THE FOX AND THE HOUND (1981):
Written by: Daniel P. Mannix (original novel), Ted Berman, Larry Clemmons, David Michener, Peter Young & Burny Mattinson
Another one based off of a forgotten novel (with many changes- initially Tod & Copper didn’t know each other; Chief also dies in the novel), this one wasn’t a major hit, but has a cult following, largely due to the bittersweet nature of the film. The animation in this one is pretty awful, being part of that uncomfortable area where Disney hadn’t hit the Renaissance and was past the era where it was using awesome “For the Art” expensive techniques.
I had no idea it was released in 1981. I legit assumed it was from the ’60s or ’70s! In any case, it was a good “starter film”, as Glen Keane, John Lasseter, Tim Burton & Brad Bird all made their Disney debuts working as minor animators on this one, and was the last one animated with Don Bluth and many of the fabled “Nine Old Men” animators.Tthat’s one HELL of a pedigree!
As much as people crack jokes about Disney always hiring celebrities after Aladdin, this one has Mickey Rooney & Kurt Russell, who were pretty famous at the time. It’s not like Disney was ALWAYS using Broadway or Voice Acting specialists.
But man, this one is sad as HELL! It STARTS with a “Bambi Moment” (Tod’s mom gets offed), then goes onto childhood friends being torn apart, a poor widow abandoning her beloved pet in the wilderness, and the general pathos that Tod & Copper, despite making good in the end, will probably never see each other again. MY GOD THE PATHOS!!
Todd is a beloved pet to the old Widow Tweed, but is eventually abandoned to the wilderness when she realizes he’s not safe with her. Feeling betrayed by Copper, he nonetheless risks his own life to save his old friend from a bear, and Copper returns the favor, protecting Tod from his master.
About the Performer: Mickey Rooney is mostly famous to my generation for being an old coot, but he was a REALLY famous Child Star in his own time. At the time of his death, he was one of the last surviving stars of the friggin’ SILENT ERA! His “Andy Hardy” series of films were the inspiration for Archie Andrews, and he avoided some of the worst aspects of “Child Actor Syndrome” by performing into his adulthood, acting as the quintessential All-American Boy as a kid, but moving on to “Character Actor” stuff when he grew up (he was too short to be a leading man, in the era before Tom Cruise).
Despite looking like a total goof, he married EIGHT TIMES, to some spectacularly attractive women, but was usually unfaithful (his autobiography contains a LOT of telling about kissing, too). Of course, he had the mandatory Child Actor problems like alcohol and drug issues, and when he died at 93, his former wealth had dwindled to a mere $18,000 due to mistreatment from family members and poor health.
Copper gets the most famous line in the movie, his iconic “I’m a HOUND DOG!” line, delivered with adorable aplomb by a very young Corey Feldman. Here, he’s a ridiculously cute little hound puppy, but soon grows into an eager trainee to the elder Chief. Their master has them as hunting dogs, and Copper soon turns on Tod, especially when Chief is injured by a train. He attempts to kill Tod in some scenes that were pretty serious, but ultimately defends his old friend from his master when he realizes that Tod saved them against the bear.
About the Performer: Well, it’s KURT RUSSELL. Damn guy was an icon in the ’80s for stuff like “Escape From New York” and “Big Trouble in Little China”, but continues to be in big stuff even today, though largely as a gag sometimes.
Reception & Cultural Impact:
This movie was actually a turning point at the studio, as working on it is what caused Don Bluth to tell Disney to F off and form his own company. This provided Disney with a large amount of competition… some of which may have helped the studio get off their asses and start producing GREAT ART again.
The film itself seems well-liked, though remembered far more for the cutesy animal stuff, which is far more popular than the more melancholy tale that follows. That nearly every single commercial showcases the “I’m a HOUND DOG!” line from puppy Copper doesn’t help.
One of the ill-advised sequels that Disney trotted out in the 2000s was The Fox and the Hound 2, a mid-quel that showed them again as infants.
It didn’t do well, and was one of the last sequels released. It was deemed that these shitty Straight-To-DVD messes were actually hurting Disney’s image, and they were stopped.