The film is directed by Ted Berman and Richard Rich and features the voices of Kurt Russell, Mickey Rooney, Pearl Bailey, Pat Buttram, Sandy Duncan, Richard Bakalyn, Paul Winchell, Jack Albertson, Jeanette Nolan, John Fiedler, John McIntire, Keith Coogan and Corey Feldman. At the time of release it was the most expensive animated film produced to date, costing $12 million. A direct-to-video midquel, The Fox and the Hound 2, was released to DVD on December 12, 2006.
A young red fox is orphaned after his mother is shot and killed by a hunter. Big Mama (Pearl Bailey) the owl, along with her two friends Boomer (Paul Winchell) the woodpecker, and Dinky (Dick Bakalyn) the finch, arrange for him to be adopted by Widow Tweed (Jeanette Nolan), who names him Tod (Keith Mitchell). Meanwhile, her neighbor Amos Slade (Jack Albertson) brings home a young coonhound puppy named Copper (Corey Feldman), and introduces him to his old hunting dog Chief (Pat Buttram) to be his guardian. Though reluctant at first, Chief gradually warms up to Copper and accepts him as a son.
One day, when Tod is unable to find someone to play with, he wanders off chasing a butterfly. At the same time, Copper starts smelling something strange, and wanders off sniffing until he encounters Tod as the source. After a brief introduction between the two, Tod and Copper become playmates and form a friendship to which they vow will last forever. But when Slade becomes frustrated with Copper's wandering, he puts him on a leash. Undetected, Tod decides to play with Copper at home, but wakes up Chief and Slade, who chase after him. Tweed intervenes, but Slade issues a firm warning that he will shoot Tod if he trespasses again. Hunting season soon comes and Slade takes his dogs into the wilderness for the interim. Meanwhile, Big Mama explains to Tod that his friendship with Copper cannot continue, as they were bred to be enemies, but he refuses to believe her.
Months pass and Tod and Copper reach adulthood; Copper has become an experienced hunting dog, while Tod has grown into a handsome fox. On the night of Copper's return, Tod (Mickey Rooney) sneaks over to meet him. Copper (Kurt Russell) explains that while he still values him as a friend, things are different now. Chief awakens and alerts Slade, and another chase ensues. However, Copper, not wanting to see him killed, lets Tod go and then diverts Chief and Slade so he can escape. Unfortunately, Chief maintains his pursuit and chases Tod onto a railroad bridge, where Chief falls and is grievously injured. Enraged, Copper blames Tod for the accident and swears vengeance. Slade also blames Tod, leading Tweed to realize that her pet is no longer safe with her. She thus leaves him at a game preserve that prohibits hunting. However, this does not prevent Slade and Copper, who attempt to enter the game preserve and kill Tod.
The next morning, Big Mama finds Tod and introduces him to a female fox named Vixey (Sandy Duncan), to whom he takes an immediate liking; the feeling becomes mutual, and she helps him adapt to life in the forest. Slade and Copper later break into the preserve and begin hunting Tod, and although the pair eventually find him and Vixey, their lengthy pursuit culminates in an attack from a bear. Slade trips and is caught in one of his own traps, dropping his gun just out of reach. Copper fights the bear and is soon overwhelmed, but before the bear can finish him, Tod quickly intervenes and continues to battle the bear until they both fall down a waterfall. The bear is killed, while Tod survives, but is worn to an inch of his life.
Copper approaches Tod as he recovers, stunned by his heroism in spite of current events. Slade arrives and prepares to shoot him, but Copper immediately interposes his body over Tod, refusing to move. Touched by the act, Slade lowers his gun and leaves with Copper, but not before the two friends share one last smile. Back home, Tweed nurses Slade back to health while the dogs rest. Copper, before falling asleep, smiles as he remembers the day when he and Tod became best friends. On a distant cliff top, Vixey joins Tod as he looks down at the scene from afar.
Daniel Mannix's novel The Fox and the Hound dealt with the quest of a hunter and his dog Copper to shoot Tod after he killed the hunter's new dog Chief. The novel was mainly about Tod's life in the woods. While he was raised by humans he was not childhood friends with Copper and none of the animals spoke. The story was changed to make it more suitable for a family film; instead of a story about the life and death of a fox, it became a parable about how society determines one's role despite his or her better impulses.
