The Fox and the Hound turns 40 this year, having first graced the big screens in 1981. And there is no better time than now to dive into this Disney classic, a film which marked the last involvement of Disney’s Nine Old Men, a group of animators who paved the way for Disney’s style.
The film looks at the unlikely bond between a fox named Tod and a hound dog named Copper, a combination of would-be natural enemies, who band together in an exploration of friendship and loyalty.
Based on a 1967 novel by Daniel P. Mannix, The Fox and the Hound features the voice talents of Kurt Russell, Mickey Rooney and Corey Feldman to name a few, who breathe life into their performances. The Fox and the Hound even introduced the world to the next generation of animators and directors, with Tim Burton, John Lasseter and Brad Bird all making their film debut. That their work is surrounded by a gorgeously composed Buddy Baker score is the cherry on top.
Looking at the animation in The Fox and the Hound, it is clear to see that Disney’s Nine Old Men bowed out during the production. The film almost feels like a climactic passing of the torch, as the old generation of animators moved into retirement, thus paving the way for the second wave of Disney greats, a group known as the Disney Renaissance.
The stunning animation present in the finished product is so well made that it is impossible to believe that the production went through such turmoil when the animation turnover happened. A mass resignation and a release date which kept getting pushed led to tensions in the pipeline. But four years and roughly 360,000 drawings after production began, we were given a masterpiece that is often overlooked by animation fans.
So, why has The Fox and the Hound fallen under the radar? Why is it that the film never went on to soar as high as Dumbo or be as real as Pinocchio? Simply, Disney was finding its feet again in an era when business was honestly at its lowest. Its release came during a tricky period between the classics of The Jungle Book and the newer 2D CGI hybrids of Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. In truth, it was timing that caused this gem to stay hidden.
Although it has gained a stronger following in later years, and even spawned a direct to video sequel, The Fox and the Hound – a true study of the societal pressures that our world places on us – falls even shorter as a memorable Disney film. That is such a shame. It is more than just a sweet tale of two characters meeting. It is a look at the bigotry of people who want to keep ‘the other’ separate, a reminder of those parents who won’t let their children play with certain other children. It’s a deeply profound message that looks at our world for the judgements it contains and brings them to the forefront. It is a study that deserves far more credit, an animated study that doesn’t get the respect it deserves for the passion it delivers.
Upon re-watching this meeting of two vastly different characters from very different backgrounds, I was immediately sucked into a world that felt very close to ours in the way it depicts its real themes. The characters are dynamic – some with strong opinions, others with a childlike innocence – but all with a well-rounded cheerfulness and appealing style that one can’t help but love.
It is tough to see this film scraping the bottom of the memory banks when someone brings up Disney classics. But if you get the chance to watch this film, you’ll find that there are far worse things to do with your time than watch two strangers become best friends.