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Ink & Paint
Ink & Paint is a podcast journey through the Disney animated classics! Each week, host Daniel Lammin and a special guest will look at each film in the official Disney animated canon, and talk about their artistic, historical and social context. Subscribe now to make sure you don’t miss an episode! Have comments or questions for Ink & Paint? Record a message for Daniel right from your phone, and we'll try to use it in our next episode!

Episode 26: Episode 26: The Fox and the Hound
Daniel is joined by partnerships manager for PETA Australia, Emily Rice, to look at the gentle tale of forbidden friendship 'The Fox and the Hound' and discuss how the film deals with themes of animal cruelty, hunting, speciesism, discrimination and friendship.

Daniel Lammin
Emily Rice - Partnerships Manager, PETA Australia

Producer/Editor ∷ Alex Amster
Music ∷ Sam Porter
Show Artwork ∷ Nikolaos Pirounakis
Episode Artwork ∷ Lily Meek

Show Notes
As the 1970s came to an end, Walt Disney Productions found themselves in a precarious position. In the wake of the success of ‘Star Wars’ in 1977, the film landscape had changed dramatically, and in an attempt to keep up, the studio had taken a number of risks. There had been the 1977 live-action/animation hybrid ‘Pete’s Dragon’, met with mixed reviews and lacklustre box office. In 1979, they tried to pivot towards PG-rated films, but suffered a series of flops, including ‘The Black Hole’ and ‘The Watcher in the Woods’, along with Paramount co-productions ‘Popeye’ and ‘Dragonslayer’. The studio was still able to make a yearly profit, but the record-breaking numbers of the mid-70s couldn’t seem to be replicated.

While live-action filmmaking had underperformed, one product they could rely on for success were the animated features. Every single one following Walt’s death had been a hit, with ‘The Rescuers’ becoming one of their biggest in years. A new animated film was already in the works, but as the 1980s began, the production was in serious trouble. If ‘The Rescuers’ had suggested tension between the older generation of Disney animators and the new generation about to inherit the artform, the next film would see that tension overwhelm the production, causing conflicts the likes of which the department hadn’t seen in many, many years. Earlier Disney productions had represented important moments of artistic transition - ‘Cinderella’, ‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians’, ‘The Jungle Book’. They had been difficult but ultimately what had emerged were stronger, more confident animators. This transitional film would be very different, the moving story of a fox and a hound trying to navigate a forbidden friendship revealing a department threatening to come apart at the seams.

And we'll always be friends forever. Won't we?
Tod, ‘The Fox and the Hound’ (1981)

After his mother is killed by a hunter, a young fox cub (Keith Coogan) is rescued by the Widow Tweed (Jeanette Nolan), who names him Tod and adopts him as her pet to live with her on her farm. While exploring, Tod wanders onto the neighbouring property and meets Copper (Corey Feldman), a hound dog puppy. The two decide to become friends, but are forced apart by Copper’s owner, hunter Amos Slade (Jack Albertson) and his older hunting dog Chief (Pat Buttram). Amos threatens Tod, telling Widow Tweed that if he sees the fox cub again, he’ll shoot him. Amos and Chief take Copper away to learn to be a hunting dog, and when he returns, their friendship is shattered when Chief is hit by a train and injured while chasing Tod (Mickey Rooney), an accident that Copper (Kurt Russell) blames on the fox. To save Tod, the Widow Tweed sets him loose in a nature reserve, but Amos is determined to capture him and sets up illegal traps in the reserve to catch him. When Amos and Copper are attacked by a bear, it is Tod that comes to the rescue. Knowing they can’t be friends, Copper says goodbye to Tod, leaving him to start his new life in the wild.

Walt Disney’s 24th animated feature was based on the 1967 novel ‘The Fox and the Hound’ by Daniel P. Mannix. Born in 1911, Mannix led a fascinating and creatively active life, not only working as a writer and journalist, but as a photographer, magician, animal trainer, sideshow performer and filmmaker. He had a keen interest in animals and history, and wrote a number of fiction and non-fiction books on a variety of subjects for both adults and children. His 1957 book ‘Those About To Die’ was the inspiration for the 2000 Oscar-winning film ‘Gladiator’.

