The film has been directed by Ted Berman and Richard Rich, who would later form Crest Animation Productions to create his first independent animated feature The Swan Princess, under the working title Tod and Copper. Daniel Mannix's original novel has had a more realistic story, which has dealt with the quest of a hunter and his dog, Copper, to shoot Tod after he has killed the hunter's new dog, Chief. The novel has been mainly about Tod's life in the woods. While being raised by humans he has not been childhood friends with Copper and none of the animals spoke. The story has been changed to make it more suitable for a family film; instead of a story about the life and death of a fox, it has become a parable about how society determines our roles despite our better impulses.
At the time of its release, the film has been the most expensive animated film produced to date, costing $12 million. It has been the last film which was worked on with animation legends like Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, two members of Walt Disney's original "Nine Old Men" who has also worked on this one, with it being the last one for both, as well as the first one for future Disney leaders like Tim Burton (The Nightmare Before Christmas), Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille), and Glen Keane, who has animated the bear in this film, and later worked on other animated films, like The Little Mermaid (1989) and Beauty and the Beast (1991), in which he designed the beast. It was also the final Disney film to have all the credits in the title sequence as opposed to having closing credits and have the words, "The End. A Walt Disney Production" at the end, the last Disney animated film to use the Buena Vista logo, and the last Disney film in which Don Bluth has involved in its production.
Despite originally receiving mixed reviews, the film has developed a low cult following and was nominated for three awards. It stars the voices of Kurt Russell, Mickey Rooney, Pearl Bailey, Pat Buttram, Sandy Duncan, Richard Bakalyan, Paul Winchell, Jack Albertson, Jeanette Nolan, John Fiedler, John McIntire, Keith Mitchell, and Corey Feldman. A direct-to-video midquel, The Fox and the Hound 2, was released to DVD on December 12, 2006.
The story begins with a mother fox, with fear in her eyes, and a baby in her mouth, running all throughout a forest, passing over a mountain, until she reaches a farm. There she hides her baby next to a fence, quietly says goodbye, and runs away. She is shot, and we hear two gunshots. An owl named Big Mama, along with her two bird friends, a sparrow named Dinky and a woodpecker named Boomer, arrange for him to be adopted by the kindly local widowed farmer named Widow Tweed. She names him Tod since he reminds her of a toddler. Meanwhile, her neighbor, Amos Slade, a hunter, brings home a young hound puppy named Copper and introduces him to his hunting dog, Chief. Big Mama is delighted to see Tod and Copper become playmates, singing the song "Best of Friends". They play together for the next three days, vowing to remain "friends forever". Amos grows frustrated at Copper for constantly wandering off, and places him on a leash to prevent him from doing so. While playing with Copper at his home, Tod accidentally awakens Chief. Amos and Chief chase him until they are confronted by Widow.
After Amos and Widow have an argument, he threatens that he will kill Tod if he catches him on his property again and that he won't miss him the next time. As hunting season comes, Amos takes Chief and Copper into the wilderness for the interim. Meanwhile, Big Mama explains to Tod that his friendship with Copper can't continue with the song "Lack of Education", as they are now natural enemies, but is told by Tod that he refuses to believe her. As months pass, Tod and Copper reach adulthood. On the night of Copper's return, Tod sneaks over to meet him and asks if they are still friends. He explains that those days are over, and since he is a hunting dog now, he says that things are now going to be different between them because if Chief wakes up, they will both be in danger. He does so and alerts Amos, and as a chase ensues, Copper catches Tod, but decides to let him go, then diverts Chief and Amos since he did not want them to kill Tod, who creeps out from under a woodpile and runs across a high railroad bridge for home, but bumps into Chief, who is blocking his path there. Tod turns back with Chief making his pursuit onto a railroad track on the bridge, but when Tod sees a fast moving train suddenly approach them, bears down on him, and traps him. Tod, being small enough, manages to duck safely underneath the train, while Chief is struck by it and wounded, suffering a broken leg as he topples down a steep cliff helplessly into the river below. Infuriated by all this, Copper and Amos blame Tod for poor Chief's accident and swear vengeance to get him if it's the last thing they do. To make matters worse, Amos storms over to Widow's house, angrily telling her about getting Tod, who almost killed Chief, and that he plans to get him, but she manages to block him out. Now she realizes that she can't protect Tod forever, so she takes him on a drive through the woods, singing the song "Goodbye May Seem Forever", and releases him at a nearby game preserve. His first night alone in there is a disaster, accidentally trespassing into a badger's den; the badger, Mr. Digger (John McIntire), somewhat meanly and rudely tells him to go away. A friendly porcupine offers to let him stay with him. That same night, Amos and Copper plan revenge on him, by showing a demonstration of him stepping into a trap. The next morning, Big Mama comes looking for Tod, and finds Vixey, a beautiful female fox his age, who is clearly good friends with her.
