The Fox and the Hound ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

I remember seeing this one in the theater during its 1988 re-release. I have no recollection of ever watching it on either VHS or DVD, so it's been 26 years since I last saw it. I'd forgotten the voice cast entirely, which is surprising since my first crush was Sandy Duncan. (Not real Sandy Duncan, mind you, but animated Sandy Duncan as she appeared on Scooby-Doo.)

What I did remember, though, was the emotional impact that the film made on me as a 9 year-old boy. I found during this viewing that not only did it still resonate with me, but that it affected me in ways that my younger self couldn't have perceived. I watched it with Josephine curled up on my lap. I even remarked to her at one point that this (referring to on-screen violence directed at critters) is why none of the cats are allowed outside.

The early 80's are often dismissed as part of Disney's dark ages. I'll readily concede that the animation isn't as rich as their golden age works, but there was still clearly some pride in storytelling and character. I wouldn't trust a person who didn't care about Tod.

Bambi is the go-to reference for Disney's anti-hunting message, but I would argue that The Fox and the Hound is the more affecting film, in large part because it pays more attention to characters and their relationships. It's nearly Shakespearean to know how doomed the friendship is, and having to watch as Tod's naivete yields to the harsh reality. It's the kind of narrative that could fall flat because it's so obvious and predictable, but Tod is such a sympathetic character that it works.

As a kid, I'm sure I was bothered by the scene in which the widow drives Tod out to the nature reserve and leaves him there, but it can't have affected me the way it did this time. At one point in my life, I might have become cynical about such things, but I've outgrown that arrogance. This time, it was outright hurtful to watch.

I was also struck by two other elements. Firstly, though there are some songs, this doesn't play out like a typical Disney animated feature. This isn't a bombastic movie, and the songs are appropriately subdued.

The other thing is the level of violence. At times, it's so casual and pervasive that it's troubling. Then it goes and uses for levity...more violence! It's a bit confusing for the film to ask us to care so much about Tod, but to ask us to laugh at the birds trying to eat the caterpillar (which doesn't even make sense), or to not even think at all about the foxes trying to catch and eat a fish. Or, for that matter, how Amos is only casually injured by the trap that hits his leg in the finale.

Speaking of the finale, I love how understated it is. Tod and Copper never say a word to one another. They share a look, and then go their separate ways. I wonder if this isn't why the film rates as a second-tier film for a lot of Disney fans; there's no triumphant celebration to punctuate the conclusion.

We cut from their parting to Copper on the farm, the widow mending Amos (which also doesn't make sense), then pull back and see Tod and Vixey in silhouette. They don't say a single thing. We don't see their faces. We don't need to, and I respect that the filmmakers trusted us kids with that ending.

The Fox and the Hound Re-ranked on My Flickchart (#671/1640)

The Fox and the Hound > Analyze This --> #671
The Fox and the Hound > Planet of the Apes (2001) --> #410
The Fox and the Hound < Mickey's Christmas Carol --> #410
The Fox and the Hound > Office Space --> #307
The Fox and the Hound > Harvey --> #256
The Fox and the Hound > Vincent --> #231
The Fox and the Hound < The Prestige --> #231
The Fox and the Hound > The Small One --> #223
The Fox and the Hound > Muppet Treasure Island --> #220
The Fox and the Hound > Silverado --> #219
The Fox and the Hound < The Prestige --> #219

The Fox and the Hound was re-ranked on my Flickchart to #219/1640