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The Fox and the Hound
Directors: Ted Berman, Richard Rich, & Art Stevens
Story: Larry Clemmons, Ted Berman, David Michener, Peter Young, Burny Mattinson, Steve Hulett, Earl Kress, & Vance Gerry (based on the novel by Daniel P. Mannix)
Voices: Mickey Rooney (Tod), Kurt Russell (Copper), Pearl Bailey (Big Mama), Jack Albertson (Amos Slade), Sandy Duncan (Vixey), Jeanette Nolan (Widow Tweed), Pat Buttram (Chief), John Fiedler (Porcupine), John McIntire (Badger), Dick Bakalyan (Dinky), Paul Winchell (Boomer), Keith Coogan (Young Tod), Corey Feldman (Young Copper)
MPAA Rating: G
Year of Release: 1981
Country: U.S.
The Fox and the Hound / The Fox and the Hound II Blu-Ray
The Fox and the Hound Disney’s anthropomorphic bromance The Fox and the Hound is not one of the studio’s best efforts, but nonetheless it remains a fascinating product of an era of upheaval as well as a meaningful statement about the nature of prejudice. The film was produced during a particularly tumultuous time at Disney when the old guard was retiring and a new crop of animators was taking the reigns. As a result, the film has always been a bit of a mixed bag, bearing obvious hallmarks of the classical mode of Disney animation while also trying to find a tone that was more in keeping with the constantly shifting sensibilities of American cinema at the time (it went into production the same year that Star Wars became a box-office smash and helped bring to an end a decade of darker, grittier filmmaking).

The film is loosely (and I mean loosely) adapted from the award-winning 1967 novel of the same title by Daniel P. Mannix, whose wide-ranging life pursuits included everything from exotic animal training, to circus performing, to chronicling the history of Roman gladiatorial games. About the only things the novel and the film have in common are the title, the names of a few characters, and a few situations, most of which are essentially repurposed on screen. Otherwise, the two are starkly different, with Mannix’s grim novel focused on realistically rendering animal behavior while also commenting on the inexorable nature of human “progress,” while the film spins an entirely new story about unlikely friends trying to resist the established order of things.

The main characters are Tod, a fox kit that is rescued and raised by the elderly Widow Tweed (Jeanette Nolan) after his mother is killed by hunters, and Copper, a bloodhound pup that is being raised next door by a cantankerous old hunter named Amos Slade (Jack Albertson) and his older dog Chief (Pat Buttram). Tod (voiced as a child by Keith Coogan) and Copper (voiced as a child by Corey Feldman) develop a friendship because they are unaware that they should be antagonists, which plays as an obvious commentary on how racism, sexism, and every other kind of -ism must be learned. Copper is then taken away for the winter by Amos and trained to be a hunting dog, and when he returns as an adult (now voiced by Mickey Rooney), he must reject his friendship with Tod (now voiced by Kurt Russell) because he has learned to hunt foxes, not frolic with them.

The relatively thin nature of the film’s parable-like narrative is padded out with a handful of secondary characters whose primary goal is to fill out the running time with oddly truncated songs and slapstick gags. This is particularly true of a thematically connected but otherwise useless subplot involving the Coyote-and-Roadrunner antics of two odd-couple birds, a finch named Dinky (Dick Bakalyan) and a woodpecker named Boomer (Paul Winchell), trying to catch a caterpillar that later startles them by turning into a butterfly. There are also a few forgettable songs, most of which are sung by Big Mama (Pearl Bailey), a matronly owl who is responsible for saving Tod’s life; the manner in which they are haphazardly shoehorned in suggests that directors Ted Berman, Richard Rich, and Art Stevens felt compelled to give the film a musical dimension in keeping with previous Disney efforts, but simply didn’t have their hearts in it.

Of course, The Fox and the Hound’s weaknesses are often balanced by its strengths, including a nearly silent opening credits sequence that captivates and establishes a compelling tone that the rest of the film, with its uneven storytelling, is unable to maintain; nevertheless, those opening moments, which depict Tod’s mother fleeing through the forest while unseen hunters stalk her, create one of the most visually and tonally impressive sequences in any Disney film. When the animators aren’t trying too hard with the slapstick, the film can also be quite funny and charming, especially in the early sequences of Tod and Copper playing and any scene in which the Widow Tweed stands up to Amos (the manner in which he constantly refers to her as “woman” suggests that the film’s subtext regarding equality shouldn’t be limited to race). The animation is at its best in the protracted climax that finds Tod and Copper facing off against a monstrous bear, an unexpected moment of life-and-death in which each risks his own life to save the other’s, thus re-establishing their friendship despite their “enemy” status.