Tod wakes up after being pricked by the porcupine's quills, falls, and lands right on Mr. Digger's den. Mr. Digger scolds him once again. He tries to apologize but is interrupted when Mr. Digger thinks he is making up excuses. The porcupine attempts to defend him, (with Mr. Digger saying to him "you keep out of this, you walking pincushion!"). The porcupine points out that Mr. Digger shouldn't be grumpy to a newcomer, to which he responds by telling Tod to "go back where you came from". He leaves, now more depressed than ever. Big Mama and Vixey arrive and see him, who is very sad. As Vixey remarks that he looks downhearted, Big Mama tells her that "he was dropped out here all alone without a friend in the world". As Vixey decides to cheer him up, Big Mama thinks the idea is perfect. Big Mama sets Vixey into the sunlight, just so that she will look as beautiful as possible, and introduces Tod to her. He first tries to impress her by catching a fish, only to fail, causing her and the other animals of the game preserve to laugh at him. Angry and hurt, he insults her, telling her that she's "a silly, empty-headed female!" Angered, they refuse to speak to each other, but Big Mama intervenes with the song "Appreciate the Lady" and directs Tod in being himself, and Vixey to give him another chance. They get along very well once he admits his lack of survival skills. Vixey is now aware of his inability to survive in the wild and helps him adapt. She allows him to be her friend and stay with her in the forest. They clearly begin to develop a romantic connection.
The next morning, the vengeful Amos and Copper trespass into the game preserve to hunt Tod without anyone knowing. Amos finds a shadowy path on the way to a pond, sets up three leg-hold traps along it, and hides them with leaves. Meanwhile, Tod and Vixey emerge from Vixey's burrow, having spent the night there. They both remark about how happy they are with one another and chase each other into the forest playfully. As they come to the trap-laden path, Vixey becomes worried and refuses to go on, but watches as Tod just shrugs it off. She begs him to be careful as he goes down alone. As he walks, he becomes unsettled. His foot uncovers one of the traps, and as Amos cocks his shotgun, his ears perk up the noise as he steps backward. Luckily, he narrowly escapes the traps, turning and running as fast as he can whilst Amos' gunshots ring out, while Copper takes off after him and Vixey. He buys her more time to escape, then waits for Copper to come closer. As he approaches, Tod distracts him, snarling at him. After a brief fight, Tod sprints back to the burrow with Copper behind his tail. He safely enters it, but Copper is too big to follow him inside and begins thrashing and clawing his way into it. Tod and Vixey attempt to exit out the other end. They then hurry back inside when they see Amos waiting with his gun. He takes a match and some straw and creates a fire in the back way, blocking their escape. He then joins Copper at the front, ready to shoot them both. Vixey coughs and tells Tod that they're trapped and that she's scared. He tells her that this is their only chance as they sprint as fast as they can out the back, narrowly avoiding the flames to Amos' astonishment, putting him into pure shock. They scale a mountain with a waterfall nearby as Copper and Amos follow them up the top.