Design and animation
Production of the film began in 1977. The film marked a turning point in the studio: Walt Disney's "Nine Old Men" did initial development of the animation, but by the end of production the younger set of Disney animators completed the production process. Wolfgang Reitherman was producer, and championed staying true to the novel, and Larry Clemmons was head of the story team. Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston did much of the early development of the main characters. The newer generation of animators, such as Don Bluth, Ron Clements, Glen Keane, and John Musker, would finalize the animation and complete the film's production. These animators had moved through the in-house animation training program, and would all play an important role in the Disney Renaissance of the eighties and nineties.
However, the transition between the old guard and the new resulting in arguments over how to handle the film. Reitherman has his own ideas on the designs and layouts that should be used, but the newer team backed Stevens. Animator Don Bluth declared Disney's work "stale" and walked out with eleven others to form his own studio. With 17% of the animators now gone, production on The Fox and the Hound was delayed. Bluth had animated Widow Tweed and her cow, Abigail, and his team worked on the rest of the sequence. The exodus of so many animators forced the cancellation of the film's original Christmas 1980 premiere while new artists were hired. Four years after production started the film was finished with approximately 360,000 drawings, 110,000 painted cels and 1,100 painted backgrounds making up the finished product. A total of 180 people, including 24 animators, worked on the film.
In the original screenplay, Chief was slated to die the same as in the novel, but Stevens did not want to have an on-screen death and modified the film so that he would survive, just like Baloo in The Jungle Book, and Trusty in Lady and the Tramp.
The Fox and the Hound opened in theaters on July 10, 1981. The film was considered a financial success. It was re-released to theaters on March 25, 1988.
In The Animated Movie Guide, Jerry Beck considered the film "average", though he praises the voice work of Pearl Bailey as Big Momma, and the extreme dedication to detail shown by animator Glen Keane in crafting the fight scene between Copper, Tod, and the bear. In The Disney Films, Leonard Maltin also notes that the fight scene between Copper, Tod, and the bear received great praise in the animation world. 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."
Richard Corliss of Time Magazine, praised the film for an intelligent story about prejudice. He argued that the film shows that biased attitudes can poison even the deepest relationships, and the film's bittersweet ending delivers a powerful and important moral message to audiences.
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."
The film has a "fresh" 71% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 21 reviews with a 6.7 score, with a consensus that states, "The Fox and the Hound, is a likeable, charming, unassuming effort that manages to transcend its thin, predictable plot". Among users, the film scored 87% with a 7.1 rating.
Its first home video release, on VHS format, came on March 4, 1994 as the last video of the "Walt Disneyy Classic" collection (it was not included in the "Masterpiece Collection"). On May 2, 2000, it was released to Region DVD for the first time under the "Walt disney Gold Classic Collection". A 25th anniversary special edition DVD, featuring a remastered version of the film and a disc of extras, was released on October 10, 2006.
The Fox and the Hound was released on Blu-Ray on August 9, 2011 commemorating the movie's 30th anniversary. The film was released in a 3-Disc Blu-Ray/DVD Combo pack alongside its direct-to video midquel The Fox and the Hound 2 in a 2-Movie Collection Edition. The film features a new digital restoration and new bonus material. A DVD only edition will also be available the same day. The film will be presented for the first time in 1.66:1 widescreen and will feature 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The sequel will be presented in 1.78:1 widescreen and will feature the same sound as the first film.
Awards and nominations
The film gained a considerable following and it was awarded a Golden Screen Award at the Goldene Leinwand Awards in 1982. It was also nominated for a Young Artist Award and the Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film.
As well as adaptations of the film itself, comic strips featuring the characters also appeared in stories unconnected to the film. Examples include The Lost Fawn, in which Copper uses his sense of smell to help Tod find a fawn who has gone astray; The Chase, in which Copper has to safeguard a sleepwalking Chief; and Feathered Friends, in which the birds Dinky and Boomer have to go to desperate lengths to save one of Widow Tweed's chickens from a wolf.
A comic adaptation of the film, drawn by Richard Moore, was published in newspapers as part of Disney's Treasury of Classic Tales. A comic-book titled The Fox and the Hound followed, with new adventures of the characters. Since 1981 and up to 2007, a few Fox and the Hound Disney comics stories were produced in Italy, Netherlands, Brazil, France and USA.
A direct-to-video midquel midquel, The Fox and the Hound 2, was released on December 12, 2006 The film takes place during Tod and Copper's youth, before the events of the later half of this film.