Mannix spent more than a year studying the behaviour of wild foxes while writing ‘The Fox and the Hound’, determined to be as accurate to their natural behaviour as possible. The book itself is far more brutal than the film, the many-year hunt for Tod culminating in the deaths of both the fox and the hound. In 1967, the unpublished manuscript was awarded the Dutton Animal Book Award for the “best book-length work of adult fiction or nonfiction on animals”, winning $10,000 and guaranteeing publication through E.P. Dutton in September that year, accompanied by illustrations from American artist John Schoenherr. The book was a success, selected for the Reader’s Digest Book Club in 1967 and awarded the Athenaeum Literary Award. Critics praised the novel for its attention to detail, its evocation of the natural world and Mannix’s writing style.

‘The Fox and the Hound’ concept art by Mel Shaw © Disney

Walt Disney Productions purchased the rights to the then-unpublished manuscript of ‘The Fox and the Hound’ in 1967, shortly before it won the Dutton Animal Book Award, but no active development began on the project until the 70s. Wolfgang Reitherman read the book and was drawn to the story, remembering how one of his own sons had raised a pet fox as a boy. At the time, the studio was considering another project to be their follow-up to ‘The Rescuers’, a sweeping fantasy epic based on the award-winning ‘The Chronicles of Prydain’ by Lloyd Alexander. Veteran Disney storyman Mel Shaw, who had returned to the studio during ‘The Rescuers’, was spearheading the project, but there were concerns that the scale of the production was beyond the skills of the younger animators.

Shaw was asked to take a look at ‘The Fox and the Hound’ and see whether he could develop some ideas for adapting it to the screen. Off the strength of Shaw’s work, the film was selected as the follow-up to ‘The Rescuers’ in 1975. Two years later in 1977, with that film completed, production on ‘The Fox and the Hound’ finally began.

Fresh from the success of The Rescuers, Reitherman and co-director Art Stevens were given the reins to the new production. Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston would also carry over onto the film, as well as Don Bluth and the growing team of talented young animators. Very quickly, the artistic differences that had bubbled under the surface on ‘The Rescuers’ began to reemerge with greater ferocity, and for many of the artists in the Disney animation department, ‘The Fox and the Hound’ would either be a challenge to rise to or the straw that finally broke the camel’s back.

The first challenge on ‘The Fox and the Hound’ was refashioning Mannix’s novel into a family-friendly story. The tone of the novel was far more serious and violent than a traditional Disney film, and in the end, most of the story was shifted or changed to accommodate for the new storytelling form. The most fundamental difference between the two works is that, in Mannix’s book, Tod and Copper aren’t friends. The decision to centre the film on an unlikely friendship between the two animals offered ‘The Fox and the Hound’ its emotional centre as well as a fascinating conflict to navigate.

During the 70s, Disney animation had an established core team engaged in solving story problems and preparing a film for animation. By the time ‘The Fox and the Hound’ entered production, many of that core team had started to fall away. Reitherman was still at the centre, with Thomas and Johnston in animation and Larry Clemmons and Vance Gerry in story, but Ken Anderson and Milt Kahl had both moved on or retired after ‘The Rescuers’. New names began to fill the ranks, in particular Art Stevens, an animator with Disney since 1939 who had stepped into co-directing duties on ‘The Rescuers’ after the death of John Lounsberry. Another important figure on ‘The Fox and the Hound’ was Ron Miller, Walt’s son-in-law who had been made executive in charge of film production following Walt’s death. He had been credited as Executive Producer on ‘The Rescuers’ (the first such credit on a Disney animated film), but became more actively involved on ‘The Fox and the Hound’. “I always liked the story”, he later recalled. “That was my first true involvement in developing a story and seeing it through to an animated feature.”

‘The Fox and the Hound’ concept art by Paul Wenzel © Disney

The process of adapting ‘The Rescuers’ had been a challenge, but one where the main issue was the variety of options, and the process was mostly congenial and collaborative. From almost the moment production on ‘The Fox and the Hound’ began, it was embroiled in heated debate driven by artistic differences. At the centre of these disagreements were Reitherman and Stevens, who butted heads over numerous key sequences in the film.

