The Fox and the Hound (1981)

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Tod: Copper, you’re my very best friend.

Copper: And you’re mine too, Tod.

Tod: And we’ll always be friends forever. Won’t we?

Copper: Yeah, forever.

Confession: I cry like a baby when I watch this movie. This movie will break your heart if you let it. But it will also teach you an amazing lesson. I saw this movie for the first time when I was probably about 7 or 8 (younger? I don’t really remember). What I do remember is that this was the first Disney movie that really stuck with me after I watched it. It stuck with me because it taught such a simple but such a profound lesson: enemies are a result of learned prejudices.

Seriously, think about it. As a small child, you don’t care who you play with, as long as you’re having a good time. Adults might tell kids to not play with someone, or that that person isn’t worth your friendship. Maybe it’s a girl (you don’t learn till 1st or 2nd grade that girls have cooties). Maybe it’s someone of a different religion or race. As a kid, you don’t care! Why should you? You’re having fun, and that’s what matters.

Then you grow up, and that innocence disappears. You learn about the differences between people. You learn about religion, race, and other affiliations. You learn about history, and about the hatred that burned in people’s hearts (and still does) for certain “different” people. From there, you can choose to believe those mantras, perhaps become like your parents and the generation before you, or you can choose to remember what it was like playing with that one kid who was “different.” To quote the Broadway Musical Kinky Boots (yeah i know that’s an odd choice, but it came to me) “You change the world when you change your mind.”

This is exactly the type of thing that goes on in this movie. We have Tod, a baby fox who has just been orphaned and taken in by an old widow, and we have Copper, a foxhound pup who was just purchased to be a hunting dog. They live next to each other, and one day meet. Copper has no reason to want to kill Tod, and Tod has no experiences that tell him he should be afraid of Copper. A friendship blossoms as the two go swimming and play all sorts of games. It’s only after the other dog with Copper, Chief, chases him that he understands dogs can be dangerous. The other animals around the farm try to educate Todd about hunters and hunting dogs. The Owl, Big Mama, tells Tod that one day Copper will be trained to hunt down animals like him, but Todd never believes that Copper could do that.

Winter comes, and Copper’s owner Amos Slade takes him and Chief on a long hunting trip, where Copper can learn the ropes. They return in the spring, all grown up, and the night Todd sneaks out to say hi to Copper, Chief wakes up and sees him, and soon all three are after him with a gun. After allowing Tod one chance to get away, Copper watches as Tod leads Chief up a railroad bridge and the dog falls off, almost dying. Hatred burns in Copper’s heart for what his old “friend” did to his mentor, and he can’t believe he let Tod go.

Realizing that her beloved Todd is in danger, the widow takes Tod to a game preserve where he’ll be safe and lets him go. Tod adjusts, meets a beautiful girl fox Vixie, and all seems happy ever after. But Amos Slade and Copper are out for vengeance. They break into the game preserve and hunt down Tod using all means necessary, including fire and those awful foot traps. The two friends now seem as if they were never friends, fighting and drawing blood. At one point, Amos and Copper anger a bear, and it seems the foxes are home free. But a yelp from Copper causes Tod to pause. He returns and saves both Amos and Copper from the bear before almost dying himself. Laying almost unconscious in the water, Amos loads his gun, ready to get revenge, when Copper stands in the way. Realizing perhaps that they can just let this one go, Amos drops his gun and he and Copper leave.

So epic. Cue crying here...

So epic. Cue crying here…

Phew! I don’t go into detail that much on summaries any more, but this one deserves it. This film was considered a financial success when it was released, but it wasn’t a hit. Reviews were mixed. Many critics (including Ebert) praised the message of the film, loving that it was more than just a cute film about animals. Yet the majority of critics seemed to think the movie was just “so-so.” They believed the characters and humor were formulaic. Some people argued it was too dark for kids, when it was obviously aimed at them.

I think this movie does have a following, but I believe audiences are just as split as critics, even now. To me, this movie is one of the first real “underrated” Disney movies. Is it dark? yes. Is it violent? yes, at times. Is it scary? yes. Are the characters a bit formulaic? I’ll be one of the first to say yes. Despite all of that, this movie, at its core, teaches a lesson so profound for kids AND adults that I’m willing to forgo extremely good characters. That, to me, is the definition of MY “Underrated” Disney movies.

