Before Pixar told us all that "you've got a friend in me" in that annoyingly warbly voice, Disney had a pair of critters that taught us how to be the best of friends... until you grow up and try to kill each other.
It wasn't taboo for family features to break your heart before the flicks went ridiculously PC, almost vindictively, to teach a lesson. 'Dumbo' and 'Bambi' come to mind, with the heaps of torment and mocking aimed at a baby, and a child losing its parent. These films weren't candy-coated, even if they had their moments of ridiculous cuteness that could keep viewers with the feature. 'The Fox and the Hound' is yet another cuddling-ly cute feature from Disney that takes ahold of your heart, rips it out of your chest, and stomps victoriously as you're left suffering. It may be cute to the point of cliche or pandering, but lessons are taught, and most definitely learned, by the adversity portrayed onscreen.
Disney's twenty fourth full length animated feature, adapted (read: made family friendly) from the Daniel P Mannix novel, is one cruel mistress. A message feature, preaching the ability to rise above one's roots, one's typecast, to deviate from social norms and make one's own decisions, 'The Fox and the Hound' just so happens to also be as saccharinely sweet as the tale of an orphaned baby fox could be, as the young Tod (Keith Mitchell, later Mickey Rooney) gets adopted by the Widow Tweed (Jeanette Nolan). At the same time, the hunter next door (Jack Albertson) introduces his main hunting dog (Pat Buttram) to a new companion, the puppy Copper (Corey Feldman, later Kurt Russell). Before they are taught to be the hunter and the hunted, Copper and Tod form a friendship they think will never be tested or broken. Unfortunate circumstances will change that in time, and best friends accidentally become enemies.
'The Fox and the Hound' isn't a preachy film. Its message is underneath the surface, no matter what interpretation one has of the meaning behind the film. This isn't 'The Chronicles of Narnia' and the Jesus lion. Instead, there's a story for children, to learn about nature, to stare at the adorably cute animals and witness their trials. And there's one for adults, who will remember friendships that got cast aside along the way, about the tragic ironies in life, about people stuck in their ways to their own detriment, about inundation into status quo, be it right or wrong. Of all the messages of 'The Fox and the Hound,' it's also important to learn another message hidden in this film: we can't all grow up to be Kurt Russell. Corey Feldman was in for a rude awakening when his parents finally burst that bubble.
The story is actually quite sound, enough so to make the somewhat inferior dressing and side plots be less distracting. Boomer and Dinky's quest to get the fuzzy worm will teach children about the seasons, about nature, about change (and things that never change), Big Mama is a good, wholesome character, a nurturer creature who may as well be a fairy godmother -- but their stories never really mesh with that of the instinctive enemies. The squabbling humans, each of whom is the owner of one of the soon-to-be squabbling critters, they're about as deep as a cornbread plate and twice as plain, but, unlike the others, their parts are indispensable. It's hard to not connect Tweed as a motherly figure and Slade as the grumpy neighbor next door, with their trivial quarrels and misunderstandings keeping this hetero-lifemate vision of 'Romeo and Juliet' somewhat engaging, adding a weird depth to it all. Fighting parents, leading to fighting children. Makes enough sense!
'The Fox and the Hound' may be the film that caused Don Bluth to leave Disney. It may be yet another low blow from Disney, with the opening scene dispatching of a mother to an infant creature. It may have very uneven music and some bizarre pacing, and it may even demand viewers bring a tissue or two (or a well timed "break" to hide one's tears). Some scenes may seem stolen, like the ice gag that is almost ripped straight out of 'Bambi.' It's one of the last films to have that classic Disney charm and feel, though, before the formula would be reinvented with 'The Little Mermaid' eight years later. An educational guilt trip of cuteness and cruelty, 'The Fox and the Hound' is probably one of the more underrated films in the studio's animated canon, one of their better talking animal features.
Ah, the midquel. Yes, that's a word...kinda. See, you have your sequels -- objects that take place after pre-existing events. Then there's the prequel -- which takes place beforehand, often in the form of an origin story. Some films or stories don't lend themselves to either of these devices, and 'The Fox and the Hound' most certainly is one of them. You can't go younger in a film that features the creatures as babies before they ever met, and aside from both leads having babies who turn out to be friends, going later in their lives won't work, especially in a kid's film, due to the way Tod looks like some kind of leering ginger pervert with his pencil thin mustache looking whiskers.
So, as writers and producers have done for some time now, instead of going to the obvious directions for the cash-in attempt, sometimes an unnecessary story has to be told within the original tale, filling in gaps in a leap in time, or even just adding in at no apparent point, just an approximate. Disney did this with 'Bambi II,' a midquel about fifty years too late to be relevant, and they did it twenty five years after Tod and Copper first broke hearts. Just keep in mind, this was from the same era in Disney direct-to-video fare as 'Cinderella III' and 'Kronk's New Groove,' before these cheaper features went legit with the 'Tinker Bell' flicks.
