Lock My Feelings in the Disney Vault and Throw Away the Key

I can remember watching this as a kid and failing to hold back tears.  You can’t blame my six-year old self.  I tried my darndest to stay strong in front of all the kindergarten hotties, and though it shames me to admit I wasn’t exactly Plymouth Rock when it came to sappy movies, partial blame goes to the sailor outfits my mother would slap on me before school.  That being said, I can also remember rewatching this yesterday, when the exact same thing happened.  The holding back tears thing.  Not the sailor costume.  Stop smiling.

In hindsight, I should’ve written this back in May because there are a handful of movies I could use the “allergies” excuse on.  This is mostly speculation, but I’m guessing that “The Fox and the Hound” tends to gather more dust in the Disney vault than other films.  Consider how small the supporting cast is: a pair of humans, an old hunting dog, an owl, a caterpillar, a finch, and a mentally retarded woodpecker.  The story concerns only.. well, a fox and a hound.  It’s also worth mentioning that there are virtually no dance numbers in this, and the songs aren’t particularly catchy either.  Now that’s not to say the music isn’t good:

Pretty darn cute, right?  To make things worse, they’ve totally lobbed a pitch over the plate.  This relationship is destined to end just like Romeo and Juliet.  Todd and Copper are natural enemies, like the snake and the mongoose or Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly.  At first, the pair resists their natural inclinations and pledge to stay friends “forever,” a theme that’s explored throughout this story, and one that Big Mama puts into proper perspective:

“Forever is a long, long time, and time has a way of changing things.”  
I couldn’t resist.  Big Mama is actually the rotund, wise owl who’s always eager to dole out sage-yet-sassy advice.  Just think of her as a kind of Queen Latifah in fowl form.  Now it’s never said exactly where this story takes place, but it remains a generic rural setting nonetheless.  Even better, it’s nice to see a Disney film that pays homage to the American south… you know, without being horribly racist: 

Like a great deal of Disney flicks, “The Fox and The Hound” begins with some tragedy when Tod’s mother is (presumably) shot and killed.  The newly-orphaned fox is then taken in by Widow Tweed.  Widow Tweed then raises Tod as if he were Widow Tweed’s own son.  Sorry, I think I just like typing Widow Tweed.  Copper, a bloodhound pup, begins life on Amos Slade’s ranch for the sole purpose of tracking down varmints — varmints like Tod.  Varmints and Widow Tweed, what fun!  The film’s defining moment arrives when the two first meet:

“I’m a hound dowg!”  Even Joffrey Baratheon couldn’t double cross a face like that.  Be sure to take in how adorable this is now, because Walt Disney’s about to pull the rug out from under you poor bastards.

Walter E. Disney: Beloved filmmaker, animator, and harbinger of despair

We get to enjoy some tenuous, mischief-filled adventures between the two before Copper leaves on a winter hunting trip as an initiation of sorts  He’s a hound dowg, and that’s what hound dowgs do; they track varmints.  When the pair are reunited the following spring, things have changed and they both realize that their friendship can no longer be.  To make matters worse, Widow Tweed grows weary of Slade’s threats toward Tod and does what any caring soul would do: she abandons him in a game preserve to fend for himself:

Tod finds himself alone yet again.  Life’s tough when you’re a fox voiced by Mickey Rooney.  Oh what’s that?  There’s something in your eye?  Now who looks ridiculous, you or the guy with the sailor outfit? 

Things only get worse when the friends-turned-enemies meet for the last time.  Copper tracks down both Tod and his companion Vixey in the game preserve — you know, the same one Widow Tweed left Tod in to begin with.  Here, the film continues its pattern of making life fucking miserable with a completely random bear attack.  Copper is eventually saved by Tod, who is badly injured in the fight.  When Slade tries finishing off the foxes, Copper stands in front of his former friend, saving him.  It’s an honest and touching moment, but it doesn’t last.  Copper and Slade limp back to their farm, leaving Tod and Vixey to remain in the game preserve.  Credits roll. 

That’s it?  No, dammit.  I want my tearful duet reunion!  Forget this uneasy truce.  I don’t want none of this “fond memories to look back on” bullshit.  I suppose it’s not all bad.  Copper’s the numero uno hound dowg, and Tod’s now getting semi-consistent action, and that’s really what life’s all about isn’t it?  You make friends, grow up, lose those friends, move away, get married, have kids, get into standoffs with giant super-Grizzlies.  Having 22 years of life experience, I’m qualified to make sweeping generalizations about these things.