One section that was hotly debated was the moment where Chief was hit by the train. Mannix’s book has a far more brutal relationship with death than the film, culminating with Tod being killed and skinned, and Copper being put down. In the book, Chief is killed by a train while chasing Tod, fuelling Copper’s desire to catch and kill the fox. For the film, he would break his leg instead. The relationship between Tod and Copper in the film was obviously now more complex, but many on the story team, including future director Ron Clements and veteran story man Vance Gerry, argued that the conflict would be stronger and Copper’s motivations clearer if Chief died.

The problem, Stevens argued, was that no major character had ever died in a Disney animated film (which wasn’t true), and “we're not starting now!” he stated. Many of the younger animators went to Miller to protest, but Miller backed Stevens. The argument ended when Stevens saw the test animation Ollie Johnston had done of Chief hobbling around in a cast. To emphasise to the audience that Chief had survived, animator Randy Cartwright altered the animation where Copper finds Chief’s body to show him opening his eyes.

‘The Fox and the Hound’ concept art by Mel Shaw © Disney

Another point of conflict came with a solution Reitherman proposed to solve the problematic third act. He suggested a comic sequence featuring two cranes to be voiced by Phil Harris and Spanish-American actress Charo. The sequence would feature the song “Scoobie-Doobie Doobie Doo, Let Your Body Turn to Goo”, and even got as far as Charo recording a demo of the song and shooting live-action reference in a pink leotard. There was immediate concern about the sequence, especially from Stevens, who was worried it would be a distraction from the main narrative. Stevens escalated the issue to Miller and after a series of story meetings, the sequence was removed. Not long after, Reitherman came into Stevens’ office and slumped down into a chair. “I dunno, Art”, he said, “maybe this is a young man's medium.”

Miller eventually asked Reitherman to step down as director of the film, despite Reitherman’s concerns about the experience of the younger animators. Miller backed Stevens though, and Reitherman left ‘The Fox and the Hound’ to continue development on ‘Catfish Bend’. In his place, Ted Berman, who had been at Disney since the 1940s, and Richard Rich, who had joined in 1970, stepped in as co-directors with Art Stevens.

‘The Fox and the Hound’ rough animation by Frank Thomas © Disney

By the end of 1978, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston had completed much of the early rough animation on a number of sequences. Most of their work had gone into solving many of the film’s story problems, with Thomas focused on the first meeting of Tod and Copper and Johnston looking at the introduction of Tod’s love interest Vixey. A year into production, Thomas and Johnston made the decision to retire from Disney animation, focusing instead on writing their seminal work on Disney animation, ‘The Illusion of Life’.

It was a monumental moment. ‘The Fox and the Hound’ would be one of the last for which any of Walt’s beloved Nine Old Men would receive screen credit, finally bringing the age of Walt Disney’s animation to an end. Many of them would consult on future projects, but only in an advisory capacity. With the departure of Reitherman, Thomas and Johnston, ‘The Fox and the Hound’ was placed firmly in the hands of their successors, graduates of both the studio’s Talent Development Program and CalArts’ new Character Animation Program. With many of the story issues solved, they at least had a firmer footing and a good chance of delivering another solid Disney animated feature, slated for release at Christmas 1980.

In the years following the release of ‘The Rescuers’, Don Bluth’s frustrations with the animation department at Walt Disney Productions continued to escalate. At the same time as serving as one of the directing animators on the film, Bluth was also the directing animator for the character of Elliot in ‘Pete’s Dragon’ (1977), Disney’s lavish live-action/animation hybrid musical built in the same vein as ‘Mary Poppins’ (1964) and ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks’ (1971). Bluth wanted to introduce variations in colour and texture to the dragon’s skin as he moved between different light sources, a detail that had been employed often in the early Disney animated features. Like many of his suggestions on ‘The Rescuers’ though, this idea was scrapped in favour of a simpler visual approach.

