Wednesday, July 30, 2014


RELEASE DATE: Friday 10th July 1981

Finally, The Year of Disney project has caught up to my lifetime. As I was born in 1979, The Fox and the Hound is the first Disney animated movie to be released while I was alive. Being only 2 years old, I obviously didn't see it at the cinema, but I do remember being aware of it as a child, even if I didn't get to actually watch it until I was much older.

It is another movie created in the very awkward period in Disney animation. With Walt well-and-truly gone, the animation legends all retiring and not much profit to be made from the creation of animated films, nothing was certain. There were however, a whole new collection of up-and-coming talents that worked on The Fox and the Hound. In particular John Lasseter (founder of Pixar and now head of animation at Disney), Glen Keane and Andreas Deja (Disney animation legends through the 90s), Brad Bird (now a highly respected director) and a young weirdo named Tim Burton.

Don Bluth, another respected animation artist, began working on the film, but through some serious disagreements with management, he left the company for good and started up his own animation production house. (Some of his more significant films would be The Secret of NIMH, The Land Before Time and the rather wonderful Anastasia)

The opening credits are really interesting. The movie actually starts in silence. Slowly, background sounds begin to creep in. It's a very powerful and dramatic way to begin. Suddenly we see a mother fox carrying a little kit in her mouth. She is desperately trying to escape from something.

After hiding her baby, she runs away and is shot dead. The whole scene is witnessed by an owl called Big Mama, who decides to help the baby fox find a new home.

Meanwhile, and in a completely unrelated story thread, two birds named Dinky and Boomer are trying to catch an ever-elusive caterpillar. Boomer is voiced by Paul Winchell, Tigger himself.

Big Mama decides to leave the fox in the care of old Widow Tweed, the lady who owns the farm. She instantly falls in love with the little kit and names him Tod.

On the farm next door, old Amos Slade has brought something home to show to his faithful dog Chief. (Amos is voiced by Jack Albertson, who many would know as Grandpa Joe from "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory")

It's an adorable little hound puppy who he names Copper. Chief is none to impressed with the new arrival, but Amos is confident the little rascal will grow up to be an A-Grade hunter.

When young Copper decides to go wandering he comes across Tod, and the two decide to become good friends.

Although neither of their owners know anything about the strange new friendship, Copper and Tod spend their days having fun and playing games together.

They soon learn the consequences of their relationship though. When Amos discovers that there is a fox on his property he is very quick to grab for his gun. Then when Widow Tweed realises what's going on, she is just as quick to jump to her fox's defense. The battle lines have been drawn.

As winter approaches, Amos packs Chief and Copper up in his car and takes them out into the wilderness for hunting.

While they are gone, Big Mama tries to explain to Tod that things will be very different when Copper returns as a trained hunting dog. Tod refuses to believe her.

The winter arrives and the ever-growing Copper learns his trade in the snowy forest. Before long he has replaced Chief as Amos Slade's favourite, and gets to sit in the front seat, much to Chief's disgust.

As soon as the hunting team has returned home, Tod sneaks over to see his old friend. Copper tries to explain to him that they can't be friends anymore; he's a hunting dog now. Tod can't understand why they can't just carry on as they did before. Tod is once again discovered, and a great chase is on. Copper easily sniffs him out, but promises to let him go "just this once."

Chief chases Tod over a bridge, but when a train comes barreling towards them, Chief is knocked off the bridge and his leg is broken.

Amos Slade threatens Widow Tweed, and for Tod's own benefit she drives him out into a game reserve and leaves him behind. It breaks her heart, but she feels it is the best way for Tod to survive. The poor fox is left alone and afraid.

It is a very difficult first night. Tod is abused by a grumpy badger, but he is eventually invited to share lodgings with a cute little porcupine, who is voiced by John "Piglet" Fiedler.

The following day, Big Mama introduces Tod to a pretty young fox named Vixey. Tod is instantly twitterpated, and she thinks he's pretty nice too.

Just as their relationship is starting to bloom, Amos Slade brings Copper to the game reserve, along with some vicious bear traps, in the hope to finally catch Tod once and for all. Copper, furious at Tod for Chief's injury, is fully ready to kill him.