As Copper and Amos close in on Tod and Vixey, they inadvertently provoke an attack from a large disturbed sleeping grizzly bear, who they accidentally antagonize. Amos fires one single shot before tripping, getting his foot stuck in one of his own traps, and losing his gun, while Copper bravely tries to protect him, and attacks the bear, but is nearly killed in a very vicious fight. Amos frantically tries to free himself, but is not strong enough for the trap's grip, which still holds his foot as tight as possible, whilst Copper battles the bear as this very vicious battle continues to go on for a while, and while Copper manages to hold his own for a while until the bear knocks him out when the battles end, he is soon overwhelmed. Tod, hearing his yelping echo, looks back and sees the horror of him being nearly killed in a very vicious fight. At the moment in which the bear closes in and is about to kill Copper, Tod intervenes, rescues him, and jumps on the bear's back, but continues to battle with him, and ends up leading him to an old fallen trunk above the waterfall. Just as he comes close to Tod, he raises his paw and hits the sprinters of the old log, which breaks and sends them both falling down the waterfall with the fallen trunk plummeting down with them. The bear is gone, while Tod struggles to shore.
Copper approaches Tod as he lies in the lake below, amazed at his bravery, in spite of past events, when Amos appears, having freed his foot from the trap, and is about to fire at Tod. Copper interposes his body in front of him and refuses to move away. Amos finally lowers his gun and leaves with Copper, but not before he and Tod share one last smile before parting. At home, Widow nurses Amos' ankle back to health while Chief and Copper rest. Copper, before resting, smiles as he remembers the day when he became friends with Tod. On a hill, Vixey joins Tod as he looks down on the homes of Copper and Widow.
As the film fades out, a voice-over of young Tod and young Copper affirming their everlasting friendship is heard in the breeze.
- Mickey Rooney as Tod
- Keith Coogan as Young Tod
- Kurt Russell as Copper
- Corey Feldman as Young Copper
- Pearl Bailey as Big Mama
- Jack Albertson as Amos Slade
- Sandy Duncan as Vixey
- Jeanette Nolan as Widow Tweed
- Pat Buttram as Chief
- John McIntire as Mr. Digger
- John Fiedler as Porcupine
- Richard Bakalyan as Dinky
- Paul Winchell as Boomer
- Clarence Nash as the Bear
Production of the film has begun in 1977. It has marked a turning point in the studio: Walt Disney's "nine old men" did initial development of the animation, but by the end of production the younger set of Disney animators completed the production process. To craft the film, then Disney CEO Ron W. Miller has decided to mainly use new talent to make their debuts with the film, as the pioneers of the company, referred to as the "Nine Old Men", are nearing retirement. It may have been the last film Ollie Johnston, Frank Thomas, and Wolfgang Reitherman, considered "legends" of Disney, have worked on.
The animators and screenplay writers are primarily new, as were the film directors Art Stevens, Ted Berman, and Richard Rich. Wolfgang Reitherman was the producer, Richard Rich the production supervisor and Larry Clemmons was the head of the story team. Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston did much of the early development of the main characters. The newer generation of animators, such as Don Bluth, Ron Clements, Glen Keane, and John Musker, would finalize the animation and complete the film's production. These animators have moved through the in-house animation training program, and would all play an important role in the Disney Renaissance of the eighties and nineties.
However, the transition between the old guard and the new resulted in arguments over how to handle the film. Reitherman has had his own ideas on the designs and layouts that were to be used, however, the newer team backed Stevens, except Don Bluth, who has felt Disney's work was stale. He walked out, taking eleven others with him, and formed one of his own animation studios. The exodus of the animators forced the cancellation of the film's original Christmas 1980 premiere while new artists had been hired.
Early in production, Don Bluth left Disney, taking 11 Disney animators with him. This studio, which eventually becomes Sullivan Bluth Studios, was Disney's main rival through the 1980s and has produced The Secret of NIMH and a number of other well-known films. With 17% of the animators now gone, production on The Fox and the Hound had been delayed. Bluth had animated Widow Tweed and her cow, [[Abigail the Cow|Abigail, and his team have worked on the rest of the sequence. Four years later the film had been finished. Approximately 360,000 drawings, 110,000 painted cels, and 1,100 painted backgrounds made up the finished product. A total of 180 people, including 24 animators, have all worked on the film.
In the original screenplay, Chief had been originally slated to die the same as in the novel, but Stevens decided that he doesn't want to have an on-screen death and modified the film so that he survives, like Baloo in The Jungle Book and Trusty in Lady and the Tramp.