This incident was indicative of Bluth’s frustrations with the current state of Disney animation. While Reitherman and the other Nine Old Men had favoured character-driven animation over an artistically-driven approach as a way of combating issues of time and resources, Bluth saw this concession as a regression for the artform and pushed for a return to the high level of draughtsmanship and storytelling exhibited in the Golden Age films. Reitherman had his reasons - while those films were clearly works of art, almost all of them had brought the studio to the edge of bankruptcy, and their last film driven by purely artistic pursuits, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ (1959), had been an enormous commercial and critical disaster. Bluth believed though that there was a way to achieve this level of craftsmanship in a cost-effective and time-efficient manner, but every time he would try and convince the senior animators, he would be shut down.

Another problem was that the first round of students accepted into the Character Animation Program at CalArts were now transitioning to the studio. In 1974, Ken Anderson, Eric Larson and Marc Davis had approached CalArts about establishing an animation program at the school, since their own in-house Talent Development Program wasn’t providing them with the manpower they needed. The new CalArts program debuted in September 1975, and under Disney veteran Jack Hannah, the students were trained in accordance with Reitherman’s principles. Reitheran was working to ensure the future of the department, one that had weathered endless threats in his tenure at Disney, and he wanted to make sure that the lessons he and his colleagues had learned were imparted to the next generation. This placed the new recruits in conflict with Bluth and his colleagues who were attempting to shift this thinking within the department.

‘Banjo the Woodpile Cat’ pencil animation © Don Bluth

As a way of venting their frustrations into something constructive, Bluth, his friends Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy and a number of other disgruntled Disney animators began a project of their own. Bluth initially considered a short based on the story of the Pied Piper of Hamlen, but instead developed one of his own called ‘Banjo the Woodpile Cat’ about a kitten living in Salt Lake City. Working after hours in Bluth’s garage, the team used the project as a means to relearn what they saw as the lost skills of Disney animation, with Bluth paying for the project out of his own pocket. After a number of years, the team had come up with a strong story they were happy with and took the project to Ron Miller as a potential short or TV special. Miller looked at the material and rejected the project. Undaunted, Bluth and his team continued to work on the short on their own, planning to sell it to another company.

In early 1979, Gary Goldman received a phone call from Jim Stewart, an ex-Disney executive vice-president who had left the studio to form his own company Aurora Productions in 1978 with fellow ex-Disney executive Rich Irvine. He asked Goldman if he, Bluth and Pomeroy would be interested in forming a corporation of their own to produce animated features for Aurora. Goldman went to Bluth with Stewart’s proposal and Bluth liked the idea, as long as Stewart could raise the money needed to finance their first film. They even had an idea for it, a book recommended to them by Ken Anderson and that Disney had turned down in 1972 - Robert C. O’Brien’s award-winning novel ‘Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH’.

On September 13, 1979, Don Bluth’s 42nd birthday, Bluth, Goldman and Pomeroy handed in their resignation. The following day, eight more animators - Lorna Pomeroy, Heidi Guedel, Linda Miller, Emily Juliano, Frank Jones, Dave Spafford, Vera Law and Sally Voorhees - also resigned. On September 20, Diane Landau resigned as well. “I remember handing the Disney leaders my letter of resignation,” Linda Miller later recalled. “They were quite shocked. I wasn’t seeing quality films ahead at Disney so I left thinking that would be the case with Bluth.”

The rebellion caused an unexpected media frenzy, news outlets across the country fascinated by this conflict within such a beloved American institution. In the press, Ron Miller and Don Bluth were pitted against one another. “I was hoping the good old days could be revived”, Bluth told ‘Variety’, “and it turned into a lot of politics and fighting. Egos were just everywhere… It became intolerable to work under the current administration. They don't understand the creative side. Walt did, but they didn't.” When asked about those that had left, Miller said, “Some of them I respect... Some I wouldn't have back. Some will be back.”

It didn’t help that Disney’s recent financial failings were well-reported. Not only had they suffered through a string of live-action failures, but park revenue in California and Florida had dropped dramatically due to oil shortages. Animation was seen as not only the backbone of the company but one of its most profitable commodities. They had worked hard to rebuild the department after Walt’s death, but a defection of this scale suggested significant internal problems. “Their creative atmosphere has disappeared," Bluth accused the Disney management. “Their thinking is more toward marketing than product - more business than art.”

