Best of Friends: The Fox and the Hound 40th Anniversary
In 1967, Walt Disney Productions purchased the screen rights to an award winning book by Daniel P. Mannix called The Fox and the Hound. However, actual work on it as an animated film didn’t start until ten years later.
Creating the Story
As with all films, the first step is to craft a suitable film narrative. For this, the Disney story team decided to make a lot of changes to this story.
For example, the biggest change was the relationship between the characters of Tod the fox and Copper the hound. Instead of making them enemies from the start, they made them into childhood friends. Then they would briefly become enemies until the end.
But this one change was the least of their troubles.
When production started, it was slated to be directed by Wolfgang “Woolie” Reitherman and Art Steven, who had just finished directing The Rescuers. Unfortunately, the two couldn’t see eye to eye on this film. More unfortunate, CEO and executive producer, Ron Miller, was on Stevens side and told Woolie to step down and produce the film instead.
What was still problematic was that Woolie had ideas for the film that were all rejected. One of which was a musical number by Phil Harris and Charo called “Scoobie-Doobie-Doo, Let Your Body Turn Too Goo”. But it was still rejected for being out of place.
Another problem was the fate of the character Chief. As in the book, he was supposed to die after being hit by a train. But despite the younger staff’s arguments, Art Stevens and the executives over ruled them because they didn’t want to kill a principle character in a Disney movie.
Thus, it was written to have the character break his leg instead.
Pass the Baton
Despite the story trouble, this production was significant was that this was last film that any of the old animators worked on.
After starting animation on the film, veteran animators, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, pass the film to new animators. Some had been at the studio during production of The Rescuers while others came to work on this project.
This group of young animators would include Glen Keane, John Lasseter, Randy Cartwright, Ron Clements, and John Musker. These new animators were told that they would go on to do more amazing things. While they were nervous and unsure about that, they still believed that they could.
Unfortunately, in 1979 an animator named Don Bluth became disillusioned by the studio’s direction. Thus, he and 12 animators left to form their own studio.
What this did was delay the film from it’s planned Christmas 1980 release.
After all that trouble, The Fox and the Hound at last had it’s release on July 10th, 1981. While the film would be a success, the reviews were kind of mixed with critics thinking it didn’t break new ground. But over time, the film would earn better reviews and would have a fan-base.
But the film is still important for giving the new animators the chance they needed and would indeed go on to bigger things.