The directors on the film were Ted Berman and Richard Rich, as well as Art Stevens, who had been a codirector. Berman previously had credits as a character animator for the 1961 film One Hundred and One Dalmatians and writer for the 1977 film, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. He later went on to be codirector for the 1985 film, The Black Cauldron.
Rich had been a Disney employee since 1972 but this was his first major assignment. He also served as a co-director for The Black Cauldron. He later founded Rich Animation Studios. Stevens was previously credited as a character animator for the 1953 film Peter Pan, the previously mentioned One Hundred and One Dalmatians and the 1973 film Robin Hood. He also previously directed the 1977 film, The Rescuers.
When John Lasseter was hired at the Disney Animation studio, his first job was to animate the introduction of Copper. He also collaborated with Glen Keane on the climactic fight scene.
Other new animators who have worked on this film are:
- John Musker and Ron Clements (story artist and animator): Producer-director team of The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, Treasure Planet, and finally The Princess and the Frog.
- Tim Burton (animator, assistant & development artist): Producer of Batman Forever and director of Batman, Batman Returns, Beetlejuice, and many other acclaimed films.
- Jerry Reese (animator): Director of The Brave Little Toaster.
- Brad Bird (animator): director of Warner Bros.' The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille and previously of The Simpsons.
- Chris Buck (animator): Director of Disney's Tarzan, Frozen, and Frozen II.
- Don Bluth (animator): Director of The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail, The Land Before Time, and All Dogs Go to Heaven.
- Kelly Asbury (assistant animator): Director of Shrek 2 and Gnomeo & Juliet.
- Jeffrey J. Varab (character animator, special effects supervision): Character animator for films like FernGully: The Last Rainforest, Rock-a-Doodle, Felidae, All Dogs Go to Heaven, and Casper.
- Nik Ranieri (character clean-up): Animator for Roger Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, later supervising animator on Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, Hercules, and The Emperor's New Groove.
- Virgil Ross (character animation supervision): Worked on Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore.
- Ennis McNulty and Dave Bennett (character animation supervision): Supervising Animators in Disney animator Rick Reinert's unit.
- Main article: The Fox and the Hound (video)
The film premiered in theaters on July 10, 1981. It was later re-released to theaters on March 25, 1988. Its first home video release, on VHS format, came on March 4, 1994, as the last video of the "Walt Disney Classics" collection (it has not been included in the "Masterpiece Collection", despite appearing in a promotional advertisement for the videos). On May 2, 2000, it was released on Region 1 DVD for the first time under the "Walt Disney Gold Classic Collection". A 25th-anniversary special edition DVD, featuring a remastered version of the film and a disc of extras, has been released on October 10, 2006. A Blu-ray release was announced for 2011 to celebrate the film's 30th anniversary. Both it and The Fox and the Hound 2 have been included in this release. This Blu-ray release included it in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. As opposed to the Gold Classic Collection and 25th Anniversary Edition DVD's, they only had a Pan and Scan version of the film.
Although the film is a financial success, reactions from film critics are mixed. Critics of the 1980s, while offering praise for the animation, are disappointed in the story, and that the predominantly young creative staff, many of who have only recently joined the company, have produced a movie that seemed very conservative in both concept and execution. Since then it has become a hit for its conservative style. It has a "fresh" 69% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 26 reviews with a 6.6 score, with a consensus that states, "The Fox and the Hound, is a likable, charming, unassuming effort that manages to transcend its thin, predictable plot". Among users, it scored 78% with a 3.5/5 rating.
Leonard Maltin in his book The Disney Films noted that the film has had "good news/bad news" for Disney. The good news is that Disney's young animation team seemed to be in "firm control." The fight scene between Copper and the bear, by Glen Keane, in particular, received great praise in the animation world. The bad news, according to Maltin, has been that the film relied too much on "formula cuteness, formula comedy relief, and even formula characterizations," causing a step back for the studio. Maltin suggests that perhaps this safeness came from the fear of displeasing the memory of Walt Disney. Overall, he considered the film "charming" stating that it is "warm, and brimming with personable characters" and that it "approaches the old Disney magic at times."
