Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky wishes this movie had been eaten by a bear.
Our review of The Fox and the Hound / The Fox and the Hound 2 (Blu-ray), published August 9th, 2011, is also available.
"Darling, forever is a long, long time, and time has a way of changing things."—Big Mama (Pearl Bailey), The Fox and the Hound
I feel like this is somehow all my fault. Back when I reviewed Bambi 2, I let my guard down, voicing my approval for what was—at least in that case—a decent, pleasant, even likable entry in Disney's collection of sequels, prequels, and midquels gushing out of their Australian studio. I enjoyed Bambi 2 on its own merits. But it was a rarity, one of the few cash-ins that did not detract too much from the original. Now that I look back though, I feel a twinge of guilt, as if I might have somehow indirectly encouraged the existence of The Fox and the Hound 2.
The original 1981 feature The Fox and the Hound came at an awkward time in the history of Disney. The feature animation department had spent the previous decade since Walt's death coasting on a sketchy animation style and celebrity voices (often the same actors, like Phil Harris, reused from film to film). The celebrated "Old Men" of Walt's day were starting to live up to their nickname, and the studio needed to groom a new generation of animators. In retrospect, a lot of fresh talent drifted on and off The Fox and the Hound: Don Bluth (who quit and took several teammates with him during production), John Lasseter, Glen Keane. It is often thought of as a generational transition for Disney. The film is a solid effort visually, with lush, detailed background work and smooth animation (particularly during the fight against the bear at the film's climax). The story has always struck me as a combination between Bambi (growing up as nature goes through its cycle) and Romeo and Juliet (the forbidden relationship). In these post-Brokeback Mountain days, it is hard to see Copper and Tod's friendship—their playful wrestling, their longing looks at one another, their efforts to create satisfying relationships with other characters to substitute for their inability to be together—in a completely innocent fashion. But that is neither here nor there. In short, The Fox and the Hound is an underrated film that has aged comparatively well.
The Fox and the Hound 2, on the other hand…
Steering away from the naturalistic art design of the 1981 picture, this film goes for a noticeably more garish color palette and more simplified design. The use of CG for vehicles and buildings is an expected budgetary consideration these days, and these days it is usually well integrated with cel animation. But here, the flat design stands out awkwardly, making the film look even cheaper. The story is set sometime during the first act of the original film, when Copper the dog and Tod the fox are still kids. However, don't watch The Fox and the Hound before this film, because you are going to be completely confused. Why is the vicious Amos Slade, Copper's owner, played as a total clown? Since when did the dog Chief, Copper's mentor, pal around with Tod? What happened to the bird sidekicks, especially Pearl Bailey's Big Mama? Why is there so much twangy bluegrass music?
Wait, why are there musical numbers?
Ok, I know you are confused. Let's stop for a minute and figure out what is going on here. In The Fox and the Hound, a dog (Copper) and a fox (Tod) become friends. But the dog is trained to hunt, the fox is released by his owner (the kindly lady next door) back into the wild, and they are forced to battle one another. They are not reunited at the end (even after Tod saves Copper and Amos Slade from a marauding bear), and the picture finishes on a fairly down note. They can be friends, but only from a distance.
Now forget all that and think of The Fox and the Hound 2 as a completely unrelated story. Here, a dog pup (Copper, voiced by Harrison Fahn) and a young fox (Tod, voiced by Jonah Bobo) live next door to one another and are friends. Nobody seems to have a problem with it. (In fact, nobody even notices that a fox is running around in public.) One day, the fair comes to town, complete with a singing dog show that will remind you of a canine version of the Country Bear Jamboree. Cash (Patrick Swayze) and Dixie (Reba McEntire) lead the group, but they are so distracted by their bickering that they almost miss a chance to audition for the Grand Ole Opry. Dixie quits. Cash recruits Copper to sing with the band. Tod teams up with Dixie to sabotage Copper's dreams of stardom. Wacky hijinks ensue. A slapstick climax arrives, then a long second climax rambles into view as the film struggles to resolve itself. Then everybody is happy.
On the plus side, the film is not even remotely as dark as the 1981 original, which can be downbeat and frightening for kids. And the bluegrass incidental music is refreshing. That is pretty much it for the plus side.
The songs, performed by country topliners like Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood, are forgettable, unless you find that endless dog puns ("It's all good doggie—but no bone!" or "We go together like wet dog and smelly!") stick in your head. I will venture a guess that this movie was written around the soundtrack. Apart from Swayze and McEntire, who emote wildly for comic effect and lend a little fun, the vocal performances seem limp, especially from the two title characters.
I have already noted the garish look of the film. Budget is not to blame here: the choice to blast bright hues and mismatch color schemes between the cels and CG (look at the shot of Tod and Copper sitting atop a CG carousel horse) is the problem. It all just looks noisy. Tod even seems to have been redesigned, his face flattened, presumably to make him easier to draw.
The plot is noisy too. The message of the movie wants to be the old "friendship is more important than fame" saw, but you and your children will be hard-pressed to follow that through the constant bashing around and shouting. I often hear people justify films like this by saying that they are targeted to and entertaining for toddlers. Sure, the random slapstick jokes are meant to appeal to small children, but given that little in the story hangs together coherently, you can get just as many laughs from your kids by making funny faces and jumping up and down—without having to spend twenty bucks to suffer through this film. If you are enjoying a film with your family, this movie won't fit the bill. If you are buying a film you know is bad only to babysit your toddler so you can leave the room cringing, you are a lousy parent.
See what this movie is doing to me? It is making me mean. Okay, take a deep breath. Let's talk about the extras. The making-of featurette focuses, as you might expect, on the music. The musicians get more time to talk about their contributions than, say, director Jim Kammerud (who specializes in movies with 2 or II in the title—for what it is worth). There is a country music video. There is a "mix master" game. See a pattern? The only non-musical extra of note is the 1939 short "Goofy and Wilbur," the first solo cartoon for Disney's hick hero. I suppose it is here because of the "rural southern" theme of the feature. (Ironically, most of Goofy's starring roles after this would recast him as a suburban family man.) You know your movie is in trouble though when it is completely outshone by a cartoon nearly seventy years older.
The Fox and the Hound 2 is a testament to everything wrong with Disney's direct-to-video marketing strategy. Again, it is not that making inexpensive sequels is inherently bad—a few of these recent releases have stood up fine. But The Fox and the Hound 2 embodies nearly every possible mistake you can make when creating such a creature: sloppy artwork, forgettable music designed to sell soundtracks and not advance story, abandoning continuity so that the film cannot fit coherently with the original, and a plot that lurches along with no rising action or sense of purpose. Disney has so many better films available on DVD that you will not miss this one. Besides, they'll have at least half a dozen more unwarranted sequels on the shelf before you can even forget about this one. Return of the Bride of the Black Cauldron, anyone?
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