Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Disney's The Fox and the Hound

Trouble was brewing at Disney Studios. Don Bluth, who had just been promoted to a lead animator for Disney's movies, decided that he would leave Disney and start his own animation studio. He brought along other animators that felt the same way he did: Disney films had lost their charm and they wanted to set out to do their own work. The last piece that Bluth would work on for Disney in a large part was Small One, the story about the donkey that Mary rides while pregnant with Jesus, in 1978. He worked on a few things for The Fox and the Hound, but not enough to be officially credited. With Bluth and other animators leaving to form a rival animation company, The Fox and the Hound was postponed for a whole year. Don't be too mad at Bluth though. It's thanks to him that we have all the great Disney films of the 90's. How is that? Bluth did something that little thought anyone could do: he created animated movies to rival Disney's and succeeded. If you look at box office numbers and critical reception, it's not an understatement to say that Bluth's animation company owned the 80's. An American Tail would go on to smash all the records for animated films and that movie was topped by his next hit, The Land Before Time. An American Tail crushed The Great Mouse Detective which came out a few months prior and though The Land Before Time only beat Oliver & Company by $10 million, it was considered a much bigger success critically. Some even called The Land Before Time a more Disney like film than Oliver & Company....ouch. What's my point? If Bluth hadn't kicked Disney in the pants with his better films then we wouldn't have The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and The Lion King.

Disney had lost Bluth and eleven other animators, but they still had a good group of animators left. This would be the last production that would involve Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, who did a lot of the preliminary animation but basically passed the baton onto the new animators. Who were these new animators that Disney employed? Well, you may of heard of a few of them. John Musker and Ron Clements, who gave us The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, and Treasure Planet served as story artists and animators. Tim Burton, best known as director of Batman and Beeltejuice and producer of The Nightmare Before Christmas served as assistant and development artist. John Lasseter, who started out as a skipper on the Jungle Cruise ride and later became an animator on this film, is known for directing Toy Story, Toy Story 2, and A Bug's Life. Lastly, Brad Bird, a writer for The Simpsons and director for The Iron Giant and The Incredibles served as an animator. This group may seem impressive now, but at the time they were just young animators that had a dream. Hmmmmm...that sounded a bit corny. If you want to see a behind the scene making of the movie, click here.

OK, so I haven't said basically anything on The Fox and the Hound. Let me remedy that by getting into the voice acting. The voice cast for The Fox and the Hound was a meeting of the old and the new. Heading up the old side of the cast as adult Tod was Mickey Rooney, who everyone should know already. If you don't, then you really need to get out more. Another cast member on the older side was the voice of Amos Slade (the hunter), Jack Alberston, otherwise known as Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. A more recognizable name is Sandy Duncan, who voices Vixey, Tod's love interest. Duncan was a popular 70's TV star and stage actor, though the only thing I ever saw her in was The New Scooby-Doo Movies. Then you get the slightly younger stars such as Kurt Russel, who voiced adult Copper. Russel really got his career started when he starred in Disney films as a child such as Follow Me, Boys! and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes in the late 60's. Russel even has the distinction of having his name be the last thing that Walt Disney wrote out on a piece of paper, though nobody is sure why he did it. Some believe Disney wrote the name as a way of saying that Russel was the future of Disney films, and other people(my sister) think this was Disney's way of giving clues to whoever murdered him. And you thought that he died of lung cancer! Russel would shake off his Disney roles and star in cult classics like The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, and Escape from New York. One voice in the movie surprised me more than any, and that is the voice of young Copper, Corey Feldman. This is one of those things I didn't know until I was well into my college years. It's funny because this gig was literally his second. He wasn't the famous Lost Boys and Goonies actor when he did the voice. I guess he has Disney to thank for a few things. Keith Coogan, the voice of young Tod also broke into movies with this role, starring in Little House on the Prairie and other TV shows before this. He hasn't starred in much after 1991, but you may remember him from Adventures in Babysitting. Suffice to say, this was a mixed cast.

The Fox and the Hound is about the harsh reality of prejudice, plain and simple. A fox is adopted by an old lady as a pet and the fox quickly becomes friends with a young dog. They have tons of fun until they are told that their friendship cannot last, since they are meant to be enemies. They grow up and the fox is told by the dog that they cannot be like they were and had to live like they are expected to: as mortal enemies. Dog's kill foxes, it's as simple as that. A misunderstanding, a chase, and a bear attack all lead to the two realizing that their friendship can be sustained even though everybody expects them to hate each other. The story has a happy ending of sorts, as we assume that they go on not hating each other.

The story was inspired by Daniel Mannix's novel of the same name, though their plots greatly differ. There are no talking animals in the book version and the fox and dog never become friends. It's more of a story about the life and death of a fox. Tod in the novel runs away from the hunter, Copper and the other dog, Chief and like in the movie, Chief is knocked by a train. In the book, he actually dies. This route was considered for the movie version but Disney was hesitant at that time to kill of a main character, as evidenced with Baloo being alive at the end of The Jungle Book and Trusty in Lady and the Tramp. So, the whole goal for the hunter and Copper is to get revenge on Tod for getting Chief killed. Wonder why they used the name Tod? Tod is similar to Todde, which means Fox in Middle English. Tod apparently has two vixens that he mates and has babies with, all of which get killed by the hunter. Hmmmm...this version might not be as cute and cuddly as the movie version. Oh, and remember how I said that the train hitting Chief was like the movie? There's one point I forgot to mention. Tod tried to get Chief killed by the train. After that, Copper chases after Tod until Tod dies of exhaustion. The hunter in the novel is an old drunk that is forced to go into a retirement home that doesn't allow dogs. Finding this out, he shoots Copper. Aren't happy endings wonderful?

The movie was released in June 1981 and became a moderate box office success. In it's four year production it racked up the largest bill for a Disney movie: $12 million. It made nearly $40 million so they made their money back, but it wasn't as big as The Rescuers. Critics weren't too favorable of this film though. Critic's deemed it completely average. Leonard Maltin stated that the movie was "good news/bad news for Disney" saying that the good news is that the new animators seemed to be in "firm control." The bad news was that the movie relied too much on "formula cuteness, formula comedy relief, and even formula characterizations." Maltin claimed this probably came from the new artists fear of displeasing the memory of Walt Disney. I'm going to take that as the new artists being afraid of the ghost of Walt Disney, who I'm assuming would continually berate them if their artwork and stories were not up to par. Maltin did go on to say that the fight scene between Copper and the bear was one of the best pieces of animation at that time and drew a lot of praise from the animation world. Other critics said basically the same thing, from calling it a cute tale to just plain dull and predictable. I kind of like the movie. It's not way up there or anything, but I do enjoy the lesson of the whole thing. Plus the bear scene is pretty awesome.

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