Disney films made in the ’70s and ’80s are often overlooked in favor of classics like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and The Lion King and more contemporary movies like Frozen. But many of the films made between 1970 and 1988 have creative stories, darker tones and beautiful unrivaled animation. The Fox and the Hound is especially indicative of this era, with a more somber tone, a uniquely allegorical story and detailed animation.
The Story: After losing his mother, a kit fox named Tod is taken in by a rural farmer known as Widow Tweed. Tod’s only neighbor is a gruff hunter named Amos Slade, who also recently adopted a young hound dog called Copper. Tod and Copper become fast friends, even though Copper is being raised to hunt animals, including foxes. As they grow up, the two friends begin to learn that society never wanted them together and discover different loyalties that will cause rifts within their friendship.
Why It’s a Good Family Movie: Disney movies are often tear-jerkers. While the deaths of Mufasa in The Lion King and Bambi’s mother in Bambi are sad moments that come to mind, in my mind, there’s nothing close to the amount of emotional pain Tod endures within this film and the sorrow that it instills within the viewer. Kids, especially those who have lost family members, will be able to sympathize with Tod, and learn from him, too. Despite the tragedy in his life, he always finds positivity.
Additionally, the film touches on the hardships of growing up, and the loss of relationships that come with it. In a gut-wrenching scene Tod has to say goodbye to Widow Tweed, his new parental figure, because he has become too old and thus is too much of a risk living near Slade, a man who hunts foxes. Additionally – spoiler alert — while they mend their friendship, Tod and Copper never become the friends they originally were due to life taking them on separate paths. While the film acknowledges the harsh truth that life may separate you from the friends you grow up with, it reinforces the idea that the bond you create will be important for your whole life. It’s a touching message that will particularly resonate with older kids and older adult viewers who have lost touch with a friend.
Whether through class, cultural, political or any other type of difference, the film is an allegory that society often ruins what could otherwise be great relationships between people. If the characters in the film can get through this unreasonable hatred and learn to accept and appreciate each other in the end, then shouldn’t society at large be able to do that, too?
Finally, the film’s animation is topnotch. The backgrounds are beautifully painted, with gorgeous vistas, wildlife, rolling rivers and waterfalls. The film makes you appreciate the beauty of nature, without having to leave your living rooms. The animals in the film are also expertly drawn, with lifelike mannerisms that could only be achieved by carefully studying real animals. While the titular fox and hound are clearly demonstrative of this, the bear at the end has always struck me as being exceptionally good in the way the animators made it seem so demonic and imposing. Although detailed fur is easier to animate in contemporary computer-animated features, the bear’s fur in this scene is especially fluid and looks insanely realistic for hand-drawn animation.
Age Recommendation: Firearms feature prominently throughout the film. In the beginning, there is a shot off-screen followed by an implied animal death. Amos Slade, the primary antagonist of the movie, constantly shoots his gun at animals, although he has the aim of a Stormtrooper (meaning he never seems to hit his target). One elderly dog is hit by a train and plummets down a steep slope. However, it is later revealed that he just broke his leg. The most concerning scene is a somewhat brutal fight near the end between Tod, Copper, Slade and a bear, which features wounds and gashes. I would recommend this for ages 6 and up.
The Fox and the Hound is available for streaming on Disney+ and available to rent or purchase on iTunes and Amazon.