I’m still not satisfied, though.  Maybe a broader analysis is needed to get to the bottom of this.  Let’s start by cataloguing every Disney animated film ever made:

  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
  • Pinnochio (1940)
  • Dumbo (1941)
  • Bambi (1942)
  • Make Mine Music (1946)
  • The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
  • Cinderella (1950)
  • Alice in Wonderland (1951)
  • Peter Pan (1953)
  • Lady and the Tramp (1955)
  • Sleeping Beauty (1959)
  • 101 Dalmatians (1961)
  • The Sword in the Stone (1963)
  • The Jungle Book (1967)
  • The Aristocats (1970)
  • Robin Hood (1973)
  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
  • The Rescuers (1977)
  • The Fox and The Hound (1981)
  • The Black Cauldron (1985)
  • The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
  • The Brave Little Toaster (1987)
  • Oliver & Company (1988)
  • The Little Mermaid (1989)
  • DuckTales the Movie (1990)
  • The Rescuers Down Under (1990)
  • Beauty and the Beast (1991)
  • Aladdin (1992)
  • The Lion King (1994)
  • A Goofy Movie (1995)
  • Pocahontas (1995)
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) 
  • Hercules (1997)
  • Mulan (1998)
  • Tarzan (1999)
  • Dinosaur (2000)
  • The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)
  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
  • Lilo & Stitch (2002)
  • Treasure Planet (2003)
  • Brother Bear (2003)
  • Home on the Range (2004)
  • Chicken Little (2005)
  • Meet the Robinsons (2007)
  • Bolt (2008)
  • The Princess and The Frog (2009)
  • Tangled (2010)

Phew.  I should probably wrap this up, huh?   It’s a pretty overwhelming list, especially when you consider that it only includes Disney’s animated feature films.  That means no PIXAR, no live-action hybrids, and no direct-to-video sequels.  To the fans of “Beauty and the Beast: Belle’s Magical World,” I regret nothing.  Now what if we refined that list a little?  Here’s the same one, now only featuring Disney films that are uncharacteristically dark and depressing:

  • Alice in Wonderland (1951)
  • Sleeping Beauty (1959)
  • The Fox and The Hound (1981)
  • The Black Cauldron (1985)
  • The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
  • Lilo & Stitch (2002)
  • Brother Bear (2003)
  • Meet the Robinsons (2007)

Whoops.  I only meant to include films that remain artistic and entertaining in spite of their depressing qualities.  So one more time:

  • Alice in Wonderland (1951)
  • Sleeping Beauty (1959)
  • The Fox and The Hound (1981)
  • The Black Cauldron (1985)
  • The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

Much better.  So after all that list-making, we’re left with 5 films out of a total 47 that embrace the darker aspects of their stories.  Three of them are from the 1980s alone.  If you consider that same decade also saw the release of “An American Tail,” “The Land Before Time,” and “All Dogs Go to Heaven,” it was a pretty dark ten years for aficionados of anthropomorphic animals.  

Now let’s take our newly-shortened list and compare it with Disney’s Highest Domestic Box Office Grosses from that very first list:
  1. The Lion King ($328,000,000)
  2. Aladdin ($217,000,000)
  3. Snow White ($184,000,000)
  4. Beauty and the Beast ($171,000,000)
  5. Tarzan ($171,000,000) 
  6. 101 Dalmatians ($153,000,000)
  7. Lilo & Stitch ($145,000,000)
  8. The Jungle Book ($141,000,000)
  9. Pocahontas ($141,000,000)
  10. Dinosaur ($137,000,000)
Tarzan?  Really, America?  Now this doesn’t factor in inflation or other economic concepts you should probably be reading about instead of a blog post about children’s movies, but that isn’t really the point.  Not a single one of those soul-crushing Disney films cracked the top ten.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any sales figures for Disney’s home video market, but that’s probably because only douche bags call it a “home video market.”  Based solely off these numbers though, the easiest conclusion would suggest that kids don’t like sad.  And that’s probably part of it.  Five of those top films were made in the 90s during Disney’s “Renaissance” period, and catchy tunes like “The Circle of Life,” and “Colors of the Wind” certainly didn’t hurt the chances of kids dragging their parents to the theater a second time.  “Snow White” was also quite a big deal in 1937 as it was the first animated feature length film in color and was instrumental in legitimizing Mr. Disney’s film career.  It was pretty damn revolutionary for its time.  To put it into perspective, just imagine “Avatar,” except actually deserving of its praise.

As a final note, I have to admit I enjoyed “The Fox and The Hound” more than bigger cash cows like “Lilo & Stitch”or “Dinosaur,” even as an adult.  Perhaps that’s because the film’s darker tones are more reminiscent of PIXAR’s impeccable track record, where John Lasseter could pinch a loaf on celluloid and the damn thing would still get a standing ovation at the Oscars.  “Up” and “Toy Story 3” (which enjoys the rare honor of being the third and best film in a trilogy) draw heavily on time, aging, and loss, and “The Fox and The Hound” represents more of that mature storytelling tradition.  I won’t say I cried, but my reaction was definitely akin to Sidney Fife in “I Love You Man:”

“Your best night in 5 years is watching ‘Chocolate’ with Johnny Depp?  You should be ashamed of yourself.”  First a love letter to Ryan Reynolds and now this?  I really need to write something that doesn’t question my masculinity.  Stay tuned next week for the debut of my new series, “Bazookas, Beheadings, and Boobs.”


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