Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. The Fox and the Hound

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: The Fox and the Hound

Year: 1981

Source materials : the novel of the same name by Daniel P. Mannix.

Budget: $12 million 1

Box office: $63.5 million

Plot: After a young red fox is orphaned, Big Mama the owl, with the help of her friends Dinky the finch and Boomer the woodpecker, arranges for him to be adopted by a kindly farmer named Widow Tweed. Tweed names him Tod, because he reminds her of a toddler.

THE FOX AND THE HOUND, Big Mama, Tod, 1981, (c)Walt Disney Pictures

Meanwhile, her neighbor, a hunter named Amos Slade, brings home a young hound puppy named Copper and introduces him to his hunting dog Chief. One day, Tod and Copper meet and become playmates, vowing to remain “friends forever”. Slade grows frustrated at Copper for constantly wandering off to play, and places him on a leash.


While playing with Copper outside his doghouse, Tod awakens Chief. Slade and Chief chase Tod until they are stopped by Tweed. After an argument, Slade threatens to kill Tod if he trespasses on his farm again.


As months pass, Tod and Copper both reach adulthood. Copper has become an experienced hunting dog, while Tod has grown up into a handsome fox. On the night of Copper’s return, Tod sneaks over to visit him. Copper explains that while he still values Tod as a friend, he is now a hunting dog and things are different.


Their conversation awakens Chief, who alerts Slade. In the ensuing chase Copper catches Tod. Against better judgement, Copper lets Tod go and diverts Chief and Slade. Tod tries escaping onto a railroad track, but is caught and pursued by Chief as a train suddenly passes by them. Tod ducks under the train, but Chief is struck by the train and falls into the river below, breaking his leg. Angered by this, Copper and Slade blame Tod for the accident and vow vengeance.


Tweed, realizing that Tod is no longer safe with her, takes him on a drive and leaves him at a game preserve. Tod’s first night alone in the woods proves disastrous, as he inadvertently trespasses into an irritable old badger’s den. Thankfully, a friendly porcupine offers Tod shelter. That same night, Slade and Copper plan to poach Tod.


The next morning, Big Mama finds Tod and introduces him to a female fox named Vixey. Meanwhile, Slade and Copper trespass into the preserve to hunt Tod. As Tod manages to escape Slade’s leghold traps, Copper and Slade pursue both foxes. They hide in their burrow while Slade tries trapping them by setting fire to the other end of the burrow. The foxes narrowly escape without getting burned as Slade and Copper chase them up the top of a hill until they reach a waterfall.


There, Slade and Copper close in for the kill, but a large bear suddenly emerges from the bushes and attacks Slade. Slade trips and falls into one of his own traps, dropping his gun slightly out of reach. Copper tries fighting the bear but is no match for it. Not willing to let his former friend die, Tod intervenes and fights off the bear until they both fall down the waterfall. With the bear gone, a bewildered Copper approaches Tod as he lies exhausted near the bank of a waterfall-created lake. When Slade appears, Copper positions himself in front of Tod to prevent Slade from shooting him, refusing to move away. Slade lowers his gun and leaves with Copper. Tod and Copper share one last smile before parting.


At home, Tweed nurses Slade back to health while the dogs rest. Copper, before resting, smiles as he remembers the day when he first met Tod. On a hill, Vixey joins Tod as they look down on the homes of Slade and Tweed.

Background: The Fox and the Hound is a 1967 novel written by American novelist Daniel P. Mannix and illustrated by John Schoenherr. As preparation for writing the novel, Mannix studied foxes, both tame and wild, a wide variety of hunting techniques, and the ways hounds appear to track foxes, seeking to ensure his characters acted realistically. The novel won the Dutton Animal Book Award in 1967, and Walt Disney Productions purchased the film rights for the novel though did not begin production on an adaptation until 1977.

Thinking the film had a weak second act, Wolfgang Reitherman decided to add a musical sequence of two swooping cranes voiced by Phil Harris and Charo who would sing a silly song titled “Scoobie-Doobie Doobie Doo, Let Your Body Turn Goo”. Live-action reference footage was shot of Charo in a sweaty pink leotard, but the scene was strongly disliked by studio personnel.


On his 42nd birthday, September 13, 1979, Don Bluth, along with Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy, entered Ron Miller’s 2 office and turned in their resignation. Following their resignations, 13 animators followed suit in their resignations. Though Bluth and his team had animated substantial scenes, they asked not to receive screen credit. Miller pushed the release of The Fox and the Hound from Christmas 1980 to summer 1981.