The connections between The Fox and the Hound and Bambi (1942) are unmistakable and obviously intended, and in its best moments the former approximates the naturalistic beauty of the latter, albeit without its complete conviction and commitment to the idea of the animated film as pastoral poem. And that, if anything, is the film’s problem: It is trying to be too many things at once and doesn’t achieve any of them with the power and dexterity of Disney’s best films. This shouldn’t be too surprising given the film’s production history, which began with veteran animator Don Bluth and a number of other animations jumping ship to form their own rival studio, which for almost a decade produced arguably better films (including 1982’s The Secret of NIHM) than the house that Mickey built. Disney had already lost all but a few of the legendary “Nine Old Men” who had been with the studio since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), thus the majority of the work on The Fox and the Hound was turned over to a largely untested group of young animators who essentially cut their teeth on the film before becoming the new vanguard of Disney’s second golden era. In The Fox and the Hound you can see fleeting glimpses of what was to come, but unfortunately not quite enough to cohere into a better film.

The Fox and the Hound / The Fox and the Hound II 30th Anniversary Edition 3-Disc Blu-Ray + DVD Combo Pack

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 (The Fox and the Hound) / 1.78:1 (The Fox and the Hound II)
Audio
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
  • French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
  • Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish
    Supplements
  • “Unlikely Friends” featurette
  • “Best of Friends” Sing-A-Long
  • “Passing the Baton: Making of The Fox and the Hound” featurette
  • “You Know I Will” music video
  • “The Making of the Music” featurette
  • DistributorWalt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
    SRP$39.99
    Release DateAugust 9, 2011

    VIDEO & AUDIO
    Both The Fox and the Hound and The Fox and the Hound II are housed together on a single dual-layer BD-50 disc, which is obviously a cost-cutting measure, but makes sense given the general brevity of both films (together they run barely two and a half hours). They two films look quite different, but that is more a result of different production processes and styles in the late 1970s versus the mid-2000s than anything having to do with the transfers. The Fox and the Hound, which is properly framed at 1.66:1, is a somewhat dark film, with a lot of earth tones and dim hues, while its straight-to-video sequel has a significantly brighter and more colorful palette. The original film has a much more pronounced grain structure, which gives it a more film-like appearance, although it looks like it could have used some additional digital clean-up, as there are some signs of light wear and minor speckling. The most prominent artifact, however, is a recurring fuzzy vertical line that runs along the very far edge of the right-hand side of the screen that some may find distracting. I was aware of its presence before reviewing the disc, so I may have been prejudiced toward noticing it; I can’t say for sure whether it will pop out for those who are otherwise absorbed in the movie. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel soundtracks on both films are quite excellent. The mix on The Fox and the Hound has obviously been redone since its original theatrical mix, and it still maintains a fairly front-heavy orientation, although there is some action in the surround channels, especially during the bear attack sequence.
    SUPPLEMENTS
    Given that The Fox and the Hound is not considered one of Disney’s “masterpieces,” the supplements are pretty light and most of them have appeared in previous DVD editions. The only new inclusion (and the only supplement on the Blu-Ray disc in high-def) is “Unlikely Friends,” a short featurette about unlikely animal friendships (including a baby hippo and a 130-year-old tortoise!) that apparently ran on the Disney Channel. Returning supplements on The Fox and the Hound include a “Best of Friends” sing-a-long and the retrospective featurette “Passing the Baton: Making of The Fox and the Hound,” which includes interviews with animators Ron Clements and John Musker, among others. On The Fox and the Hound II we have a music video for High School Musical star Lucas Grabeel’s “You Know I Will” and the featurette “The Making of the Music,” which showcases how the songs in the film were created with Reba McEntire, Trisha Yearwood, and other Nashville performers.

    Overall Rating: (2.5)

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment


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