The Fox and the Hound(1981) was Walt Disney's 24th animated feature, released at a unique period in the studio's history—toward the end of the golden era of animation, but well before the second coming of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, which wouldn't arise till a decade later. It's a good-looking film—not a dazzling achievement of animation by any means, a bit rough around the edges. Yet with an unflinching, measured sentimentality, strong characters, and important themes of tolerance and individuality, it holds up remarkably well 25 years later.
Based on a 1967 book by Daniel Mannix, the tale of an unlikely friendship between two critters starts off with a bang that Bambi's mom would be proud of, with fox cub Tod left orphaned by a hunter's rifle. Taken in by a kindly widow, he quickly befriends a hound-dog puppy named Copper, and the two scamper and bound innocently until the day comes when humankind deems one of them a predator, another the prey. Movie time passes, the two grow to adulthood (voiced by Mickey Rooney and Kurt Russell; the late, great Pearl Bailey plays a matronly owl), and from one rough break to another, they come to rediscover the bond they shared in the beginning and find it to be of sturdier stuff than anyone imagined. If you remember The Fox and the Hound as a tear-jerker, it's even darker than you recall; besides the multiple animals-in-peril sequences, the sometimes-heart-wrenching coming-of-age bits make for a less lighthearted 'toon than most. Still, the emotions are palpable and poignant—besides a clear-cut parable for overcoming bigotry, it's a fine lesson for the young'uns that how you look does not necessarily define who you are. Introduce 'em to it, and bring Kleenex.