Changes from the Source Material: In in the novel, the dogs’ ages are switched. Copper is the older dog and Chief is the younger. However, it is still Chief who dies after being hit by the train, and it was originally written that way in the film with the elder dog going to die. However, the scene was modified to have Chief survive with a cast on his back paw. Animators argued over this point. Randy Cartwright re-animated the scene where Copper finds Chief’s body and had him animate Chief’s eyes opening and closing so the audience knew that he was not dead. In the novel, Tod and Copper are never friends, and the Master kills Todd’s kits on more than one occasion. In the end Tod is killed by Copper, who is later euthanized by the Master.

Animation: Frank Thomas had animated scenes of Tod and Cooper using dialogue Larry Clemmons had written and recorded with the child actors. This project would mark the last film to have the involvement of the Disney’s Nine Old Men who had retired early during production, and animation was turned over the next generation of directors and animators, which included John Lasseter, John Musker, Ron Clements, Glen Keane, Tim Burton, Brad Bird, Henry Selick, Chris Buck, and Mark Dindal.


  • “Best of Friends” written by Stan Fidel and sung by Pearl Bailey
  • “Lack of Education” written by Jim Stafford and sung by Pearl Bailey
  • “A Huntin’ Man” written by Jim Stafford and sung by Jack Albertson
  • “Appreciate the Lady” written by Jim Stafford and sung by Pearl Bailey
  • “Goodbye May Seem Forever” written by Jeffrey Patch and sung by Jeanette Nolan and Chorus

Voice Cast:

Mickey Rooney as Tod. Rooney appeared in more than 300 films and was one of the last surviving stars of the silent film era. At nineteen he was the first teenager to be nominated for an Oscar 3 Notable movies were A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Family Affair, Boys Town, National Velvet, Words and Music, Pete’s Dragon, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Kurt Russell 4 as Copper. Russell was also a child star, appearing in a few Disney films. 5 He’s best known for his adult roles in movies like The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, and Escape From New York and its sequel, where he played the iconic role of Snake Plissken. He recently appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy, vol. 2. 

Tony and Emmy award winning actor 6 and singer Pearl Bailey as Big Mama. Bailey appeared in Carmen Jones and Porgy and Bess. Her rendition of “Takes Two to Tango” hit the top ten in 1952. Oscar 7 winning actor Jack Albertson as Amos Slade. He’s best known as Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Three-time Tony nominee 8 Sandy Duncan as Vixey. Disney veterans Jeanette Nolan and Pat Buttram return as Widow Tweed and Chief, respectively.

Returning voices are John Fiedler as The Porcupine, John McIntire as The Badger, and Paul Winchell as Boomer. Veteran Disney actor 9 Dick Bakalyan plays Dinky.

Keith Mitchell played Young Tod. He was a prolific child actor 10 and continues to perform as an adult. Corey Feldman played Young Copper. He starred in Stand by Me, The Goonies, The Lost Boys, and Gremlins.

Critical Reception: In its original release, The Fox and the Hound grossed $39.9 million in domestic grosses. Its The film was re-released theatrically on March 25, 1988, where it grossed $23.5 million. The Fox and the Hound has had a lifetime gross of $63.5 million across its original release and reissue.

In his book The Disney Films, Leonard Maltin also notes that the fight scene between Copper, Tod, and the bear received great praise in the animation world. However, Maltin felt the film relied too much on “formula cuteness, formula comedy relief, and even formula characterizations”. Overall, he considered the film “charming” stating that it is “warm, and brimming with personable characters” and that it “approaches the old Disney magic at times.”

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Times also praised the film, saying that “for all of its familiar qualities, this movie marks something of a departure for the Disney studio, and its movement is in an interesting direction. The Fox and the Hound is one of those relatively rare Disney animated features that contains a useful lesson for its younger audiences. It’s not just cute animals and frightening adventures and a happy ending; it’s also a rather thoughtful meditation on how society determines our behavior.”

Legacy: A comic adaptation of the film, drawn by Richard Moore, was published in newspapers as part of Disney’s Treasury of Classic Tales.Since 1981 and up to 2007, a few Fox and the Hound Disney comics stories were produced in Italy, Netherlands, Brazil, France, and the United States.

A direct-to-video followup, The Fox and the Hound 2, was released to DVD on December 12, 2006. There is no presence in the park from any of the characters from the film.

My take: The opening sequence really works. The pastel backgrounds contrast with the percussive music and sets the tone for the entire film. And young Copper is just the cutest thing (his pathetic little howl!). The voice casting is perfect, although it’s hard not to hear Jack Burton and Kris Kringle. There are some sad moments, like when Tod is taken away to the game preserve (try to keep a dry eye). There’s a darkness to the film, which is inherent in the relationship between hunter and prey, and the climactic sequence is pretty dark with Tod and Copper’s faces twisted in rage. The bear fight is particularly good. Last year when Belle and I watched the film she teared up yelling “I never want this in my house again!”

Next Week: Disney tackles high fantasy with The Black Cauldron