The blow to ‘The Fox and the Hound’ was enormous. 17% of the animation staff at Disney had left with Bluth, including almost all of the female animators. Bluth suggested that this was indicative of the attitude towards women in Disney animation, never allowing them to advance higher than assistant animators. With the animation department gutted, Miller made the decision to delay the release of the film from Christmas 1980 to July 1981, a decision the ‘New York Times’ predicted could cost them $50 million in revenue. The department reached out to CalArts to find qualified students they could bring over to help finish the film.

Don Bluth, John Pomeroy and Gary Goldman

In the meantime, Bluth and his new company of animators finished work on Banjo and began development on their $7 million adaptation of O’Brien’s novel, now retitled ‘The Secret of NIMH’. There was a palpable sense of anticipation within the film and animation community. For decades, Disney had been the dominant force in American animation. UPA had long since disappeared, and while Warner Bros and Hanna-Barbera had a number of television hits, no studio could compete with Disney in terms of feature animation. There had been a few animation auteurs - director Ralph Bashki with ‘Fritz the Cat’ (1972) and his ill-fated adaptation of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ (1978), and producer Michael Rosen with his adaptation of ‘Watership Down’ (1978) - but these had all been modest successes. Don Bluth, with the initial backing of Aurora, now offered something the animation world had never seen - the first true competitor to Disney animation.

In the immediate aftermath of Bluth’s defection, Ron Miller tried to present a united and optimistic front to the press. In the ‘New York Times’ a few days after, he said, “The same thing happened to Walt twice. And it’s going to happen again. We develop the finest artists in the field of animation in the world. It’s typical of artists to want to spread their wings.”

The rebellion could have had a severe negative impact on the morale of the animator left behind. To Miller’s relief, it appeared to have the opposite effect. With Bluth and his colleagues gone, so was the animosity between them and the CalArts graduates. ‘The Fox and the Hound’ now offered many of these emerging artists the opportunity to shine, and the need to replenish the ranks allowed even more promising artists to join Disney. As assistant director on the film and future Oscar-winning producer Don Hahn recalled later, “That’s when a number of the top Disney artists came to the studio.”

Glen Keane during the making of ‘The Fox and the Hound’ © Disney

One of the most promising animators was CalArts graduate Glen Keane. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1954, Keane was the son of cartoonist Bil Keane, creator of the syndicated comic strip ‘The Family Circus’. Rather than accepting a football scholarship after graduating high school, Keane enrolled at CalArts, where his application was accidentally sent to the Experimental Animation program, at the time the only program in animation offered at the school. He joined Disney in 1974 and was mentored by Ollie Johnston, assisting him on Bernard and Bianca in ‘The Rescuers’.

‘The Fox and the Hound’ rough animation by Glen Keane © Disney

Keane’s major sequence in ‘The Fox and the Hound’ would be the climactic battle between Tod and the bear. He was handed the storyboards to animate, but decided that the sequence wasn’t dynamic enough. Keane re-boarded the entire scene, and with the exception of some of the more violent details, the directors accepted Keane’s alterations. His plan had been to animate the sequence in charcoal to make it more dynamic, but this was deemed too expensive and time-consuming. In the final sequence, Keane animated the bear itself, an impressive piece of animation akin to the ferocity of Reitherman’s dinosaurs in ‘Fantasia’ (1940) or Retta Scott’s dogs in ‘Bambi’ (1942). He was assisted on the sequence by fellow CalArts graduate John Lasseter.

Another promising animator who would go uncredited on the film was Tim Burton. He was also a graduate of CalArts, and his 1979 student short film ‘Stalk of the Celery Monster’ had attracted the attention of Disney. He was offered an apprenticeship at the studio, and on ‘The Fox and the Hound’ was given the task of animating Vixey. Burton was initially unenthusiastic about the character as she differed from his preferred gothic style, and he began by animating her in distant shots. As he became more fond of her, he became more comfortable animating close-ups of her. He also contributed concept art for the film, none of which was used.

