“Darlin’, forever is a long long time. And time has a way of changin’ things.” – Big Mama
Instead of my usual background on the film, I’m going to start this post out with a little observation. 4 of the 6 films I’ve ranked thus far, including The Fox and the Hound, are 4 of the six films that released in the era after Walt’s passing, from 1970 to 1985. And of the two that aren’t ranked down here, one is a package film consisting of shorts released during Walt’s lifetime, and the other is the only film in the history of Disney to receive a sequel that’s also in the canon. I think it is safe to say that I personally consider this period to be the weakest in the history of Disney Animation Studio overall. Again, not to say that the films are bad (in fact, I only say that about The Black Cauldron) but it doesn’t begin to compare to the other eras the studio has had.
Anyways, on to our synopsis. The Fox and the Hound, released in 1981, begins with the abandoning of Tod, our main Fox, by his mother as she is being chased by hunters. With the help of owl Big Mama, woodpecker Boomer, and finch Dinky, Tod is adopted by farm owner Widow Tweed. Soon, Tod starts up a friendship with the neighbor’s new puppy, Copper. The relationship stalls when Tod is chased by Copper’s mentor, Chief, and is shot at by his owner, a hunter. Tod and Copper are separated for many months, during which the two of them grow into adulthood, and Copper grows into a Grade-A hunting dog. Tod attempts to rekindle their friendship, but the two of them break for good when Tod causes a near fatal accident with Chief, cause Copper to swear vengeance against the fox.
The strongest points of The Fox and the Hound are most certainly its most dramatic moments, most of which take place in the film’s adulthood section. In these sequences, the action is great, the character’s personalities come out to shine, and film is at its most interesting. The key examples of this are the Adulthood chase scene and the climatic battle between Tod, Copper, and a Bear. The staging and choreography are very well done, and the scenes feel dramatic. The ending is also believable and bittersweet, which works for this film.
The film also has a tonal shift that works surprisingly well. The childhood segments feel playful, fun, and, well, childlike. At the same time, the later adulthood scene feel more serious, dramatic, and adult like. The best way to see this is to compare the film’s two Chief vs. Tod chase sequences. The first one, in childhood, plays more for laughs and fun, while the adulthood one feels a lot more like a life and death situation. It is a somewhat dangerous road to cross, but the film manages to pull it off, at least as well as the material allows it to.
And while the weaknesses I’ll mention below do take away from what the film could be, I’ll say that the film makes us care for our title characters and keeps us engaged in the story, even if it seems like it’s doing its bare minimum to do so. Plus the film is cute. I’ll give it that
For a film called The Fox and the Hound, I don’t think there is nearly enough building of the relationship between the fox and the hound. The film only has one song and two very short scenes dedicated to their friendship, and thus their friendship feels very shallow and superficial. The film hinges on making their relationship as children deep and meaningful, and it barely, by the skin of its teeth, manages to keep it engaging. The song especially hurts this, as I think it doesn’t allow the two characters to show the audience how they connect, especially considering that this is their first time meeting. And at the beginning of their second meeting, they already declare each other best friends. I feel this happens much too quickly, and lacks the reason for a relationship outside of that they play together. Yes, I understand that they are kids, but even kids need to find something more, things that bring them together.
A major reason this issue occurs is that the film has too many asides that really take time away from building this relationship. In the childhood scenes, there are multiple, extended comedic sequences involving Dinky and Boomer trying to catch a caterpillar. These sequences slow down the film and really take away time from Tod and Copper. The same thing happens in the later sections. A scene with Chief comically playing up his injury is absolutely not necessary, and actually feels like a waste of time. I really get what they were going for in the scenes with Tod in the wild for the first time. Ultimately, however, it contributes absolutely nothing to Tod’s character, especially so late in the film, and since his want is clearly to have a relationship with Copper and not to be accepted into the wild. It almost feels like the film is stalling, just waiting for the Copper story to logically come back.
What the film also needed to do was build up the relationship between Tod and Copper and their respective side characters. This is especially true for Copper’s story. His relationships with Slade, his owner, and Chief could be better explored and defined. The film really needed scenes of Copper bonding with Chief and Slade, which would make his vengeful turn much more believable. The film squanders this opportunity for character development when Copper and Chief are out hunting in the winter. Instead of building the mentor-protege relationship, they just play the scene for some laughs, as Chief is surprised at Copper’s success.
The same thing happens on Tod’s side. We never see the relationship between young Tod and Big Mama develop, so the scene where Big Mama explains Copper’s job to Tod is less effective, as we don’t know the trust in that relationship from earlier scenes. Even if these relationships are built up as bad, it would provide an explanation as to why Tod and Copper or so quick in declaring the best friendship. Maybe if Copper and Chief clashed, or Tod had trouble with the rest of the farm, it would make their quick friendship more believable.
The film ultimately needs to have had more in the childhood section and less in the adult scenes. Having a longer, secret relationship would not only have enhanced both characters, not only would it build a more meaningful relationship, but it would also make the second half more dramatic, more gut wrenching, and more effective.
Switching gears a bit, the soundtrack for this film is weird, and it ultimately hurts the film. The few songs the film has are extremely forgettable, and just when you forget there are songs, another one pops up. This film feels like it was a non musical that got musical numbers hesitantly put into it. This is a film that would work so much better if it had no musical numbers. The story doesn’t really fit the musical style. The score is also forgettable, and at times awkward. This is most apparent in the comedy scenes with Dinky and Boomer, which are scored as if they are dramatic sequences. It becomes very off-putting and hard to listen to.
Finally, one walks a very thin line when casting young children in voice roles, and The Fox and the Hound ends up falling on the bad side of that line. Neither Tod nor Copper have good or believable childhood voices, and the lack of acting takes away from appreciating the character. If the film were to try to deepen the relationship between the two, it would need to recast those roles. I don’t know if I could stand more scenes between the two of them talking like that. (By the way, Young Copper is voiced by none other than a future 80s child star, Corey Feldman! Take that for what you will.)
BEST MOMENT AND SONG
The film’s best sequence is, as mentioned above, the final fight between Tod, Copper, and the Bear. Very well animated, very well staged, very dramatic.
In the weak soundtrack, the best song is not even sung by any of its characters. “Best of Friends” plays over a scene of Tod and Copper, and while I feel the song ultimately weakens the segment, it is indeed the film’s best song.
The Fox and the Hound had a lot of potential, especially considering how good the drama is. However, the glossing over the character relationships weakens the film to a point that it can’t escape from. It is cute, and actually has a thought-provoking message, but its flaws overtake it and place it in the number 45 spot.