Just when all seems lost, a massive bear appears and begins to attack Copper and Amos. Fearing for the life of his old friend, Tod lures the bear away to a waterfall. A fierce battle ensues, leading to both the bear and Tod plummeting to the bottom of the waterfall.

Badly hurt and unable to stand, Tod looks down the barrel of Amos's gun, ready to accept the inevitable. But Copper stands in the way of the gun and gives a sad whine. Having a moment of clarity (after all, Tod DID save them from the bear) Amos decides to let the fox live and go home.

In time, Amos's leg is cared for by Widow Tweed, the birds finally catch their caterpillar (only to have it transform into a butterfly) and two foxes watch over the farm from a distance.

IRVYNE: There is definitely potential in the story of The Fox and the Hound, and there are some really great vocal performances as well. But when it comes down to it, there are some serious flaws.

Firstly, the white elephant in the movie... The birds and the caterpillar. This sub-plot has NOTHING to do with the story. In fact, the characters themselves have NOTHING to do with the story, aside from occasionally conversing with the main characters about something inconsequential. I understand that they're simply there for comic relief, but the comic relief should be somehow a part of the plot, not something completely separate. The comedy of these scenes falls flat, Boomer sounds exactly like Tigger (even down to his "Hoo-hoo--hoo-HOO!") and at the end of the movie, no one cares about them.

Okay, got that off my chest. Another bad story choice they made was keeping Chief alive. In the original plan, he was supposed to die. Someone high-up decided that this would be too much for children to bear, so he just gets a broken leg.
This completely destroys Copper's motivation for the final act though! "I'll get you for this!" he yells up at Tod. So we're to understand that because Chief got a broken leg brought on indirectly from Tod, Copper now wants to hunt and kill his best friend?? It just doesn't work, because there's no reason for revenge! Tod didn't actually do anything, and Chief will get over his injury in a month or two. If Chief was DEAD, well we might be able to understand Copper's grief and anguish. This brings me to my next point...

Copper is kind of a jerk. Yes, I know he's a hound dog. Yes, I know it's his instinct to hunt foxes. But let's be real here - these are human characters in animal skins. They are shown to make choices that normal animals simply can't. If Copper is capable of talking civilly to Tod as an adult dog, there's no reason he shouldn't be able to continue the "secret" friendship they had when they were children. When they have the showdown in the game reserve, there's no doubt about Copper's intentions. He wants Tod dead. The only thing that changes his mind is when Tod distracts the bear away from him. The character motivations are all kinda screwed up.

Added to this is the fact that Copper and Tod actually spend very little time on-screen being friends. If we're supposed to invest in the concept of them being "besties for life," we really should have been shown more of them playing together. For all we know, they only met twice or three times before Copper went away.

One more plot point that just irks me is Vixey. She has no real plot purpose at all, and just when she seems to be taking the story in a new direction, it doesn't go anywhere and she ends up just being the token "female in the background." Speaking of females... It's amazing how many times the word "female" is used in a derogatory manner in this movie. I know that Amos Slade is hardly supposed to be a paragon of manners, but the way he continually calls Widow Tweed a "female" as if that's supposed to be some kind of insult is a bit of a worry.

One thing The Fox and the Hound does do right is its visuals. I'd say it's the nicest looking animated film that Disney had produced since Sleeping Beauty. I don't know what kind of advancements they'd had on their Xerox technology, but the lines are (mostly) very clean, with none of the "sketchy" look of the '60s and '70s. The backgrounds are beautifully detailed, often giving a "Bambi" kind of look to the negative space in the foliage.

It's got some good effects too. In particular the water spray in the bear scene looks excellent. All of this is complimented by some truly wonderful character animation. Every character shows an entire range of emotions in this story, especially the two leads. Even the useless characters are animated well. I especially like how they've incorporated some real sparrow movements into the character of Dinky.