Patty Peraza during the making of ‘The Black Cauldron’ © Disney

‘The Fox and the Hound’ was also the debut film for animator Patty Pereza. She had received a full scholarship from the Disney family to study at CalArts in the 1970s, and would be the first female animator hired from the Character Animation Program. While most women were still assigned to the Inking & Painting department, Peraza became the first woman ever assigned to the Effects department. “I started on ‘The Fox and the Hound’, in-betweening effects” she later recalled, “and the ladies of Ink & Paint applauded when they heard a woman was in Effects.” On her first day, Peraza was surprised to find that her male co-workers had converted one of the male bathrooms into a female bathroom especially for her, as there had never been any women working in the building. When Peraza was later promoted to Effects Animator, she became the only female animator working at that level in Disney at the time.

As well as Keane, Burton and Peraza, ‘The Fox and the Hound’ would also help launch the careers of many of the most important figures in animation at the end of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first - John Musker, Ron Clements, Brad Bird, Henry Selick, Chris Buck, Mike Gabriel and Don Hahn. Not all of them made it through to the end of production - Brad Bird was fired by animation administrator Ed Hansen mid-way for being too outspoken on what he saw as the unacceptable quality of the film.

The film also allowed for further technical developments with the now-standard Xerox process. For The Rescuers, a grey line had been adopted, softening the harshness of the black lines the process had been using since ‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians’. That process was adapted further on ‘The Fox and the Hound’ with a brown line, allowing for an even softer look. The development wasn’t without its issues though.

“At first we had a lot of trouble with ‘The Fox and the Hound’,” recalled Paint Supervisor Ginni Mack. “Some of the Xerox in the brown was almost transparent, so it was translucent - you could see where the paint showed through the line… The brown lines looked nice, but the girls almost had to ‘ink’ as they painted. They had to paint over the brown Xerox line just right, to cover the whole line and not go over it so they couldn’t see the line.”

The Ink and Paint department were placed under a significant amount of pressure on ‘The Fox and the Hound’. As well as the extra time needed to perfect the brown Xerox line, they were also called upon to work on material for live-action films, including ‘The Black Hole’ and ‘The Watcher in the Water’. While Bluth’s departure was the primary reason for delaying the production, the move to July 1981 was also to accommodate the needs of the Ink and Paint artists.

‘The Fox and the Hound’ concept art by Mel Shaw © Disney

‘The Fox and the Hound’ took four years to complete. The film required some 360,000 drawings transferred to 114,000 painted cels, along with over 1,100 painted backgrounds, many of which were inspired by the gorgeous artwork by Mel Shaw. The artists in Ink and Paint employed 748 different colours and hues, amounting to over 450 gallons of paint. It had weathered a tumultuous production process, but was now ready to be placed in the hands of the public.

In their publicity campaign for the film, Walt Disney Productions promoted the film as “the 20th Disney animated feature”. It was a tricky piece of marketing spin to give the film’s release a touch more prestige - it was in fact the 24th animated feature, the studio conveniently dropping four of the wartime era films in their count. Four years later, they would promote their next feature as the 25th, reinstating those four films.

Theatrical Poster, 1981 © Disney

‘The Fox and the Hound’ had the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of the enormously successful ‘The Rescuers’, but upon its release on July 10, 1981, the film proved to be an even greater commercial success, earning $39.9 million at the domestic box office. The critical reception was not quite as enthusiastic, Vincent Canby in the ‘New York Times’ describing the film as “a pretty, relentlessly cheery, old-fashioned sort of Disney cartoon feature, chock-full of bouncy songs of an upbeatness that is stickier than Krazy-Glue and played by animals more anthropomorphic than the humans that occasionally appear.” The film did receive praise though for its thoughtful discussion of prejudice, building on the mature handling of serious themes Disney had demonstrated with The Rescuers. “... for all of its familiar qualities, this movie marks something of a departure for the Disney studio,” wrote Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times, “and its movement is in an interesting direction. ‘The Fox and the Hound’ is one of those relatively rare Disney animated features that contains a useful lesson for its younger audiences. It's not just cute animals and frightening adventures and a happy ending; it's also a rather thoughtful meditation on how society determines our behavior.”

Richard Corliss in ‘Time’ even described the film as “... a movie that confronts the Dostoyevskian terrors of the heart.”

