Out of all the Disney animated films out there, I think The Fox and the Hound is the darkest. I say this because not only is the overall tone, look, and feel of the movie very somber, depressing, serious, and dark, but because it doesn’t really have a happy ending. Films like The Black Cauldron and The Hunchback of Notre Dame can get serious, dark, and scary, but at least they have happy and triumphant ending. That’s not the case for this movie; it has a very bittersweet ending with Tod and Copper having to part ways for good, but at least it ends on a relatively good note. Still, we watched the movie rooting for their friendship, and to see it dissolve was very upsetting.
I watched this a few times as a kid. I don’t remember loving it, but it was more entertaining than other talking animal films (yeah, I prefer films about humans or humanoid creatures than animals; I’ll explain why in another post). When I go online and see people talk about it, a lot of people express brokenhearted love for it.
But then you have people who hate it. That’s fine, but what I find odd is that they think it’s a racism allegory with a horrible ‘don’t challenge the status quo’ message.
And umm…I have a bit of a problem with that.
First off, I can’t seem to find any PROOF that either the movie or the original book was explicitly meant to be an allegory for anything. (If someone could give me solid proof from a legit resource rather than someone’s opinion piece, I would love you forever.) Besides which, I really hate how everything HAS to be an allegory for serious issues like racism and the like. Why can’t we just…show the real thing? Kids know what racism is; they don’t need it filtered through a cutesy lens. Secondly, it’s a film about ANIMALS. Do you really want to equate people of color to ANIMALS? Furthermore, why can’t a movie about animals just…be about animals? They’re made anthropomorphic so that the audience can relate to them, but that doesn’t mean they’re automatically supposed to discreetly represent us.
The way I see it, the film is about struggling with NATURE, not racism. Tod’s nature is to be a wild predator. Copper’s nature is to be a hunting dog. Tod gets into trouble with Amos Slade not just because he exists, but because he disrupted Slade’s farm. He’s a wild animal trying to live with civilized people; that’s not going to work.
Three things that shut down the whole ‘the movie is a racism allegory’ theory is that 1) When Copper explains why he can’t be friends with Tod anymore, it’s because he’s “a hunting dog now”, not “because you’re a fox, and I’m a dog”. 2) When Tod causes further trouble, Amos and Slade directly go after Tod, not all foxes in general, and 3) there is not one non-white person in the movie (and only one person of color, Pearl Bailey, in the cast, who does the owl; she also points out that Tod can’t be friends with Copper because he will become dangerous, not because he’s a dog). If, say, Amos Slade was white and Widow Tweed was black or another minority group, then maybe the racism allegory would make more sense and add more meaning as to why Amos Slade hates Tod. But that’s not the case.
The movie is about two members of different species who are natural enemies, not because they’re different in color or class or culture. When they are young and innocent, they try to fight their nature, but realize when they grow up and become more predatory that they can’t. It’s a movie about the rawness and tragedy of nature and how animals can’t defy it. To try to insert human sociopolitical theories into it would be disingenuous.
I know some people think this film might be a metaphor for homosexuality/homophobia, and that might make a bit more sense, especially when Amos Slade takes Copper on a hunting trip and makes him more ‘manly’ (ie not gay) in order to straighten (pun intended) him out. This movie was made back when LGBT people and their rights was still a taboo, so that might add some depth to the story, but even then, that might be reaching it.
I just don’t like how people base their love or hatred on a film on an allegory that might not even exist. There are things about this movie to like and dislike, but racism is probably not one of them.
EDIT/ADDENDUM: So I talked it over with my sister and we decided that the film might be an allegory for racism, but the final message is NOT ‘never change the status quo’ or ‘segregation is good’. Copper does challenge the status quo by not letting Tod be killed, but he can’t really do anything else about it (after all, Slade doesn’t know the language of animals or that Tod is more than just a predator). The movie might be about how it’s important for children to realize that friendships don’t always work, and that you may not be able to change the whole world, but you can change someone else’s world. That, I think, is important, and viewing it solely as a ‘segregation is good!’ narrative is taking the movie at face value.