There was trouble in the making of The Fox and the Hound almost from the beginning. It was a movie that saw Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men – a group that had been guarding the studio’s animation efforts for 40 years – phased out for newer animators. Anyone and everyone in the world of Disney animation worked on this film. Brad Bird, Tim Burton, John Lasseter, Glen Keane, Andreas Deja and Don Bluth were part of the new breed, while Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston and Wolfgang Reitherman represented the old breed.
With all that talent assembled, it would stand to reason that this could be among the greatest films ever made by Disney. Sadly, it was the conflict that made this movie fall short. When the corporate overlords and the old guard changed key portions of the film, Don Bluth left the studio and took key animators with him. Others hung on until the end of the movie, then left. So what was the end result?
To be honest, it’s not a bad film. The story of the friendship between Tod, the abandoned fox, and Copper, the hunter’s hound dog is a touching one. Their friendship and the natural bond between them is established very quickly and very well. The film easily relays the message that just because these two are supposed to be enemies, they don’t have to be. In that respect, it goes deeper into delivering a message than any previous Disney animated feature.
Outside of the core aspects of the Tod and Copper relationship, though, there are some serious flaws with the film. The activities of two birds that are chasing a worm provide an unnecessary and distracting subplot. Likewise, while Vixey, the female fox, provides a reason for Tod to engage in the final battle of the film, otherwise she is fairly useless.
The main issue comes, though, in the form of the catalyst for all the trouble, which is the confrontation between Chief, Copper’s mentor in hunting, and Tod. In the original book and the script for the movie, Chief dies. That is what causes Copper to be so angry with Tod. What ultimately happens in the film, however, is that Chief is partially injured. It takes the complete sting out of the confrontation between Chief and Tod, and takes away from Copper’s motivation.
This was the view of Bluth and the young guard as well. It’s part of why they left the studio. While I can’t agree with their actions, their reasoning was sound. Chief’s humorous actions after his accident really take the sting out of the movie, and contrast greatly with the dark tone of the second half of the film. It’s what keeps The Fox and the Hound from being a great film, instead consigning it to a fairly good one.