If a film franchise you love goes through a “creative downturn” or your favourite band have a spell consisting of a couple of drab albums devoid of fresh ideas, you could compare it to travelling aboard a luxury cruise liner on a tour of the South Pacific, but encountering some turbulent waters in a force nine gale. As someone who is by no means a Disney fan, yet somehow finds themselves trawling through the series anyway, the company’s creative downturn of the late 70’s and 80’s feels like travelling over the same turbulent waters in a force nine gale, but in a garbage boat heading for Pleasure Island. Despite the, at times unpleasant, journey, I’m persevering on this rocky trip of watching through all things Disney, even if by continuing, I await a fate comparable to the obnoxious brats that end up on Pleasure Island. For those that aren’t as big a Disney fan as me (sarcasm), that means being turned into a Donkey-Slave-Child.
With that in mind we come to today’s film, the world famous and highly renowned (again, sarcasm.) feature, ‘The Fox and the Hound’. As someone who is “misguided” when it comes to Disney, I look to offer advice to other “misguided” people who are nervous about which films to commit precious minutes of their life to, as well as to Disney fans who are trying to gently manipulate share their passion to their partners / spouses and friends. By advice, this mostly means saying which films will be tolerable to someone who doesn’t like the Disney approach to cinema, and a warning to those well-meaning Disney fans as to which films could result in break-up / divorce or unfriending on Facebook. If a friend decided I would enjoy and then made me watch “The Three Caballeros”, I would probably go a step further and block them. ‘The Fox and the Hound’ is a perfect example of a film I would not recommend to a fellow “misguided” person. I’m not saying it’s a terrible film, It’s just very, very…. “Disney-ish”. All the stereotypical characteristics that make up a film that is unmistakably Disney are present in abundance here. And if those characteristics don’t usually appeal, this film most definitely won’t be for you…
The one thing about the film that doesn’t reek of Disney is the opening credits. There isn’t that happy-go-lucky tune or warbling major-key choir. There’s a dark, ominous ambience. And a feeling that something horrible is about to happen in the woodland that we’re panning across…. Ok, maybe it reeks of Disney a little bit…
We see a vixen running with her fox-cub as they’re being chased by hunters… It’s rather familiar. It reminds me of a certain Disney film involving deer. That’s never good. But surely they won’t kill a baby’s mother in the opening two minutes of film would they? Even Disney wouldn’t be that… Oh, they have. Just great. After taking the fox-cub to safety, she gets shot. This is going to be a long eighty-something minutes.
Now obviously by the title alone, I was expecting a plot that alluded to fox hunting, and by that fact alone, it was likely to be an emotional rollercoaster… but this in two minutes? Really? I wasn’t prepared for that. The only silver-lining is that it happens so early in the film, there isn’t chance to become invested in the mother / son bond, or the characters themselves, like you do in Bambi. That still doesn’t take away from the emotional fuckery that’s been put upon the viewer with so much of the film to go. I know there are plenty of films where a character dies, and death is a part of life, especially if you’re a fox dealing with bastard humans, but a death like this stands out for a few reasons. Firstly, being a baby’s mother that dies, the viewer knows that the cub will always be an orphan, and never have protection from the one source that any person or animal most wants and needs. There is next to nothing that the film can do in its remaining runtime to cover the eternal loss. I give kudos for Disney giving him a loving owner, but later on they even have to fuck with that. Another reason that Disney takes a character death to the next level is that the fox-cub is ridiculously cute. Human empathy is always triggered more from the suffering of something cute. Especially if the animal has been slightly humanised. The other reason that this is hard to deal with, is that it’s in an animated family film. Even though I expect Disney to do this sort of shit, it’s still harder to deal with it in this setting rather than in a horror film and is a fairly grim start to a family cartoon that contains virtually no comedy, and repeatedly adds new grim or depressing aspects to it. The fox-cub named Tod is adopted by a nice old lady and befriends a bloodhound-puppy named Copper, and they play and frolic. But once the bloodhound has been taught how to hunt, it inevitably ends up with Tod being viewed more as prey than a friend. And of course, sadness at the end of this friendship follows. Later on, in order to protect Tod, the nice old lady releases him into the wild, which of course leads to more sadness. There are a few instances where an animal nearly gets itself killed in true Disney fashion. And there’s the moment where Tod looks in the back of Copper’s owners hunting truck to see many, many fox skins, which becomes grimmer the more you think about it.
So, this has caused me to have an internal debate. I feel that usually, a family cartoon’s primary purpose is to be warm and light-hearted. I also feel that being funny is important because one of the main perks of a family film for any parent is seeing the children laugh. Tom and Jerry, this film isn’t. The debate I’m having is whether this should be a problem or not. Even Kerry, who is a major Disney fan, found the previous film ‘The Rescuers’ to be lacking in humour and light. I suppose a family cartoon can be a serious drama, but I would choose something more playful every time.
To give the film some credit though, every low point has a high point after. After the mother dying, Tod gets a loving owner. After being left in the woods, Vixey (original name) proves to be a good love interest for Tod that ultimately makes him happy. And ultimately, despite wanting him dead, after Tod saves Copper from a bear, the two of them end up as good as they can be in the circumstances. But ultimately, this is still possibly the hardest film I’ve had to review, outside of Bambi. As I’ve said in the past, the easiest films to review are funny films, bad films and films with inexplicable headfucking moments, which Disney usually gives me in abundance. This is a serious film and, as I said before, isn’t even that bad (the low grade I’m giving it is purely based on my personal enjoyment factor) so this has been a slog. I’ll finish with my usual ‘predictable things Disney does’ rating:
⭐ For inexplicably cheesy songs. Also, in recent films Disney has taken to having lyrics that basically just say what is happening in the plot under the assumption most kids (and me) had stopped paying attention at some point.
⭐ Parent snuff. Say no more.
⭐ Frolicking animals. As always.
⭐ High-drama-physics-bending chase scenes.
⭐ To be honest, I’m going to have to start adding a star for Disney forgetting that a bit of light amusement goes a long way as that’s certainly been absent for the last 2 films…
So, all in all, this was a VERY Disney film. Black Cauldron next. The hits just keep coming…
I’m not shocked at Ben’s opinion of this film. I was, however, surprised at my own. I actually quite enjoyed it. Despite what he said in his review, I found quite a few bits funny and found a lot of characters very endearing. Yes, the fox-cub’s mum dies at the beginning. I can’t see how that could’ve progressed the story without the death, so she was essentially collateral damage for the greater good of the film.
What I found interesting was, (and I’m sure a lot of people are aware of this, but the discussions have clearly bypassed me) how Disney have created a very good metaphor for institutionalised racism in society, particularly towards natives. Copper represents the white person and Tod represents the native, showing that as children, before being trained to hate by their parents or peers, they don’t notice any real differences between them and just see someone that they can play and become friends with. Then, once Copper’s owner takes him away to ‘train him to be a hunter’, he learns to see Tod as the enemy that must be destroyed.
Much like the theory behind Elsa singing ‘Let It Go’ because she’s had enough of hiding who she truly is, being a metaphor for coming out as gay, Disney’s broaching these subjects at all is welcomed and needed but could definitely do with being less subtle and a little more in-ya-face.
Or maybe it’s nothing to do with that and just a film about how fox hunting is bad. As a hunting-hating vegetarian and an anti-racist, I’m happy either way. Still look forward to the first openly-gay (and mentioned-is-actually-gay-rather-than-just-alluding-to-it-through-stereotypically-gay-mannerisms) lead (or even strongly supporting) Disney character.