If you’re anything like me, you can thank Disney for countless laughs and smiles. Yet, the film studio is also notable for its heart-throbbing, tear-jerking sob stories. For as long as I can remember, the saddest movie in my childhood was “The Fox and the Hound”. But what makes it so irresistibly melancholic? I decided to revisit the film for this article (and because Disney homework is the best kind of homework).
The movie begins with a mama fox running from hunting dogs. She hides her baby and runs into a field to distract them. We then hear two gunshots indicating a darker outcome (really Disney?). The little orphan fox — an absolutely adorable character — is discovered by Big Mama, a motherly owl who decides to help him. She flies away in order to alert the local human widow about the fox’s existence. However, the baby fox is worried that Big Mama will not return, just like his biological mother.
For some reason, this made my maternal instincts go into overdrive as I could completely understand why the widow decides to adopt him once she finally discovers the baby fox in hiding. She names him Tod, short for “toddler” (awww) and says the first tearjerker line: “Y’know what, Tod? I’m not going to be so lonesome anymore.” I mean, really? A sweet, lonely old lady and a baby fox who make up their own unique family. Nice move, Disney. Nice move.
It doesn’t stop here though, as the cuteness meter continues to climb. We meet Copper, a cute puppy owned by hunter Amos Slade (whom I absolutely despise — but I’m getting ahead of myself). Slade owns another hunting dog named Chief. The duo proceeds to have the most wholesome, reluctant father-son relationship that I have ever seen.
Baby Tod comes back on-screen, and I must once again reiterate how cute he is. He starts chasing a butterfly, which is so wholesome. He then stumbles upon a young Copper. Worlds collide! Copper and Tod decide to play together, but then Slade calls Copper back and yells at him for running off. Must I remind everyone again how much I hate that man? These youthful energetic souls still decide to play together, resulting in the second tear-jerker line: “We’ll always be friends forever, won’t we?” Heart. Broken.
The plot thickens. Tod accidentally wakes Chief when visiting Copper, resulting in Slade and Chief chasing Tod all the way to the widow. Slade is trigger-happy, so he ends up shooting at Tod while he is in the widow’s car. The widow is understandably upset and, in a move I can only describe as heroic, snatches Slade’s gun and shoots his radiator in retaliation. Slade has a red-faced temper tantrum like any brute villain, complete with some misogynistic undertones, but eventually relents.
By this point, Slade takes his dogs on a hunting trip to teach Copper how to be a real hunting dog. Big Mama tries to warn Tod that Copper will come back different, even showing him Slade’s shed full of animal skins (which is really dark — I have no idea how Disney got away with that one). However, Tod refuses to believe such a concept and delivers the third tear-jerker line: “Copper would never track me down — he’s my best friend.” Oh, Tod. If only you knew.
Several years go by, and Copper’s away on a hunting trip. When he comes back, Tod is optimistic about their relationship, but Copper implies that they can no longer be friends. At this point, I start to lose my love for Copper. Sorry, kid.
Slade and Chief spot Tod and try to chase him again. Copper is the one to find Tod but says that he’ll let him go this one time. Tod runs away to the railroad tracks where Chief jumps out at him. While chasing Tod, Chief is hit by a train and thrown from the tracks. Slade and Copper blame Tod for Chief’s injuries (unfair!) and swear vengeance. Copper has officially gone over to the dark side.
First time crying: The widow, who saw the chase, decides to drop Tod off on a game preserve for his own safety. She tells him not to follow her and leaves him in the forest, confused and alone. Then, of all things, it starts to rain. I’m pretty sure that rain is just one of Disney’s ways of saying, ‘we’re all crying horribly, don’t look at us.’
We flashback to Copper and Slade back at their house, and in another dark and unexpected twist, Slade demonstrates how one of his hunting traps will be able to snap Tod’s leg in half. I don’t know how I digested that as a kid. I must have missed that.
Flash forward, and out of the darkness, there is light! Tod meets Vixey, a female fox who helps him figure out forest life — they are too cute together. What seems to be one of the only kid-appropriate plot points turns darker when Vixey implies to Tod that she wants six children right after meeting him. Whoa, girl. I must admit, her confidence is off the charts.
Then Slade and Copper enter the game preserve to do some illegal hunting. They smoke out Tod and Vixey, but the foxes manage to get away, with Tod protecting his new girlfriend (cute!). Slade and Copper accidentally end up fighting an irritated bear, and Slade becomes caught in his own trap, which seems like poetic justice if you ask me.
Tod decides to save Copper even after all that has happened. Second time crying: As he lays on the ground, exhausted from the fight (a parallel to when Chief was thrown from the railroad tracks), Slade tries to shoot him, but Copper stands above his friend and protects him. Slade decides to spare Tod and lets him go home with Copper. Third time crying: (although it may just be a continuation of the second) Tod and Vixey watch over the widow, Slade and Copper as the movie ends.
In conclusion, this film is a heartbreakingly beautiful story about a friendship that endures despite the odds, and I highly recommend rewatching this childhood classic.