun.
Tired of the hunt, and with a more than mildly injured foot, Amos lets Tod go and leaves with Copper while Tod returns to the wild, the two old friends remembering fondly the memories of their shared past as they make for a new future.
What really makes this an interesting film is how much it deviates from the original book of the same name. It quite literally is an exact opposite in so many ways. First and foremost, Copper and Tod are never friends. In point of fact, they are the bitterest of enemies to such a point that… Well, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here. See, one of the first deviations from the book is that it is Copper who is the old dog while Chief is the new pup of the pack and who has won their master’s favor when he saved him from a bear attack. Also, it is because Chief is in fact killed by the whole train fiasco that Copper and his master are constantly hunting after Tod and they do so with extreme prejudice.
Throughout the book Tod loses not one but two different mates and two entire litters of kits to the hunter and Copper.
Heck, Tod’s story ends with he and an equally aged Copper literally chasing him until he drops dead from exhaustion. Copper’s side ends with complete uncertainty as his master resigns himself to living in a nursing home that doesn’t allow dogs and so goes out to Copper, petting him gently and covering the old dog’s eyes as he raises up his shotgun.
Just… Just wow…
On to far happier notes, this was the last true bit of Disney animation that featured the skills of the famous Don Bluth before he vacated the company and took a good portion of the old crew with him to make his own studio. It was also the film where a great many future major players would enter the animation scene such as, but certainly not limited to John Lasster, Tim Burton, and Brad Bird just to name a few.
There’s only one real song in the film sung by Big Mama owl and it’s… okay. The song itself comes off as being more of a poem reading to me and honestly gets kind of boring to listen to on its own and is rather distracting when combined with what’s happening on screen. Of course, with the sheer abundance of puppy and fox kit playing around it’s hardly that surprising that little effort was made into the song itself given that the rampant supply of cuteness is all that’s necessary for the scene.
Overall, I give this movie… eh, three out of five. It features a lot of work from a lot of the greats in animation, which is quite evident in certain scenes and segments, but the voice acting… Oh man, where did it go? The choice of recasting Pat Buttram, who previously served as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood was not a good idea for Chief but what really grates on the ears are the voices of the young Tod and Copper, whom both entered the Hollywood scene with this film. At times, it sounds like the two are reading directly from the script while others they’re winging it and acting their actual ages and sounding it too.
The story itself is… Kind of boring in the long run and can easily be done with any two animals that would not normally socialize with each other to such a degree as Tod and Copper do as puppies. Heck, there’s one such group known collectively as the BLT down in Georgia whom are the best of friends despite being a bear, a lion, and a tiger respectively and all live together in their own enclosure and den. Let’s have a movie about them why don’t we?