Craig Butler from All Movie Guide stated that the film has been a "warm and amusing, if slightly dull, entry in the Disney animated canon." He also called it "conventional and generally predictable" with problems in pacing. However, he praised its climax and animation, as well as the ending. His final remark is that "Two of the directors, Richard Rich and Ted Berman, would next direct The Black Cauldron, a less successful but more ambitious project."
In The Animated Movie Guide, Jerry Beck considered the film "average", though he praises the voice work of Pearl Bailey as Big Mama, and the extreme dedication to detail shown by animator Glen Keane in crafting the fight scene between Copper, Tod, and the bear.
However, the film has its fair share of praise, too. Richard Corliss of Time, praised it for an intelligent story about prejudice. He argued that it shows that biased attitudes can poison even the deepest relationships, and its bittersweet ending delivers a powerful and important moral message to audiences.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times also praised the film, saying that "for all of its familiar qualities, this movie marks something of a departure for the Disney studio, and its movement is in an interesting direction. The Fox and the Hound is one of those relatively rare Disney animated features that contains a useful lesson for its younger audiences. It's not just cute animals and frightening adventures and a happy ending; it's also a rather thoughtful meditation on how society determines our behavior."
Cart of Variety.com called the film "...A solid beautifully crafted animated feature..." Vincent Canby of the New York Times said, "...A pretty, relentlessly cheery, old-fashioned sort of Disney cartoon feature, chock-full of bouncy songs..."
TV Guide gave the film four out of five stars, saying that "The animation here is better than average (veteran Disney animators Wolfgang Reitherman and Art Stevens supervised the talents of a new crop of artists that developed during a 10-year program at the studio), though not quite up to the quality of Disney Studios in its heyday. Still, it has a lot of "heart" and is wonderful entertainment for both kids and their parents. Listen for a number of favorites among the voices."
Michael Scheinfeld of Common Sense Media gave the film's quality a rating of 4 out of 5 stars, stating that it "develops into a thoughtful examination of friendship and includes some mature themes, especially loss."
The film has gained a considerable following and it was awarded a Golden Screen Award in 1982. It was also nominated for a Young Artist Award and the Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film.
- This is the last film to have any involvement from Wolfgang Reitherman, who was known to be the director for all the Disney films between The Sword in the Stone and The Rescuers, he worked as a producer for this one.
- This was the first Disney film Tim Burton worked on in his career with Disney, he was an uncredited animator.
- This was the last animated Disney film to use the old Buena Vista logo. The name would only be used on the closing credits until it would be replaced by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
- This was the last Disney film to have all the credits in the opening and only say "The End, A Walt Disney Production". Closing credits with pop songs and/or instrumental music would be used from now on.
- This was the last Disney film in which Don Bluth was involved. From now on, he would establish Sullivan Bluth Studios (AKA Don Bluth Entertainment) to release such successful franchises as The Secret of NIMH and All Dogs Go to Heaven.
- This was the last video in the Walt Disney Classics line. Starting with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, all other Disney Canon titles would be released in the similar line, the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection.
- Early copies of the 1994 VHS release have only The Lion King teaser trailer. Later copies have The Lion King teaser trailer and The Return of Jafar trailer.
- This is the last film Disney released under the name "Walt Disney Productions". The studio would go by "The Walt Disney Company" from now on.
- This is the last film Disney produced by itself, before becoming a distributor to films by other production companies, namely Pixar.
- ↑ Maltin, Leonard (2000). "Chapter 3: Without Walt", The Disney Films, page 275.
- ↑ Maltin, Leonard (2010). Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide, page 490. ISBN 0-451-22764-6.
- ↑ "The Fox and the Hound (1981)". Retrieved on August 7, 2015.
- ↑ Corliss, Richard (July 20, 1981). "Cinema: The New Generation Comes of Age". time.com.
- ↑ Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1981). "The Fox and the Hound Movie Review (1981)", rogerebert.com. Retrieved on May 4, 2016.
- ↑ "The Fox And The Hound: Review". Movies.tvguide.com. Retrieved on August 7, 2015.
- ↑ Michael Scheinfeld. "The Fox and the Hound Movie Review". Retrieved on August 10, 2016.