Despite its troubled production and the curious miscasting of Mickey Rooney as the adult Tod, ‘The Fox and the Hound’ remains a heartfelt and melancholy entry in the Disney canon. The film may be far less brutal than its source material, but there’s a maturity to the way it handles its themes of discrimination, mortality and friendship. It’s a film that catches you by surprise - the story peeters out in the last act and the characters often feel like stock Disney supporting players, but the truth of Tod and Copper’s friendship, bolstered by the gorgeous score by Buddy Baker and moments of stillness where its sadness is given the space to breathe, allow for the soul of the film to emerge. Despite now being seen as one of the lesser Disney animated features, it may be one of the most moving.

‘The Fox and the Hound’ concept art by Mel Shaw © Disney

‘The Fox and the Hound’ is a film that, one could argue, wears its scars. There is the echo of the old masters throughout it and the bursting energy of the masters to come, but the chaos of its birth never allows for these two energies to meld in the way they had on ‘Robin Hood’ and ‘The Rescuers’. Unbeknownst to those creating it, the film would not only be a transition point but the last Disney animated feature of its kind. Not only were the Nine Old Men now gone, but the structures of the company put in place after Walt’s death were starting to come apart. It would also be the last Disney animated feature to begin with the Buena Vista distribution card.

In 1980, Walt Disney Productions underwent a management restructure “to maximise future potential and to allow for executive growth and experience to insure an orderly transfer of responsibility to future management.” Card Walker, who had been CEO of the company since 1976, would remain in the role, but would step down as President to assume the role of Chairman of the Board from Donn Tatum. Ron Miller, who had been in charge of film production since 1968, stepped into the role of President of the company, the position now held once again by a member of the Disney family.

Another member of the family also in a significant position was Roy Disney, the son of the studio’s co-founder and Walt’s nephew. In the years following Walt’s death, his relationship with Walt’s daughter (and Miller’s wife) Diane had become estranged, but he was still very much invested in the fate of his father’s company, serving as a senior member of the Disney board of directors since 1967.

With ‘The Fox and the Hound’ now complete, work could begin on the next feature project, easily the most ambitious they had attempted in decades. The new generation had now shown themselves capable and were ready to really prove what they could do. There was excitement, optimism and enormous enthusiasm. They were going to attempt something big, a large-scale fantasy epic that would take animation to the next level. If they had looked back into their history, they might have recognised these same ambitions just over twenty years earlier with another animated fantasy epic, one that almost cripped the artists making it and the studio financing it. They might have learned some of its lessons, enough to prepare them for the storm ahead.

In the mid 1980s, Walt Disney Productions would meet one of its greatest challenges, a seismic event that would change not only the beloved American icon, but the entire film, television and entertainment industry. Once again they would come to the edge of the abyss, and this time a very different future lay on the other side.

And at the heart of it all was the most calamitous and notorious production in the history of Disney feature animation, a behemoth that would lead them deep into the mountains of madness - a tale of a boy, an oracular pig, a horrifying horned king and an army of the dead borne from the depths of a black cauldron.


The 1994 US VHS release, the 2000 US Walt Disney Gold Classics DVD release, the 2006 25th anniversary DVD release and the 2011 US 30th anniversary 2-movie collection Blu-ray.
  • In March 1994, ‘The Fox and the Hound’ made its VHS debut as the last film released in the Walt Disney Classics line. It went into moratorium in April 1995.
  • The film made its DVD debut in May 2000, along with its second VHS release, as part of the Walt Disney Gold Classics line. Apart from a trailer, a game and a read along feature, the disc did not include any significant extras.
  • For its 25th anniversary in October 2006, the film was once again released on DVD, this time with a small selection of special features and bonus shorts.
  • For its 30th anniversary in August 2011, the film received a digital restoration and its first Blu-ray release as part of a 2-movie collection with the direct-to-video sequel. It was the first time the film had been presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1, but while the two accompanying DVD’s included legacy special features, there were none on the Blu-ray. The disc has been re-released several times with no changes or additions.
  • The film is available on Disney+.

We begin our two-part look at one of the most infamous films in the Disney canon, the magnificent failure of ‘The Black Cauldron’.

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