Saturday, March 12, 2011

DAF #35 - The Fox and the Hound (1981)

"Forever is a long, long time, and time has a way of changing things."
-Big Mama

Title: The Fox and the Hound
Rated: G
Run Time: 1 hour, 23 minutes

Mickey Rooney as Adult Tod
Kurt Russell as Adult Copper
Keith Mitchell as Young Tod
Corey Felman as Young Copper
Pearl Bailey as Big Mama
Jeanette Nolan as Widow Tweed
Jack Albertson as Amos Slade
Pat Buttram as Chief
Sandy Duncan as Vixey
Dick Bakalyan as Dinky
Paul Winchell as Boomer

Plot: A fox cub and hound dog pup become friends before they learn they are supposed to be enemies.
Based on: The children's novel The Fox and the Hound by Daniel P. Mannix
Setting: United States, probably the 1930's based on Amos's car and the costuming.

Tagline: The story of two friends that didn't know they were supposed to be enemies.

First Viewing:
Oh crap, I honestly don't remember. Maybe the seventh grade? I was staying over at a friend's house and her little sister was watching it.

Ah, 1981. One of my favorite years in pop culture history. Oh let's just put all the cards on the table: it IS my favorite year in pop culture history! As of now, the reasons for that shall remain secret, but I will say I have a certain fondness for early 80's cinema, which is why it pains me on a superficial level that The Fox and the Hound should rank so low on my list.

Remember how I said there are Boy Disney Movies and Girl Disney Movies? Well...dogs, foxes,, I don't have to draw you a map. In fact, I used to rank this one significantly lower than #35. Maybe I've grown up (ironic perspective to take considering it's a children's film) or maybe it's my obsessive love for 1981. Let's just see, shall we?

After perhaps the most boring credits sequence in a DAF (seriously, background paintings of the woods plus birds chirping), a young fox's mother is shot and killed by a hunter (The hunter who killed Bambi's mother???? We may never know...). A sassy black matriarchal owl named Big Mama, and her two bird companions Dinky and Boomer, rescue the young one and arrange for him to be taken in by the good Widow Tweed. As a lonely old woman, she treats the baby fox like a child and names him Tod.

Meanwhile, her crotchey neighbor Amos Slade (a huntin' man) brings home a hound puppy named Copper. He advises his old hunting dog, Chief, to be Copper's teacher and guardian.

After the two canids grow out of their infancy, Tod longs for a companion and wanders into the woods. Copper, at the same time, follows a strange scent and discovers its Tod. Before you can say BFF, the two vow to be besties for life despite having JUST MET EACH OTHER.

Amos grows tired of Copper's wandering and puts him on a leash. This doesn't deter Tod, however, and he sneaks off to see his friend. Amos catches him and warns the Widow Tweed that he will shoot Tod if the fox is found on his property again.

Luckily, it's hunting season and Amos takes Copper and Chief into the wilderness until spring. Big Mama explains that Copper and Tod won't ever be friends again, because the hound was meant to hunt the fox. Tod is doubtful and remains steadfastly sure that their friendship will continue come the spring.

The circle of life continues and Tod and Copper grow into robust versions of themselves voiced by the biggest box office draw of 1939-1941 and Snake Plissken (Escape From New York, also 1981!). When Copper returns, Tod is anxious to revive their friendship but Copper calmly explains that things are different now and it's dangerous for Tod to be around. Chief then wakes up and another chase ensues. Copper tries to divert Chief and Amos, Chief is injured in the process. Copper vows revenge.

Amos alerts Tweed who realizes that Tod's place is in the wilderness. Sadly, she takes him to the game reserve where the pampered fox suffers to grow accustomed to the forest. (This is very reminiscent of the Bongo scenes in Fun and Fancy Free). The morning after, Big Mama finds Tod and introduces him to the stone cold lady fox, Vixey. The two have an immediate attraction, a quick fight, and then decide to "get married" forest style.

Meawhile, Amos and Copper break into the game preserve looking for Tod. Big chase scene. Bear attacks Copper. Tod fights bear. (People love this bear.) Copper is touched by Tod's sacrifice. Amos aims his gun at Tod, but Copper steps forward, refusing to yield. Amos understands and takes Copper home. Tod and Vixey are reunited and live in the forest happily ever after.

(Love that font!)
So basically, it's Romeo & Juliet for boys.

There's been a lot of debate and contradicting opinions about TFATH. One side suggests it's an important and oft unseen allegory of directed at children about how prejudice is taught and not inherent within us. The bittersweet ending is meant to teach a moral: Only YOU can prevent prejudice, kids!

The other side says, "It's sad. I don't like that one."

The fact that Tod and Copper don't fight the system and say "Fuck it, let's be friends anyway" is a bit of a Disney mind screw. If say, Lady and the Tramp and Duchess and O'Malley (and more importantly, their respective owners) can get over the couple's class differences, if a mermaid can walk on land, if a beauty can love a beast, if a lion cub can get over his neurosis and reclaim his throne, then WHY OH WHY can't a fox and a hound be friends???

This is why I like The Fox and the Hound. It is honest. Despite the talking animals, it's a mostly realistic view on friendship. Sometimes they just cannot be. Sometimes they simply fall apart. Time and distance, new friends, lack of commonalities all lead to the disintegration of a friendship. But even though Tod and Copper are now leading their seperate lives, does that make their time together any less special? Of course not. Just because it doesn't last forever, doesn't mean it's not important.

Still, just because I like the themes behind The Fox and the Hound doesn't mean I like it as an entertaining movie. The music is bland and just plain forgettable. It's very slow, which is fine if you're sick and desperately need to fall asleep. But character-wise, there isn't really anybody I'm particularly fond of; Big Mama would have been played by Hattie McDaniel if possible. Dinky and Boomer, the resident Jar Jars offer nothing in the way of plot advancement or entertainment. Chief is pretty much no different from Napoleon from The Aristocats or Luke from The Rescuers. Then there's Vixey...

Oh Vixey, you romantic lead, you. What do you bring to the table? What's that? A generic love at first sight plotline? I exaggerate, but only a little. Tod and Vixey get into a little fight when they first meet, but I honestly think this is to pad the movie for time. Vixey's sole purpose is to make the forest a more inviting habitat for Tod and much like Faline from Bambi, she represents Tod's transition into manhood. This offers a bleak message: it's time to become a father a leave your friends behind, but don't worry, you get POOOOON!

In conclusion, I like The Fox and the Hound much more than I dislike it. (And it has nothing to do with the year of its release either!) It's a movie I feel a little sorry for, because I don't know anybody (with exception of a childhood friend's little brother) who likes it. Certainly, most females I know balk at it, which from a sexist standpoint, I completely understand. But like I said, it's a good movie if you're sick or just in a crappy mood wanting to be in a crappier mood. Just like there's a need to escape to a whole new world or dip into a tale as old as time, there's also a time for realism. I, for one, am glad The Fox and the Hound exists for that reason.

“Best of Friends" - Pearl Bailey (Big Mama)
"A Huntin' Man" - Jack Albertson (Amos Slade)
"Lack of Education" - Pearl Bailey
"Goodbye May Seem Forever" - Jeanette Nolan (Widow Tweed) and Chorus
"Appreciate the Lady" - Pearl Bailey

Favorite Song: “Goodbye May Seem Forever” - Jeanette Nolan and Chorus
Favorite Moment: Copper steps between Amos and Tod.

Favorite Character: Squeaks (The unmentioned caterpillar cum butterfly that Dinky and Boomer chase around. He doesn't talk. I like the ones that don't talk!)

Next DAF: Robin Hood (1973)

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