Did the original 'The Fox and the Hound' confuse you on more than one occasion? Like, how about the time when Tod reminded Copper how great a singer he was, or the time that some random bandana wearing mutt showed up to get shot instead of Tod at the end? Oh, that's right, that never happened...but don't tell that to 'The Fox and the Hound II,' the retconning blasphemy of a money-grabbing bastard child. Taking place when both the fox and the hound were "children" of sorts, this feature focusses on the budding friendship, with Copper having his doubts about being good at anything, while Tod tries to convince him he's great regardless. A chance meeting with a group of singing canines at the nearby county fair is a revelation for the self-pitying pup, and soon he becomes a song-spinning sensation with "The Singin' Strays!" However, his budding sense of self worth comes at the expense of his friendship with Tod, as the best friends no longer get to spend time with each other. In the end, the youngins that once talked of being best friends forever will have to realize what true friendship is.
I'd like to take a minute, just sit right there, as I tell you how I became the prince of a town called...wait, no. I really want to talk about how awful this film is. Films like this, frankly, are why Disney DTV features got such a bad, bad reputation for themselves. It has absolutely nothing to do with the original. It does not fit, any way or any how, in the story. What was once a real educational, touching, and borderline heartbreaking story is now fodder for a batch of random characters that never should have existed. Tod and Copper were once representations of their animal species, no matter how close they came to paralleling people in their emotions or plights. Now, they really are nothing like that. Aside from the iconic voices being stripped, leaving unrelated, unfamiliar words that are tough to connect to the characters, the recognizable characters are exploited shamelessly. The original worked because the friendship was never truly tested before the two were torn apart by nature and time. Now, we have the most trivial, ridiculous contrivances butting their ugly heads in, not allowing us to have the pure creatures we remember from so long ago.
This 69 minute fiasco has pace issues that make it feel twice as long, with no moment to connect to anyone or anything the entire time. Animals no longer act like animals. People are too abundant and one dimensional. Side characters are distracting, cliche, and problematic, with an awful storyline that is meant to parallel the growing rift between Tod and Copper. The music is out of place and excessive, acting as detours rather than transitions, lessons, or exposition; they're bonafide music videos. Classic side characters are long forgotten. The heart and soul of the film is gone, yet here is some mockery of a film traipsing around with the same main characters and name. It's really quite insulting.
As bad as 'The Fox and the Hound II' is, and boy is it bad, there are shining moments, chief amongst them, Rob Paulsen. His name is Robert Paulsen. His name is Robert Paulsen. His name...sorry, I keep trying to think of better films, to distract me from this pain. Anyways, Paulsen steps into the shoes of Pat Buttram (the original voice of Chief), masterfully. Hearing his performance, you'll be quick to go to IMDb to verify that Buttram, deceased as he may be, wasn't involved in the recording. It's that good. And...alright I lied, there aren't shining moments, just shining moment, singular. Jonah Bobo and Harrison Fahn, who portray Todd (yup, two d's) and Copper, respectively, are less than ideal choices for the lead roles, while Reba McEntire and Patrick Swayze fail to impress. Jeff Foxworthy is also in the cast, to further validate my statements with the basic "you might be a crummy film if...." presence, but thankfully it's nothing major. This film should not have been made. It seems like a story that wouldn't work and recognizable, sellable faces were thrown in just so the writers could get paid. I say writers, which is scary, because it took two people to come up with a screenplay this bad, this blatantly awful. Congratulations Rich Burns and Roger S.H. Schulman... you just killed a piece of my childhood.
'The Fox and the Hound' Movie Score: 3.5/5
'The Fox and the Hound II' Movie Score: 1.5/5
The Disc: Vital Stats
Disney's 'The Fox and the Hound' double feature Blu-ray release is an odd one for the studio. Housed in a standard thickness three disc case, we're given a single BD50 for both films (region coded A/B/C), and two separate DVD discs, with the original film in its newest disc incarnation, a triple dip now). The menu system for this double feature has one button for all options, then the ability to pick each film from there. Supplements are not film specific.
This title was released early to Disney Movie Club members as a monthly "director's selection" title. Don't get excited, though. This is the first time such a promotion has happened, and the discount club has some pretty awful monthly "sales."
Two films, one disc. It sounds like some kind of internet shock video, but it's really just something we're starting to see more and more on Blu-ray, where cost conscious studios pack as much content into the single and double-layered optical discs as possible, sometimes at the expense of quality. This 'The Fox and the Hound' double feature is the first Blu-ray from the studio to double stack a single disc, as it were, with two AVC MPEG-4 encodes at 1080p giving us results that, having seen 'Dumbo,' another non-prestige title, are somewhat expected.
The light film grain in the original film doesn't seem tampered with, and color clarity and boldness is actually quite superb! The details of the background panes are fantastic, really quite beautiful, while the obviously lower grade animated, less defined characters and objects don't suffer one bit from banding or artifacting, which are often the signs of excessive compression. Colors maintain their solidarity for the most part, with only a few moments in the film where the animation seems poorly performed with strobing due to mismatched shaded panes, a relatively minor note considering the amount of runtime of this issue compared to all the moments not suffering from it.
