A Film Full of Complex Relationships
Originally Released: 1981
To begin with, I’ll just get this out of the way: The Fox and the Hound isn’t my favorite Disney film. I find the overall plot to be somewhat lacking. I believe the songs are so bad that it would have been better if the film were a non-musical and the songs were completely scrapped. Finally, I can’t stand the birds-chasing-the-worm sideshow. Those three characters annoy me and add nothing to the experience. But that being said, The Fox and the Hound does have a major redeeming quality, which is the thought put into the five major characters and the relationships they have with each other.
The five main characters in this film include the fox Tod, and Copper the hound dog, along with Copper’s canine mentor Chief, his human master Amos Slade, and the widow Tweed, Slade’s neighbor who adopts the orphan Tod. In a bit of a departure from the Disney norm, none of these characters can be judged as being either good or evil. They all have strengths and weaknesses which are put to the test during the events of the film.
The first relationship of note is that of Tod and Copper. Tod, thrust from his natural fox lifestyle through no fault of his own, is completely ignorant of the “societal norm” which says that foxes and hunting dogs don’t get along. He is able to befriend Copper, who at the time is equally ignorant about the way things are “supposed to be.” However, their friendship is tested when Copper is trained to hunt. Like most good friendships, they have their rocky moments, but they do prove to be loyal to each other. The human parallels and the message of this relationship are obvious.
Another interesting relationship is between Chief and Copper. Chief likes Copper and is a great mentor to him, but at the same time he has to deal with the frustrations of being replaced by Copper as the more capable performer during the hunts. Nevertheless, despite some inner turmoil, Chief continues to teach Copper the ways of the hunting dog. Because of this, Copper respects Chief so much that when Chief is injured when dodging a (conveniently-timed) train while pursuing Tod, Copper makes an irrational revenge vow against his old fox friend.
Additionally, there is the relationship shown between Amos and Tweed. At times they have disdain towards each other, caused both by Tod’s presence and simple misunderstandings, but these neighbors are on friendly enough terms that Tweed is willing to give aid to Amos when his leg is injured.
Just like in real life, these relationships have some complexity to them and it is not so simple to say “That’s a good guy, while this other one is definitely bad.” Amos has an outrageous temper and goes overboard in his actions, but at the same time he loves his dogs and is just trying to live his life without getting his chickens eaten or his animals killed. Copper is trying to reconcile friendship and loyalty to many different parties and has difficulty prioritizing these loyalties. Poor Tod causes all kinds of trouble in this story, but it really isn’t his fault. He never learned to properly behave either as a domesticated or wild animal and thus isn’t sure how to act in either setting.
The interplay between the five characters is quite thought-provoking, causing some reflection about real-life friendships and judgements we make about people. So while The Fox and the Hound may not be the strongest film in the Disney canon, I do applaud Disney’s attempt to be thoughtful and going beyond what was usually tackled thematically in its films.