Today we remember The Fox and the Hound theatrical debut on July 10, 1981.
Disney’s The Fox and the Hound hit theaters in the US, featuring the voice talents of stars such as Mickey Rooney, Kurt Russell, and Sandy Duncan. If you don’t have enough tissues on hand to rewatch this heart-wrenching movie today, just keep reading to learn some cool facts about the film instead.
Disney’s The Fox and the Hound shares the details of an unlikely friendship through a story that originated in a novel of the same title. The 1967 novel by Daniel P. Mannix follows a similar, albeit darker, plot to the film, sharing the story of a fox who was raised by a human and a hound raised by a hunter.
Like many of Disney’s films that have inspiration in literature, the original story by Mannix takes on a more sinister turn of events, getting into some gruesome details around the nature of hunting, alcoholism, and even deaths of other characters not seen in the film like Tod the fox’s mate.
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It may seem curious that Disney decided to create an animated story for families based on a relatively dark work of literature, at least one that was not already a cherished fairytale.
One of Walt Disney’s “Nine Old Men,” and co-producer of the film, Wolfgang “Woolie” Reitherman, was responsible for the original idea between getting the rights to the novel and producing a film based on the work. Mannix’s story struck a chord with him because it was reminiscent of the relationship one of his sons had formed with a pet fox he had raised.
Reitherman read the novel and made the connection to his son’s experiences with the fox and also to another animal-centric film the studio had found to be a worthy accomplishment, Bambi.
Bambi brought the animation studio a number of challenges in creating visions of animal life and natural settings on screen in a way that would be both playful and entertaining to watch but also realistic looking enough for the story to make sense.
The Fox and the Hound presented a similar challenge that Reitherman looked forward to working on as the film entered production; however he was the only member of the original animation team to stay on the project from beginning to end.
When the film debuted in theaters in 1981, guests were treated to a full-length animated production featuring an all-star cast of characters.
Disney Legend Kurt Russell joined the project to voice Copper, while Mickey Rooney worked alongside him providing the voice work for Tod.
Additional talent came from previous works with Disney, including Dick Bakalyan, who starred as the villain alongside Kurt Russell in the 1960s-70s series of Dexter Riley films, and Sandy Duncan, who first worked with the company in The Million Dollar Duck.
Jeanette Nolan (Widow Tweed) previously worked with Disney on The Rescuers where she played the voice of Ellie Mae.
The voice behind the Porcupine, John Fiedler, is best known for playing the role of Piglet in Winnie the Pooh, and Pat Buttram (voice of Chief) previously worked with Disney on films like The Aristocats and Robin Hood.
Among the celebrated Disney artists to work on The Fox and the Hound was Ollie Johnston, one of Walt’s Nine Old Men. While Ollie is known for his work on a variety of Disney animated films ranging from Mickey Mouse shorts in the 1930s to Cinderella in the ’50s and The Fox and the Hound in 1981, he was not the only Johnston to work on the project.
One of the film’s most memorable songs, “The Best of Friends,” was actually co-written by Richard O. Johnston, Ollie’s son.
The song captures the film’s message about lasting friendships (and is just one of the many moments through a viewing where you may start feeling like you have to reach for the tissues).
It’s performed by Pearl Bailey, an accomplished vaudeville actress who provided the voice of Big Mama in The Fox and the Hound. (It’s also one of the most underrated Disney movie songs, if you ask me.)
For Ollie Johnston and his colleague with whom he worked on most projects, Frank Thomas, The Fox and the Hound was also the last Disney film they worked on, at least as animators. Both continued to work alongside Walt Disney Animation for years to come, consulting on later films and helping to teach new generations of animators and storyboard artists.
Critical and Audience Reception
The Fox and the Hound theatrical debut was a hit. When it hit theaters in 1981, it grossed $39.9 million at the box office, which made The Fox and the Hound the highest grossing animated feature at the time.
Critical reviews were overwhelmingly positive, save for the occasional few critics who simply seemed to discredit the film for it being animated or geared for families.
Today, the film has a 70% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a devoted Disney fan base who are keeping the film’s legacy alive with Disneybounds and new Fox and the Hound merchandise.
A sequel to The Fox and the Hound was released (straight to DVD) in 2006, which covered the events of young Copper and Tod before the plot of the first film begins. While some of the film is a fun nostalgia trip, I really recommend sticking to the original for a true classic Disney experience.
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