The forbidden friend is a motif of many a young-adult story, usually dealing with a potential pal who's from the "wrong side of the tracks." Disney's 1981 adaptation of Daniel P. Mannix's book The Fox and the Hound recasts the story with the titular animals, and while the overtones will sail over kids' heads, the story can be easily read by adults as an allegory of interracial or interfaith relationships. The 2006 direct-to-video "midquel" The Fox and the Hound II has no interest in such subtleties, revamping the characters for a country-western romp. The two features have now been paired by Disney on home video in a Blu-ray + DVD combo pack 30th Anniversary Edition 2-Movie Collection.
The Fox and the Hound tells the story of a red fox cub named Tod (Keith Mitchell), who's orphaned immediately after the credits when his mother is killed by hunters in a Bambi-style offscreen slaying. Watched over by owl Big Mama (Pearl Bailey), woodpecker Boomer (Paul Winchell) and finch Dinky (Dick Bakalyan), Tod is adopted by forest-dwelling Widow Tweed (Jeanette Nolan), to the chagrin of her hunting-happy next-door neighbor Amos Slade (Jack Albertson). Slade is set on training his new coonhound puppy Copper (Corey Feldman) to be a hunting dog, fresh blood to eventually replace the aging Chief (Pat Buttram). Tod and Copper meet and innocently play, though they have an inkling that they need to keep their new friendship secret. As Tod learns the ways of the hunting dog, the two friends grow and find themselves at odds: can Tod (now Mickey Rooney) and Copper (now Kurt Russell) salvage their friendship? More importantly, will Copper be forced to hunt down his old friend? And how about that foxy Vixey (Sandy Duncan)?
The film reflects its tortured making in the subplot of Chief staring down forced retirement at the paws of a young upstart. There was a positive side to the handing down of experience from Disney's "Nine Old Men" (most notably Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston) to a new breed that included Randy Cartwright, Glen Keane, and Ron Clements & John Musker (who went on to direct The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and The Princess and the Frog, among others), but the old guard wasn't necessarily ready to throw in the towel, and the troubled production saw animation-studio infighting and the mid-picture quitting of twelve animators. At any rate, the results aren't bad, even if the animation at times looks noticeably cheaper than the Disney high-water mark. The scary climax—with the heroes gone feral and Tod attacking a bear to protect Copper—proves a startling exception with the film's most nimble animation.
The Fox and the Hound is sweet but a bit dull: it takes almost twenty minutes for fox to meet hound, and the subplot involving Boomer and Dinky's Road Runner-esque quest to eat "Squeeks" the Caterpillar is time that might've been better spent. Four original songs pep things up a little, though Jeanette Nolan's non-singing is a lowlight. The casting of the supporting parts is a bit uninspired (Winchell and Fiedler sound exactly as they do as Tigger and Piglet in the Winnie the Pooh films, which may have kids scratching their heads), but the vocal work is good, and kids won't notice the disparity between Rooney's somewhat throaty pipes and Russell's younger ones. Overall, the picture is good-hearted and colorful, with an ending that carries a nice touch of ambiguity about the tussle of nature and nurture.
"Midquel" The Fox and the Hound II sullies the first film a bit by offering a tonally inconsistent untold story from Tod and Copper's childhood: were one to insert these 69 minutes into the original film's 83, one would be unable to miss the Frankensteinian seams. The story concerns the friends wandering off to a county fair, where Copper (Harrison Fahn)—dissuaded by thus-far unsuccessful hunting lessons—learns he has a talent after all: for singing. He's recruited by novelty act "The Singin' Strays"—Cash (Patrick Swayze), Granny Rose (Vicki Lawrence), and twin brothers Waylon and Floyd (Jim Cummings times two)—after Cash gets in a tiff with lead singer Dixie (Reba McEntire).
Tod (Jonah Bobo of Crazy, Stupid, Love.) tags along as Copper's entourage, his friendship with Copper threatened when the hound dog is distracted by his indulged ego and the siren song of fame; diva Dixie encourages the rift in the hopes she'll reclaim her top spot in time to impress a Grand Ole Opry talent scout (Stephen Root) noodling around the fair. The Widow Tweed (Russi Taylor) and Amos Slade (Jeff Bennett) get supporting roles, but this is mostly built to be a musical, with seven soundtrack-CD-ready original songs. The animation is surprisingly attractive and the storytelling mostly harmless, but outside of profits, it seems pointless to impose this story onto established characters.
Disney has begun to dig a bit deeper into its animated catalog for Blu-ray reissues, and The Fox and the Hound isn't awarded the Diamond Edition treatment of expensive digital restoration. It still looks pretty darn good in hi-def—and with improved framing that gets the film closer to its original aspect ratio than it's ever been on home video—though the transfer has a few issues. The aged source material wavers at times in color and contrast; perhaps more troubling is a glitch that periodically crops up on the right side of the frame (some will find it bothersome; others won't even notice). Despite such concerns, this hi-def transfer looks a darn sight better than its DVD equivalent, and The Fox and the Hound II is pristine other than the expected banding. When it's on, the color of The Fox and the Hound is beautiful, and it's always on in The Fox and the Hound II, which is rock-solid in all visual departments. Both features get DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mixes. As one might expect, the 2006 title engages the surround channels with much more frequency and potency, but the 1981 title nicely preserves (and maximizes) the original audio, making it sound impressively clean without robbing it of its essential dynamics.
The Blu-ray disc holds both features and one new extra: "Unlikely Friends" (7:25, HD), a soggy new featurette "about surprising friendships within the wild animal kingdom." One must travel to the DVDs for some paltry feature-specific bonuses. The Fox and the Hound DVD includes the best extra, a tantalizing but all-too brief making-of featurette called "Passing the Baton: The Making of The Fox and the Hound" (6:38, SD). The company line is toed here, but the featurette makes mention of the baton-passing and includes brief interview clips of Disney animators Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Randy Cartwright, Glen Keane, Ron Clements, and John Musker. Also on this DVD is “'The Best of Friends' Sing-Along Song" (2:30, SD). The Fox and the Hound II DVD includes behind-the-scenes featurette "The Fox and the Hound II: The Making of the Music" (10:07, SD) and the “'You Know I Will' Music Video Performed by Lucas Grabeel" (3:34, SD). All in all, this special edition represents a good value, especially for first-time family adopters of these titles and Disney animation buffs making the leap to hi-def.
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