The Fox and the Hound (1981)

It seems Walt Disney Animation Studios went through a period of making decidedly non-kid friendly movies.  The Fox and the Hound, much like The Rescuers, tells a story that I can easily find faults with as an adult.  Now before I delve into that let me say this: I’m not condemning these films or implying that kids shouldn’t watch them. I watched both as a child and truth be told, some of the darker implications simply went over my head. That tends to be the case with movies like this.  However, going back and re-watching these as an adult makes certain themes stand out for all the wrong reasons.

The Fox and the Hound is a story of two unlikely friends, an orphaned fox and a hunting dog.  As children, Copper the hound and Todd the fox frolic and play in the woods between their homes, while their respective owners go about their lives.  Of course, Copper’s owner is a hunter, and can’t stand a fox on his property.  At one point he chases Todd, shooting haphazardly at him in a very irresponsible way (he doesn’t even look where he’s shooting. He could have killed someone).  Feeling that there’s no other option, Todd’s owner drives him to a game preserve and leaves him, in what is perhaps one of the most upsetting and heartbreaking scenes ever.

Nevermind the fact that this scene is completely unrealistic; Todd has been raised in a house nearly his whole life. He doesn’t know how to fend for himself or hunt to survive.  The widow is basically sentencing him to death by abandoning him here.  Of course, being Disney this is conveniently overlooked, as Todd quickly adapts to his surroundings and becomes enamored of the first girl fox he meets.

Copper’s owner is not so easily swayed. In his infinite wisdom, he decides to break into the game preserve and hunt down Todd anyway.  Copper, now a full-blown hunting dog, is hot on Todd’s trail. He almost catches him until a giant bear suddenly appears, threatening everyone.

Seriously, this has to be the largest bear in existence.

Copper tries to fend off the attack, but he’s unsuccessful.  Just as the bear is about to strike, Todd jumps in, defending both Copper and his owner. He lures the bear away and the two fall over a waterfall.

After all of this, you would think Copper’s owner would give up. Nope, he raises his rifle and poises to shoot Todd. It’s only when Copper stands between his master and his former friend that his owner gives in and says they should go home.  The movie ends with Copper back at his master’s home, while Todd continues living in the woods, supposedly free of pursuit by Copper’s master.

Alright, let’s file this under “Films Disney Would Never Make Today”.  There’s blatant and completely unsafe gun use. There’s misogynistic commentary made by Copper’s owner, directed at the widow.  And while there might be a good message buried somewhere in there about how hatred is a learned trait and not inherently born into anyone, it’s so muddled by everything else that goes on that it’s easy to overlook.  The film might be trying to teach viewers that this prejudice is taught, but it also implies that nothing can be done about it.  There’s still a distinct separation between Copper and Todd, and the film at least implies that the two are no longer in contact.  At best they’ve made peace, but only as long as they remain in completely separate spheres.

It’s as though Disney was attempting to make a progressive movie about acceptance and unity, but was held back from fully developing their message.  There were simply too many depressing scenes peppered throughout for any sort of positive message to shine through.  There are a handful of small, cute scenes that at least allow me to look back on the film and smile, but for the most part it’s an incredibly sad tale of how two young friends are torn apart by prejudice and are unable to overcome the obstacles they face because of their differences.

Now, to dispel the sadness, let’s end on a happy image: Little baby Todd being fed a bottle and drifting off to sleep.

Why couldn’t the movie have more of this? I like my Disney movies cute, not depressing.



One thought on “The Fox and the Hound (1981)

  1. When I saw the post title pop up in my email, made me smile a bit: I kinda know THAT I watched this at SOME point in the past, but it’s been a lotta years…maybe over half my life.

    A little discouraging to realize this sounds like I’ve noticed on a bunch of other older movies: great when I was a kid, but whole different perspective as an adult! And I’ve become particularly sensitized to on-screen stuff with animals (and/or strong on-screen reactions to off-screen stuff with animals).

    So just as I’m settling on the notion of “ok, nope, no need to seek this one out” you went and threw that really darned cute pic in there…exactly the sorta thing that melts my heart.

    So…thank you for the smile, and ending on that note…and maybe the little bit of cuteness will redeem any re-watch, should I ever get around to it.


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