I genuinely don’t remember for sure if I saw this in the theatre or not. I think I did. If so, it’s the first Disney movie I saw in the theatre in its initial release. The only Kurt Russell movie I saw in the theatre until Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. If not, it wouldn’t be until The Great Mouse Detective, as I know we didn’t see The Black Cauldron. I never fully deny the possibility that something could be someone’s favourite anything—I even talked to someone recently whose favourite Disney movie is Dinosaur—but I suspect few people feel strong affection for this one.
Tod (Keith Coogan) is orphaned in the opening credits. Big Mama (Pearl Bailey) the owl arranges for him to come to the attention of Widow Tweed (Jeanette Nolan). She takes him in and cares for him. Meanwhile, her neighbour, Amos Slade (Jack Albertson), acquires a basset hound pup named Copper (ten-year-old Corey Feldman). Copper and Tod become friends. However, Slade’s older dog, Chief (Pat Buttram), tells Copper that it’s his duty to kill Tod. Slade takes Copper off to teach him how to be a proper hunting dog. Big Mama knows that it spells the end of the friendship for the pair; Tod takes a while longer to learn it.
Amos Slade is a terrible person. I mean, bad enough that he has a whole collection of leg hold traps and takes genuine pleasure in the idea of using one on a fox. He is not a safe person to have around. Widow Tweed could frankly have a decent attempted murder charge against him. He aims his gun at the back of her truck. So sure, he’s trying to kill a fox. That doesn’t give him the right to shoot toward a human. Widow Tweed has a small, neat farm; Slade has a grubby, rundown shack. They’re both types I can picture living in that undefined rural region, but I know which one I’d rather have near my family, pet fox and all.
Production on this film was delayed when Don Bluth left the studio and took a lot of the young animators, and goodness knows it’s the Don Bluthiest Disney animated feature. For good and for ill. Several of the characters here have descendants in assorted other Bluth productions; honestly I feel the whole subplot with Dinky (Dick Bakalyan) and Boomer (Paul Winchell) and the caterpillar feels like something that could be put into the worst of the Bluth films without much effort.
Honestly, this holds a very strange place in animation history. The fact that one character is voiced by both Corey Feldman and Kurt Russell and the fact that another, who is supposed to be the same age, is voiced in the second act by Mickey Rooney kind of symbolizes something to me. The animators on the film likewise ranged from Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston to Tim Burton. Disney was in the middle of a lot of changes and hadn’t found its footing yet after Walt’s death; that was still to come with the Renaissance, of course. You can definitely see some Bluth in the animation style, but you can also see a certain amount of Wolfgang Reitherman.
This movie is . . . slight. We don’t spend enough time with Young Copper and Tod to really feel much weight in the later scenes, when they’re suddenly enemies now. There’s also the animated tendency to act as though seeing a member of the opposite sex once is enough to decide that you’re mated now; Vixey (Sandy Duncan) is literally the first fox Tod has seen since his mother was killed. I will also definitely say that Widow Tweed’s a whole lot more forgiving than I would be, given Slade shows no signs of repentance. The plot doesn’t work, and the art and songs aren’t good enough to distract from that.