However, there are some problems that have to be addressed. Light noise can pop up in backgrounds and foregrounds, and is never all that much of an issue, until the changing of the seasons sequence, where the autumn pond has this error in amounts impossible to miss. There are constant crude animation artifacts, problems inherent in the film itself (that are not being held against this disc or its scoring!), with quite a few sequences featuring some pretty rag-tag animation, where colors don't exactly abide by their outlines, or those moments where outlines seem edgy and ever-moving. The random edge issues are also inherent issues, pronounced areas that also won't be dinged for, while the minimal dirt is also nothing to worry about, as you really have to keep an eye out for a blip here and there. The real issue with this release is something some viewers may miss, really. The right side of the picture window has an ever-constant moving line running vertically that wavers to and fro, gaining and losing thickness, sometimes even fringing like it were some kind of VHS tape. This wear, which may be visible for the first time on home video with this premiere of the 1.66:1 framing (which also appears for the first time on the new DVD release) can be quite the eyesore, so do be prepared to consciously veer left watching this film. Once you start noticing this issue, it's hard to look away!
Since 'The Fox and the Hound II' is a very recent (2006) "film," it has more than a few advantages over the 30 year old original, visually speaking. The 1.78:1 framed cartoon may be akin to a candy coated razor blade, but it is awfully enticing here with its beautiful 1080p encode.
Colors are flat out gorgeous, and there may not be any other word for them. Detail levels are fantastic, color transitions in objects and settings are divine; the picture is just beautiful. Foregrounds, backgrounds, they're all amazingly sharp, and primaries and pastels in the fair sequences are borderline demo material. Borderline. As stupendous as this film looks, there are a few problems, the most obvious being the pencil thin outlines of characters sometimes doing a real light aliasing job in motion. The unnatural CG shots that refuse to blend with the animation, that's a film problem, but the tiny band here and there, and the massive pixelation of the ticker tape parade confetti? Problematic. Sure, the confetti's problem is due to a small source being blown up past its proper resolution, but it's a major distraction when that scene hits. Added up, these issues hold back the midquel from being a five star video transfer, but this one comes awfully close to being top tier in one department!
'The Fox and the Hound' Video Score: 3.5/5
'The Fox and the Hound II' Video Score: 4.5/5
I really don't see why an "Anniversary Edition' like this two-pack of 'The Fox and the Hound' flicks earns a pair of lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks, on one disc to boot, when 'Bambi,' one of Disney's regularly vaulted "Platinum" titles, didn't even get as much, but...well, complaining about that won't fix it.
'The Fox and the Hound' isn't a sonic marvel. It does sound really good for a film of its age, though. The voice acting isn't contaminated by any static, hum, or other recording maladies, and prioritization is never an issue. The film doesn't exactly utilize the rear channels, as the score even barely registers, but this light matrixing of the sound does try to keep you engaged in the film, and the bass was appreciable, with some almost robust bumps and thumps in the truncated runtime spicing things up. I did have some problems with dynamics, as certain line readings/recordings do not match their settings all that well (particularly an outdoor yelling scene that sounds like it's in the bathroom), and a slight bit of ambience all around would have been nice, but with this thirty-year-old flick, you get what one should expect from a title of this era, that isn't in Disney's prestigious lines that get the ridiculously meticulous remasterings.
The audio for 'The Fox and the Hound II' is a step up from the original. The modern sound design utilizes every channel, albeit inconsistently, and does so convincingly. Rears get actual ambience, as well as a few bits of movement. Localization is on tap quite a bit, as changing "camera" angles move dialogue from one channel to another at a moment's notice, and the effect works wonderfully, and flawlessly, here. Activity levels spike and dip dramatically, though, so don't expect to be constantly engaged. Bass is also a bit of an odd duck, as this music-heavy feature has very little thump behind it, even in the soundtrack, and often times is stagnant to barely present. Dialogue recordings are pitch perfect, free from defect, another plus. This track would have received higher marks if the sound design didn't just up and quit randomly. As is, it's a nice step up, and is pretty darned good for a DTV feature!
'The Fox and the Hound' Audio Score: 3.5/5
'The Fox and the Hound II' Audio Score: 4/5
Now this isn't cool. The bonus DVDs for both films include extras not found on the DVD. It is my belief to not assign scores to extras found on full-length DVD bonus discs, just ones that are bonus only, so there will be no love had here for the Sing-Along or Passing the Baton features on the original, or the Music Video and Backstage special featuring the making of the music on the "sequel."
The fact that there are two bonus DVDs is great, don't get me wrong, but a release that is 66% DVD, with only 20% of the extras being found on the Blu-ray is not how one impresses me. The only points here are for the spare movie copies.
There are "extras" on the menu promoting Disney 3D and Digital Copies, but since neither apply here, who bloody cares? The real highlight has to be the DVD discs, or the 250 Disney Movie Rewards points included in this release.