Dipsters are divided on the Fox and the Hound. Either they were touched and bawled their eyes out when they were five (and again at 15 and 25) or they found it boring then and insipid now. Maybe the divergence comes from how un-Disney the story is; even after the book is unsatisfactorily whitewashed for children, it’s still violent and melancholy. Or maybe the production woes spat out a half-realized miracle, but it shows too much at the seams, like Tinkerbell.
This movie was made during a changing-of-the-guard at the studio. The legendary “Nine Old Men,” who made many of the classics and headed animation for some of the best characters in Disney history, were half retired. The new generation included John Lasseter, Tim Burton, and Don Bluth, as well as Disney Renaissance animators, John Musker, Ron Clements, and Glen Keane. But during the post-Walt tempestuous shuffling of administration and management, Bluth left Disney for its “stale” vision and took a large portion of the animation team with him. Drawn out and over-budget, the film finally was released in 1981, and was a moderate success but never made the impression that other classics have. I don’t begrudge Bluth the decision and his brilliant movies of the 80’s spurred Disney out of complacency into its revival, as Dreamworks did again later. But, I think Fox and Hound is a bit like Todd, orphaned and struggling to survive, with a mild identity crisis and always asking itself “what if?”
Critics who don’t nit-pick the production are offended by the theme, which seems to suggest that we are defined and restricted by our birth and might even promote segregation. I suppose it depends on what you want to focus on in the movie, the friendship or the separation. The cub and the pup had a strong relationship, remarkable in its universality more than its uniqueness. And I’m in the camp who believes that their love was never killed; it remained and touched their worldview for the rest of their lives (which were admittedly short, because foxes in the wild have a life expectancy even less than dogs). They never did meet again, because there was more to the story – there is always more than us and now.
I justify my love for the film by considering it the nearest facsimile to life that Disney, or any Western family animation, created. Sometimes my life does feel like blue birds are singing and summer days are long. Those days mostly came in college before I had to pay utilities, but they I still have them once in a while, moments of cuteness and joy and innocence. Times of terror and anger are there, too. I nearly spent a night desperate on the streets of Naples, though it wasn’t raining on me like it was on Todd. And there are many more days of confusion, when I’m not sure whether to cheer for the woodpecker or the worm. There are many antagonizing people I’d like to reject, if they weren’t loved by someone I hold special.
Most of all, though, sometimes we lose people, and it may be through our own poor decisions. Like Tod and Copper on opposite hills, we have to make our goodbyes in silence, and gratefully accept the time that we did have together.
When I watched the movie again at 15, I cried for a different reason than at 5. I still thought it was unfair, but I didn’t think it was unjust anymore. I don’t know that Tod or Copper could have made their decisions differently. At the time, I was realizing that I had lost track of a good friend, probably for good. She had moved between 8th and 9th, and by 10th grade I don’t think even her parents knew where she was at. I can think of her as a friend that I had, and be very sad, or think of her as a friend I have, somewhere out there. Beneath the pale moonlight. Where dreams come true. She’d probably smack me for being so sappy, though. Sometimes saying goodbye doesn’t have to be bad.