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"The Fox and the Hound": Learning to Appreciate a Forgotten Disney Tale

by on October 20, 2006

When people mention Disney, perhaps the last film that comes to mind is “The Fox and the Hound.” Among the piles of Disney tapes, it was the one I watched once and then left in a corner. Perhaps it’s the simple story, or the loosely sketched supporting cast of forest creatures introduced in the middle. But now, as an adult, I appreciate the film much more than I did as a kid.

I’m always amazed with how much more adult and violent older Disney cartoons and animation in general were allowed to be. The dialogue and situations in The Fox and the Hound are far from Saturday-morning friendly, with shotgun blasts, a quest for vengeance and a character who bluntly predicts that one character will be responsible for the other’s death. It’s not something a kid would really notice, but now I am stunned as I watch this.

For those unfamiliar with the film, The Fox and the Hound follows the life of Tod, who is abandoned when a hunter kills his mother (flashes of Bambi, anyone?) and is then adopted by a lonely widow. After we become accustomed to Tod, the story’s second central character, Copper, is introduced. It’s in these first few scenes with Copper as a puppy that the movie draws you in. Corey Feldman does a superb job as Copper (didn’t even realize it was him until I looked it up!). The puppy dog voice and the howling is downright heartwarming, and the “Best of Friends” song remains as endearing as ever.

The film follows Tod and Copper’s childhood, the winter they spend apart, and their reunion. Copper is now a full-fledged hunting dog, and the two friends are on opposite sides of nature. But then Tod accidentally causes Chief, Copper’s canine mentor, to break his leg. (if the fall from the train tracks that Chief took looks worse than it turns out to be, it’s because Chief was originally supposed to be killed.) Tod loses his human guardian and the eventual climax has the duo fighting a huge bear. In the end, we see them try to salvage their relationship, and even the Widow Tweed and Hunter Amos become closer as a result of their pets’ friendship.

As with all Disney films, there is some superb animation to be seen. The opening shot with the spider web literally made my jaw drop, and the lightning around the bear in the climactic fight is also astounding. Forest settings, beautiful character models and just about everything you’ve come to expect from an animated Disney show. It truly is amazing.

While the film is heartwarming to watch if you’re an adult and can grasp the meaning of everything the film offers, as a kid I can remember being extremely bored with it. Other Disney films easily held my attention, but this one is very dry and there’s really no strong story arc throughout — a strong beginning and a strong climax, but no real development to speak of. Other Disney films are strong throughout, but this one must be experienced all the way through, which, along with the possibly frightening content, may make it inappropriate for some kids under the age of 10.

While “The Fox and the Hound” has been on DVD before, this is the 25th Anniversary Special Edition re-release. What this basically means is that we get a new DVD of the old film before the sequel comes out—and that sequel is even previewed on this disc! Yes, I realize taking shots at Disney for their direct-to-video sequels to old classics is old at this point, but good lord man—there’s a trailer for Cinderella III on here!

Packaging is your standard Disney fare—an Amaray clip case with cardboard slip covering it all. Inserts describe disc content, other flyers for bonus Disney contests/products and a rather cool disc print, slightly transparent and reflective at the same time.

There doesn’t appear to be much digital restoration done to the film, though it is a nice transfer regardless. As with a lot of cartoons that were still shot on film, the camera is shaky at times and there’s plenty of grain on the cels. There are few signs of compression and nearly none of the interlacing/aliasing that is all too common on animated DVD transfers. Oddly enough, the film is presented in fullscreen, and though it’s difficult to say at this point what the original aspect ratio was, the film was probably animated in widescreen. It’s disturbing to see this mistake repeated on the 25th Anniversary edition of the DVD.

Speaking of weak things, the 5.1 audio is one of the quietest tracks I’ve ever heard. The satellite speakers sleep the entire time and only the front channels are ever used. The thunder claps in the film resonate quite well, but aside from that there isn’t much going on; a few forest sounds or birds chirping in rear channels would’ve been nice to hear, but no dice.

Special features for kids include a few games, storybooks and “The Best of Friends” sing-along song. Even as a kid, I’d feel insulted playing these games considering how childish they are, but whatever works for Disney is what they’ll keep doing.

A backstage featurette on the film is included, but is far too short. We hear from animators and directors of the film, but no actors or other staff. There is footage that we see of Pearl Bailey recording as Big Momma, which leads me to believe there’s a lot of other backstage footage we’ll never see either. A real shame, as the art gallery shows off some great stills from the film, as well as production shots of models, voice actors Kurt Russel and Mickey Rooney and other shots of production as well. It’s a nice featurette, but nothing you’d watch again.

Both included Disney shorts are nice little tales as well, with “Lambert the Sheepish Lion,” a forgotten classic also available on the Disney Rarities Treasures set, quite entertaining. Transfers on “Lambert” and “Lend a Paw” are strong and even look better than “The Fox and the Hound” at times. Older fans will probably want to skip the for-kids features, but the bonus shorts are a treat.

Overall, if you’re a fan of the film then be sure to pick up the disc if you haven’t already. The backstage feature may be worth the upgrade from the previous DVD release, but rent it first if you’re not sure.

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