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Monday, May 21, 2012

Disneyear: The Fox and the Hound (1981)

As the old saying goes: out with the old and in with the new. While we lost Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Milt Kahl, Eric Larson, Ward Kimball, and later Woolie Reitherman in retirement we get new animators like Ron Clements, Glen Keane, John Musker, Tim Burton and Brad Bird. This new team would finalize the animation and complete the film's production. These animators led by Art Stevenson had moved through the in-house animation training program, and would all play an important role in the Disney Renaissance in the future. Production wasn't all flowers and sunshine: Don Bluth quit during the making of this movie and took 17% of the animators with him. It may have been a rocky start, but The Fox and the Hound opened with some success at the box office and about average ratings from critics. But does it still hold up today? Time to see if friendship really is forever in The Fox and the Hound.

The story concerns an orphaned fox named Todd that's adopted by an old widow. Meanwhile next door, her hunter neighbor adopts a bloodhound puppy named Copper. The two meet one day and hit it off pretty well. They play and pal around together despite warnings from an owl named Big Mama (voiced by Pearl Bailey) and everyone else that the two are going to be the worst of enemies in the future. Sure enough, Copper goes away on a hunting trip for a while and comes back a mostly mature hunting dog. Now adults, Todd tries to talk with him but finds that their friendship can't go back to the way it was before and ends up being chased by Copper's lifelong friend Chief. Chief gets seriously injured and Copper vows revenge against his fox friend. Then the widow decides she can't keep Todd anymore and decides to release him into the wild. Everything seems to go really bad until he meets up with a vixen named Vixie (original) and seem to hit it off well. The hunter and Copper however come to his part of the forest for revenge and tensions rise as old friends turn enemies. That is until Todd saves Copper and the hunter from a bear that's not only a really intense climax, but the two walk off with their friendship stronger than before.

Considering that we're still in the dark age of Disney, this is sort of a beacon of light. This is a good premise and the Disney artists execute it very well. This film reminds me a lot of Bambi, where it knows how to mix cute but not too schmaltzy with legitimate drama. Its nowhere near the caliber of the former, but it does come close. Especially the bear scene.

Animated by Glen Keane. Such a boss!
The main reason I like this movie is where it should be: the chemistry between the two main characters. Despite what society expects of them, the two still have a strong connection with each other. I think the end scene after the bear fight really shows this the best. The two don't say a word. They look at each other, smile, and part ways.

There are a few things that keep me from loving it though. There's these two side characters that have their own story arc about trying to catch a caterpillar to eat. To be honest, it's not that annoying but it's not necessary either. It adds nothing to the story. The songs aren't that good or necessary either. The only one I like, let alone remember, is Best of Friends.

I guess it could have been a little bit tougher too. Like the scene when Chief gets hit by the train and live through it with a busted leg. Then Copper vows vengeance against Todd. Think about it like this: that moment would have been a lot more powerful if instead of breaking his leg, he died? I don't mean to sound like a sadistic bastard, but wouldn't that have been a better motivation for revenge instead of, "You broke my friend's leg! I'll kill you!" The scene's pretty strong, but I just think it could have been more powerful.

Despite a few nitpicks, this is still one of Disney's strongest movies. As it is, The Fox and the Hound is probably the one of the better Disney flicks I've seen so far for these reviews. It actually comes close to being as good as something like Bambi. If you haven't seen it yet, go to your local video store and give it a rent. You won't regret it. It's a lot better than what I have to watch next...

And now ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Bobby Darin!


Chris Sig said...

reg; Chief's accident, I can see where you're coming from there - but from how the scene played out, it did seem to imply that Chief *had* bought the farm, until later on. Could have been a change in the story early on for all we know...

Justin Smith said...

That's true. Maybe something from management for all I know. :)