“The Fox and the Hound” (1981) dir. Ted Berman, Richard Rich, Art Stevens
One of Disney’s more adult efforts, ‘The Fox and the Hound’ is an endearing morality tale depicting the negative long term effects of tribalism. Todd, a fox and Cooper, a hound become childhood best friends only to realize as they grow older that they must adhere to the roles of their respective cultures and cannot be the friends they once were.
The filmmakers do a remarkable job at the outset of developing the friendship between the young hound and the young fox. It is extremely genuine. A tad hammy but not false. This foundation holds the film together. Cooper is derided by his peers for befriending a fox but is given the benefit of the doubt because of his youth. The older hunting dog Chief and the master, Mr. Slade, are metaphorically unabashed racists as the film brazenly makes its case that bigotry is not inherent in the young but is instead learned by one’s elders and their culture. This film is also astute enough to point out that even the seemingly enlightened woodland creatures who befriend Todd are just as responsible for the general state of things. While they may acknowledge that societal prejudice is wrong, their refusal to do anything about it makes them benign accomplices all the same.
It should be noted that ‘The Fox and the Hound’ features to-die-for voice work by Mickey Rooney, Kurt Russell, Corey Feldman, Sandy Duncan, Pat Buttram and Pearl Bailey. Hard to imagine what this film would have been like without them.
Much has been made about whether or not Chief should have been killed. The new blood at Disney working on the project argued vehemently the Chief should be killed but the old guard voted them down. I certainly agree that the film would have had more narrative bite (ha!) if Chief had been killed. As it stands the retribution seems a little wonky even for Disney logic but it doesn’t raise much of an eyebrow. In my opinion it was a small price to pay in order to get the film’s message across.
Life is unfair, people. And as this film shows us, most of life is spent within the grey areas as opposed to the blacks and whites. Even the most dramatic moments in our lives end in neither clear victory nor defeat. When Cooper stands up to Mr. Slade at the end of the film, refusing to betray Todd – it is merely a truce of sorts. It is no victory for multiculturalism nor defeat for isolationism. There is merely a mournful acceptance that the fox and the hound cannot coexist for many frustrating reasons. But for a brief period of time, Todd and Cooper proved that they could. Society, my friends, can be a very oppressive force. One that influences people far too often to betray their more noble instincts for the ‘good’ of the pack. We could all be more mindful of this.