However, it's a real shame that the new transfer to Blu-Ray has come up with some really mixed results. Most of the shots have been remastered to look crisp and clean, and they present wonderfully in 1080p. A number of other shots though, appear to be out-of-focus. And these shots can come and go all in the space of a single scene. It's very distracting and annoying! I have no idea what the reason behind this is, and I can't believe Disney let it be released looking like this. I hope they make the effort to fix that up for future releases.

The Fox and the Hound does have songs, and they're not bad, but they're not particularly memorable (or necessary...) The first song doesn't actually happen until about 15 minutes into the movie. Big Mama (with the voice of Pearl Bailey) sings "When You're The Best Of Friends," which is the only song I think anyone would realistically remember from this film.

When Copper goes away, Big Mama does a kind of weird rap called "Lack of Education." Her third song is the twitterpating song with Tod and Vixey, called "Appreciate The Lady." It's okay I suppose. But even after having seen this movie many times, I couldn't sing you the tune.

The background score is mostly very sad sounding, with a lone harmonica focusing the emotion in some scenes.

Contrary to all of the problems I've listed above, The Fox and the Hound is surprisingly not a disaster. It's quite watchable. It has a really sad, melancholy tone to it though. You know that feeling where everyone's gone home and there are only a few people still left at the party, but it's nowhere near as much fun as it was before, and the people there are trying to convince themselves that it's still good? That's the kind of feeling I get from this film. The Disney animation department had all but dried up in 1981, and although they continued to make movies, the glory days were clearly over. The only thing that could save it was a completely fresh start. But in 1981, that was still 8 years away...

JOHN DARLING: This movie has lots of starts. There's the mother fox running start, the finding a new home start, the meeting the dog start and then the after-winter start.

WENDY: Copper and Tod are very very cute as kids.

SHENZI: So cute! I love it when Copper's rolls fall over his eyes.

ANNA: It's a touching moment when Copper protects Tod in the end, but I wish Amos Slade got more of a comeuppance.

IRVYNE: Come on! He got his leg caught in a bear trap! That's gotta sting!

MALEFICENT: I think the cutest character is definitely the bear.

IRVYNE: LOL! You're so demented.

SHENZI: Do tell us why.

MALEFICENT: Because he has pretty red eyes, and red's my favourite colour.

HAKU: It's an awful love story.

WENDY: "Hey look, I'm a fox! You're a fox! How YOU doin'?"

IRVYNE: What does the fox say? Dingdingdingdingdingding!

PASCAL: I like the old woman. She's a tough old bat.

HAKU: I can't stand the scene where she's driving Tod to the forest though.

IRVYNE: Awww, that scene's really sad.

HAKU: I don't like it at all, with all that stupid rhyming.

WENDY: That's her inner monologue.

HAKU: It's awful. It's okay when they get to their destination and she's quiet.

IRVYNE: I find that to be one of the most effective scenes in the whole film. Especially when Tod gives her this look as she drives away, and you can see his confused little hear breaking.

WENDY: It's so annoying when some shots go out of focus!

MALEFICENT: Yes, that's very irritating. Why does it do that?

HAKU: It might have had something to do with zooming into the shot.

IRVYNE: I have no idea, but it's a real shame, because otherwise the film is very nice-looking. None of the other Blu-Rays we've watched this year have had this problem. This is not one of Disney's top-rated movies so I suppose it doesn't get the ultra-restoration effort for Blu-Ray. When it IS in focus, it's got some really nice visual effects.

NALA: The raindrops on the spider's web look pretty at the start of the movie.
ANNA: I think there's some more reused animation. The jumping squirrel looks like it was taken straight out of The Sword In The Stone.

IRVYNE: It's a weird one. I do like this movie, but it seems to be missing some Disney "magic." And I don't just mean magic within the story, but it just has a kind of real-life sadness to it.

JOHN DARLING: It's too realistic.

PASCAL: The only real magic is the caterpillar turning into a butterfly at the end. It looks like Tinkerbell's going to pop out for a moment!

ANNA: That's got to be the longest-living caterpillar ever!

IRVYNE: I wouldn't put this high on my list of favourites. It just kinda makes me sad whenever I watch it. There's a lot of talent on display though, and I appreciate it for what it is.