So the characters are formulaic? That doesn’t mean they’re bad. Tod and Copper are very enjoyable. Tod’s a little imp and incredibly smart, and Copper always reminded me of that easy going quiet kid who was really a genius but you’d never know it (at certain topics). They did keep their personalities in tact as they grew up, which is nice.

Chief and Amos aren’t really villains to me as they are just… adults. They’re angry and were brought up a certain way. Does that make them evil? no. It just makes them stuck in their ways. But even Amos shows that he can change at the end.

Our three bird characters are enjoyable. Big Mama acts as Tod’s authority figure out in the woods, while the widow (who seems like such a sweet woman!) is one indoors. Big Mama tries to teach Tod about the world and the harsh realities. Our other two birds, Dinky (a sparrow…?) and Boomer (a woodpecker) are honestly just there for the kids, and the inclusion of their storyline in trying to get this caterpillar, I admit, does get on my nerves. It’s clear it was put there for humor to go between the seriousness, and it does detract a bit.

Vixie is Tod’s love interest and eventual mate. She’s boring and just kinda… there. That’s all I’ll be saying about her (although she isn’t afraid to speak her mind, which is a bit refreshing.)

There are… 3? songs in this movie. Two of them are voice over songs, and one is actually sung at the present moment. I enjoy these songs more than the ones in The Rescuers by far. If you’re a Disney fan, you know the song “Best of Friends.” How can you not get a smile on your face? So cute. The song sung by Big Mama about the hunters (Lack of Education? I have no idea what it’s called) is kinda bizarre, but it tries to teach a (good? arguable) lesson. Then there’s the song the widow sings when she’s driving to drop Tod off at the game preserve. DEAR SWEET LORD DISNEY MADE ME CRY. I never cried when Bambi’s mom got shot. I never cried when Trusty got hit by the cart. I never cried when Baloo almost died. Not since “Baby Mine” in Dumbo have I bawled like a baby when watching a Disney movie for these reviews. She’s saying goodbye to the only friend she’s had in a while, and she’s doing it because it will keep him safe.

I also cry at the end after Copper stands in front of Tod. They walk away and just smile at each other. They know that they may never see each other again, but there’s an understanding there. They were always friends, and they will always be friends. UGH DISNEY. WAY TO MAKE ME CRY!

Despite all the problems with this movie that critics and that I have, it’s a movie I can’t shake. I don’t watch it all the time, but it is always one that goes through my head as I stare at my movies and wonder what to watch. Like all my movies that I claim are “underrated,” a lot of it is formulaic. But a big part is NOT. When was the last time Disney taught us a really profound lesson as a kid that kids could understand?

Don Bluth was an uncredited animator on this movie, but I like to think he was involved in a lot more than that (although I know he wasn’t…). I’ve reviewed this man’s work. His early work always had a knack for taking hard topics and making them easy for kids to understand. This movie reeks of that, and I LOVE it. He’d leave during the production of this movie to go off and make The Secret of Nimh. He didn’t like the way the company was being run and wanted to return to the classic style of Disney (which is bizarre to think about giving he made some really dark movies, same as Disney…).

Ok… I’m not going to go off on a tangent. I’m going to wrap up. The Fox and the Hound isn’t Disney’s best movie. It splits a lot of people, and I understand why. To me, it’s a good one. Not in my top 10, but still good. Like I said, it’s a movie you can’t shake. As a kid you watch it and you realize that friendships really can last forever if you fight for them. As an adult, you watch it and go “wow… how much has my life been influenced by things other people believe?” Why can’t we just talk and play as adults and not care? Why should we let things like religion, politics, race, orientation, or even geography get in the way if we really care about someone? I like to think seeing this movie at a young age made me part of who I am today (and my parents – they obviously were influences of course!).

It does have scary moments, but you can bet I’ll be showing it to my kids. I’ll be watching it with them to hide their faces or talk to them afterwards about what they got from the movie, and I can’t wait to hear what they have to say.

I’m really torn how to rate this. I have to be impartial and judge on the MOVIE…

I give The Fox and the Hound (1981) a 3.2 out of 5. Ah that kills me, but it does have a lot of issues. It’s much higher on my personal list….

Next up: The Black Cauldron (1985): aka – the movie Disney wants you to forget… (along with Song of the South).

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One thought on “The Fox and the Hound (1981)

  1. […] my review for the Fox and the Hound? I heralded this movie for the way it dealt with such a grown up idea in such an amazing way. This […]

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