Originally, I was going to review Balto for this post, but as I’m still looking for my copy of it, I instead had to turn to yet another favorite movie of mine featuring a dog. The Fox and the Hound is a 1981 buddy film about a talking fox and hound and it is really sad to watch. I actually cannot watch this movie without crying. I mean, that might not be saying much, because the same is also true for the Pete’s Dragon remake, which also went out of its way to tug at my cold dead heartstrings. The difference here is that The Fox and the Hound actually deserves my tears.
Spoilers for a thirty-five-year-old movie up ahead.
Our movie begins when an orphaned baby fox is found and adopted by a kind old farming lady named Tweed. Tweed, a widow, names the fox Tod and cares for him as if he were actually her child. Less thrilled about this relationship is Tweed’s neighbor Slade and his hunting dog Chief. Slade views Tod as little more than an annoyance to be shot and starts butting heads with Tweed after buying a puppy named Copper, whom he plans to raise as another hunting dog. Tod and Copper become the best of friends despite their owners’ differing views and vow to stay best friends forever.
Sadly, things are not meant to be. After a season apart from each other, during which time Copper is fully trained, the now adult friends find themselves at odds. One night, Tod attempts to visit Copper, but when Chief catches him on their property, Tod’s escape endangers the older dog’s life. Thankfully, Chief only breaks his leg, but the damage is done—both Slade and Copper blame Tod for what happened, and Slade makes it his new goal to hunt down and kill him. Tweed, realizing how much danger Tod is in, takes him to a game preserve, leaves him in the woods there, and the entire scene is really unbelievably sad.
Unfortunately, Tod has absolutely no survival skills and his time alone is a complete disaster. An owl eventually introduces him to another fox named Vixey who helps him adapt to his new life, but any kind of happy ending the two of them might have gets put on hold when Slade decides to take Copper trespassing on the preserve in order to murder Tod. As the movie nears its end, a giant bear comes out of nowhere and attacks both Slade and Copper. Tod, unwilling to let his old friend be hurt, intervenes and manages to save both their lives. Copper and Tod reconcile with each other, but unable to remain friends, they still part ways.
As I said earlier, this movie is really sad, and although the ending is a bit happy—Tod and Vixey do get to live happily together in the woods—Tod loses just about everyone else in his life in order to get there.
Tod and Copper are the best of friends, but their friendship is destroyed by Slade and everyone else. Not only does Slade want to kill Tod for daring to exist, all of Tod’s animal forest friends warn him to stay away from Copper. Their friendship isn’t doomed because one of them is a fox and the other is a hound; their friendship is doomed because the rest of the world thinks it’s best to drive the two of them apart. Even though the movie ends with Tod and Copper making up and saving each other’s lives, the damage is already done. They cannot be together and their childhood promise to remain friends forever is broken.
I would say that this movie’s biggest failing comes from its female characters. There’s a whole two of them worth mentioning and considering that one is a fox and the other a human, they never meet. The Fox and the Hound is focused mostly on a male friendship, and that would be fine by itself, but Vixey’s introduction has the added crime of being extremely heteronormative. Tod meets her after spending a traumatizing night alone in the woods because his mother figure completely abandoned him and he doesn’t know the first thing about survival. When he sees Vixey, however, it’s like all his trauma disappears and he’s more concerned with impressing some stranger than he is with literally his entire life being ruined. Because she’s beautiful.
It’s a shame, though, that the movie fails so hard here, because the overall message it wants to leave us with is really good. The Fox and the Hound is another one of those movies that’s well-made and well-thought out, but it’s nowhere near enjoyable to actually watch. This is because the story it tells is a realistic, sad reminder of what goes on in our own world. It’s not hard to compare what happens between Tod and Copper to real-life prejudice and racial tensions. Slade doesn’t like Tod for any other reason than that Tod is a fox—which a lot of people can relate to. Lots of children growing up have their friendships destroyed by their parents, school, or society at large, for whatever reason. Maybe their friends are gay, or Black, or literally anything other than what their parents would prefer. And for some people, that is all the more reason to stop their children from making friends.
Although most friendships don’t end because of attempted murder, sometimes they do end because of the people around us and their bigoted ways of thinking. Sadly, these friendships don’t always recover either. The Fox and the Hound doesn’t shy away from this fact and instead it embraces how devastating that can be for the victims. And the really sad part about all this is that the emotional trauma that Tod and Copper—and by extension the rest of us—went through could have been avoided if Slade had simply not been an asshole.