Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The Disney Discussion - The Fox and the Hound

Over the course of the year, we'll be spending our Wednesdays with Walt, having a discussion about each of Disney's animated films...

Movie #24 of The Disney Discussion
The Fox and the Hound (1981)
Featuring the voice talents of Mickey Rooney, Kurt Russell, Pearl Bailey, Jack Albertson, Sandy Duncan, Corey Feldman, Keith Mitchell, Paul Winchell, and Jeanette Nolan
Directed by Art Stevens, Ted Berman, and Richard Rich
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Summary (in 150 words or less):
When a young fox named Tod is orphaned after his mother is killed by a hunter, Tod is "adopted" by the kind elderly Widow Tweed.  While wandering through the woods one day, Tod meets young hound puppy Copper and the two bond quickly.  When they discover that they only live down the road from each other, the friendship grows even more despite the fact that Copper's owner Amos Slade and Slade's older hunting dog Chief would almost disown Copper if they knew it was occurring.  Time passes, fall turns to winter and winter to spring, and an older Copper has become quite the fierce hunting dog which doesn't bode well for Tod who now discovers that Copper's loyalties may not lie with their friendship.

Facts and Figures
The Fox and the Hound is the Walt Disney Company's twenty-fourth full-length animated feature and was released on July 10, 1981.

At the time of its release, The Fox and the Hound was the most expensive animated film produced with a budget of $12 million, however, it was a financial success, garnering $65 million over its multiple releases.

Let the Discussion Begin...
Prior to the release of The Fox and the Hound there was an epic shake-up among the ranks of Disney animators.  In 1979, many artists including Don Bluth (of An American Tale fame) left Disney in a dispute over creative and financial differences.  According to Leonard Maltin's book The Disney Films, Bluth said that "we felt like we were animating the same picture over and over again with just the faces changed a little."  This walk-out forced The Fox and the Hound to be delayed by more than six months.  This film did mark a turning point for Disney animation with some of Disney's "Nine Old Men" (nine animators who started working with Walt at the onset of the animation studio) working with new blood and essentially handing over the reins to them.  Funnily enough, The Fox and the Hound mirrors the fractious atmosphere in the animator's workroom with the film failing to cohesively come together.

The first half of the film is more successful than the latter and I think, as silly as this sounds, it's because of the "cute factor."  The younger versions of fox Tod and dog Copper (voiced by Corey Feldman and Keith Mitchell, respectively) exude humor, innocence, and genuine heartfelt emotions.  We can't help but feel an immediate connection with this duo as their friendship blossoms.  If only they could've stayed young forever...

Unfortunately, when the story shifts to the adult versions of Tod and Copper (now voiced by Mickey Rooney and Kurt Russell, respectively), things begins to fall apart.  The set-up for the dissension between Tod and Copper is decent -- older hunting dog Chief is hurt after chasing Tod which leads Copper to stand up for his fellow canine and turn against his longtime buddy Tod.  However, the separate stories for Tod and Copper that occur after this aren't all that intriguing.  Copper, unfortunately, gets the short end of the stick as his tale is nearly abandoned during the film's latter half.

Instead, we find ourselves following along with Tod who leaves Widow Tweed's and strikes out in the wilderness on his own where he immediately falls in love with a foxy fox named Vixey (voiced by Sandy Duncan).  This subplot is a redux of the Bambi "twitterpated" scenario, but much worse and decidedly more tacky.  Accompanied by the heinous song "Appreciate the Lady," part of me felt dirty during this segment of the film.  Tod finds himself swooning over his first glance at the female physique.  Big Mama (an owl...yet another Bambi homage, it seems) tells Tod that he's going to get "a whole lot of satisfaction" if he just "appreciates the lady / ...[and then he's] gonna be appreciated right back."  It is a bit off-putting, that's for sure.  And it's not a good song at that.

Music is admittedly not The Fox and the Hound's selling point.  Beyond "Appreciate the Lady," there's only one other number that stands out -- "Best of Friends" -- but the song about the burgeoning friendship between Tod and Copper comes a bit too early in their relationship to really resonate.  The film's plot doesn't really call for music, so I wish the animators would've just abandoned the notion of needing songs to push the plot lines along.

Animation-wise, The Fox and the Hound is solid.  In fact, the film's climactic scene involving a bear attack is frighteningly well-conceived.  The tension created in large part due to the animation adds significant gravitas to a second act that found itself floundering.  (Considering that the film doesn't really have a "villain" per se, this climactic bear scene really does a fantastic job creating a sense of excitement.)  While the rest of the film doesn't do anything mind-blowing, considering the chaos surrounding the production, I find the overall aesthetic of the film to be one of its saving graces.

Voice-wise, the cast is quite good and does a lot to elevate the tale beyond the average.  However, I must point out that Disney's insistence on creating comedic side characters wears out its welcome with The Fox and the Hound, particularly with the character of the woodpecker Boomer.  It's not the character of Boomer is particularly enervating, it's just that the voice actor behind the bird -- Paul Winchell -- does absolutely nothing to differentiate the bird from his voice as Tigger, complete with the "whoo-hoo-hoo" laugh.  Boomer is certainly a throwaway character with absolutely no importance to the plot and could've (and should've) been eliminated.

Random Thoughts
...while watching the film...
  • The opening credit sequence lasts nearly five minutes, yet it's quite an impressive, though incredibly simplistic, set-up.  We see panoramic, though static (ie. with no moving animation) shots of a forest set to a calm score by Buddy Baker accompanied by chirping birds.  Suddenly the images grow darker, the score grows more intense, and we realize that something ominous is about to happen.
  • Contrary to the aforementioned Paul Winchell's Tigger-like vocal acting (of which I wasn't a fan), I enjoyed hearing Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory's Grandpa Joe -- Jack Albertson -- voicing the hunter Amos Slade.
  • SPOILER ALERT -- The scene at the film's conclusion in which Copper stands in front of Amos in order to stop him from shooting Tod is surprisingly emotional.  The look in Copper's eyes says it all.

Final Analysis
(Does It Belong in the Revered Disney Pantheon and How Does It Stack Up to Past Films?)
I watched The Fox and the Hound a little over two years ago when I initially attempted to start an "analysis" of Disney's animated features.  Back then, I found myself pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this somewhat forgotten Disney feature.  Unfortunately, the film didn't hold up upon a repeat viewing.  While certainly pleasant, there's just too much here that doesn't quite work to make it a stand-out film.

The animation is also quite solid (although beyond the climax there isn't anything mind-blowing) and the voice acting (with the exception of the aforementioned Paul Winchell) is perfectly suited for the characters.  However, the film loses a bit of focus whenever it shifts away from the relationship between Tod and Copper and, unfortunately, as the two friends grow older, my interest in their characters waned a bit.  Yes, the filmmakers do a good job in allowing us to understand their affection towards each other as young animals, yet grasp why they drifted apart as they aged.  However, things just don't quite come together as a full package making it not quite worthy of placement in the Disney Pantheon.

While I criticized the film quite a bit above, it should be noted that The Fox and the Hound isn't a bad film.  It's a flawed one and one that had great potential, but it doesn't manage to cohesively bring its two acts together.

The RyMickey Rating: C+
Join us next Wednesday for The Black Cauldron, the 25th film in The Disney Discussion.

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