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The Fox and the Hound


The Fox and the Hound was the first Disney animated film of the 1980s, was released right at the center of one of the studio’s biggest quality lulls. The people that grew up with it remember it fondly, but the general public tends to consider it rather mediocre, assuming they remember it exists at all. Based on a book by Daniel Mannix, the story followed a familiar narrative about the relationship between forbidden/unlikely friends, a fox named Tod and a hound dog named Copper, and the circumstances that conspire to keep them apart. The film starts on an artistic high note, opening with credits over nature scenes, and almost no sound – then suddenly breaks into a chase sequence told almost entirely in camera moves and music. This scene reaches its crescendo when the mother Fox is shot off screen. It’s heavy, almost daring stuff, but from here things dip into a series of tangentially connected sequences that press cute or tragic over interesting. The pacing is slow, and the tone is stale, making for a dulling viewing experience despite a particularly brief runtime, and the opening title tone suggests something that is never delivered upon. It’s not so much that I need my escapist Disney spectacle to be particularly threatening (I admit the climax verges on spectacular), but there was clearly a lack of follow through from concept, creating a handful of incredibly sad sequences that don’t connect to the madcap, banjo-twanging chases, or to the romantic filler. The animation is really the film’s saving grace, and ranks top of the line in comparison to similar era productions thanks to a healthy budget that allowed for plenty of pencil mileage, which especially pays off during the action sequences. Still, the quality of the animation is inconsistent, likely due to the film’s long gestating production time. It’s interesting to note, however, how much more animator Don Bluth and his team would achieve with half the budget a year later when he made The Secret of NIHM, which features a scale well beyond The Fox and the Hound, and few frames recycled from older Disney releases.

The Fox and the Hound 1 and 2

The Fox and the Hound 2


Following the success of STV The Return of Jafar (1994) and Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1996), Disney started a business of making STV ‘sequels’ to their best animated films. Somewhere around The Lion King II: Simba's Pride (1998) the animation quality of these films started to step-up beyond weekly TV quality, and with Lion King 1 1/2 they started the process of dabbling in ‘midquels’, a tradition they continued with Bambi II, and The Fox and the Hound 2. The Fox and the Hound 2 takes place during the ‘salad days’ of Copper and Tod’s friendship, and follows the geography, design, and basic character traits of the original to a point that those who haven’t seen the original wouldn’t really get what was going on had the plot and characters been so very simple. The tone is way lighter than the first movie, focusing more on slapstick comedy and Bluegrass music, rather than melancholy morals. Copper and Tod sneak off to a local fair, where a group of singing stray dogs pick up on Copper’s howling abilities and hire him as a replacement for their difficult diva, who takes pains to sabotage his future in show business. The drama here follows the familiar ground of celebrity creating a rift between friends, which is far from original, but is actually in-keeping with the themes of the original (even if the timing doesn’t really work within the first film’s timeline). Fox and the Hound 2, not surprisingly, isn’t a great film, but is pretty solid throwaway entertainment, with a handful of amusing gags, decent music, and an incredible pace that the original film is sorely lacking. A perfectly acceptable way to waste about an hour (the credits are very long).

The Fox and the Hound 1 and 2

Video


The Fox and the Hound comes to Blu-ray, and looks surprisingly great for its age in 1080p video. There’s some definite grain on the print, but very little compared to similar era releases, and artefacts are quite minimal. The most consistent ‘issues’ pertain mostly to the shortcomings of period cell animation. Darker scenes, specifically the rainy sequence around the 50 minute mark, are grainier, especially in warm tones. Rather than edge haloes, the doubling effects of cell shadows plague brief sequences, and the increase in HD’s detail reveals some of the less successful pencil erasure. The painted backgrounds are gorgeous, and swimming with texture and contrast. The flat quality of the cell works stands awkwardly against these highly detailed backdrops at times, even going a bit blurry a few times, but again, this isn’t a problem with the transfer, but the original footage. Colours are much brighter than those on the included DVD copy, and are generally much purer too. The cells sometimes bleed a bit into each other, but the backgrounds on their own, and set against the cells sharply separated. Black levels are rich, but there is a general darkening over the whole frame in large parts.

The Fox and the Hound 2 is a much more recent production, and despite its smaller budget it benefits from the advent of computer animation and computer colouring techniques. The hues here are solid and pure, with a few minor compression bugaboos (the rich reds and maroons are a little bit blocky) to keep the transfer from perfect status. I’m not a fan of the computer generated soft edge highlight and shadow blends aesthetically, but the gradation is quite smooth, and the cell edges are still sharp and clean. The backgrounds aren’t as intricate as those of the original film, but are also clean, and some of the daylight fair sequences feature a whole load of complex factors and hues.

The Fox and the Hound 1 and 2

Audio


The Fox and the Hound’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix isn’t quite as impressive as the video transfer, but does feature plenty of warm, well rounded music, and consistent aural elements. Buddy Baker’s title score gets things off to a rollicking start, creating a rich tapestry of instruments without much in the way of stereo enhancement. The songs aren’t particularly memorable, and the vocal performances are a bit too loud, but overall the music is this mix’s strongest suit. Sound effects are minimal overall, and very rarely bleed into the stereo or surround channels. The storm sequence is the only moment I noticed real movement or immersive effects outside the score. Fox and the Hound 2 is new, and originally designed for 5.1 enhancement, so it sounds a bit more impressive overall. Everything sits in its proper place, and sounds plenty clear. The mix is still pretty simple, and the sound effects minimalist, but the musical work is quite impressive. Instruments and vocals (especially harmonies) run over the whole of the channels, and the biggest musical numbers even feature some directional effects. The music itself is actually impressive considering the STV background of the film, and is kind of a kid friendly companion piece to the O Brother Where Art Though? soundtrack.

The Fox and the Hound 1 and 2

Extras


Many people would probably consider The Fox and the Hound 2 an extra feature, as it’s not much of a standalone movie, and no one is going to buy this release for the mediocre sequel feature (not to mention that it’s shorter than some behind the scenes documentaries), but I’ll follow the rules set by the back of the box, and start this section discussing the only real extra – ‘Unlikely Friends’ (7:30, HD). This made-for-kids featurette covers real life examples of animals befriending outside of their species, including footage from Disney films and footage of cute critters getting along in captivity and the wild. Other extras include trailers and a Digital Copy how-to. The included DVD copies also include their original release extras.

The Fox and the Hound 1 and 2

Overall


Despite my seemingly harsh words, The Fox and the Hound isn’t a bad movie by any stretch, it just doesn’t belong in the same breath with Snow White, The Jungle Book or Sleeping Beauty. I judge no one that loves it, and recommend this Blu-ray release to fans with few reservations considering the upgrade in image and sound quality. The extras are weak, unless you consider the STV sequel Fox and the Hound 2 as an extra, in which case I suppose you could do a lot worse. Parents with particularly sensitive children might actually prefer having both films on one disc, as the sequel is meant to take place around the middle of the original, and ends on a happier note. It’d be pretty easy to point the kiddies to the bathroom and switch out discs before things get too dark.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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