The Fox and the Hound is based on a book by Daniel P. Mannix and was optioned by Disney
after being read by animation director Woolie Reitherman. Several years before, Reitherman's
son had owned a pet fox cub, so the story had special significance for Reitherman who
co-produced The Fox and the Hound.
Development of the project began in 1977, but was interrupted by the defection from the
animation department of Don Bluth, Gary Goldman, John Pomeroy and a cadre of animators
who were anxious to set up their own production studio. The film was finished four years
later, and with the exception of some early scenes and character development done by
veteran animators Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, and Cliff Norberg, the film represented
the combined talents and imagination of a new team. This new generation of animators
would go on to forge a second Golden Age of feature animation in the next decade with
such films as The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1990) and Aladdin (1992).
The first Disney animated feature since 1977, the 1981 release of The Fox and the Hound
was greeted warmly, if cautiously. Audiences deprived of a new Disney feature for four
years made The Fox and the Hound a popular and financial success-again reasserting that,
even in artistic transition, Disney was still the preeminent maker of animation.
The significance of the group of artists responsible for The Fox and the Hound is not
what they brought to the art of the film, but what their collaboration would bring to
the future of Disney animation.
The standout sequence in The Fox and the Hound is the battle with the giant grizzly
bear at the film's climax, supervised by Glen Keane. Keane's handling of the terrifying
weight and massing of the character give it a realistic menace and ferocity. Keane
would later skillfully supervise a diverse cadre of characters, including Ariel in
The Little Mermaid (1989), Beast in Beauty and the Beast (1991) and the title characters
in Aladdin (1992) and Pocahontas (1995).
John Musker and Ron Clements would move from animation to animation direction,
co-directing The Great Mouse Detective (1986), The Little Mermaid and Aladdin.
The voice cast of The Fox and the Hound included Pearl Bailey as Big Mama the owl,
veteran actor Jack Albertson in his last film role as the voice of Amos Slade,
Jeanette Nolan as Widow Tweed, Mickey Rooney as the adult Tod, Kurt Russell as
the adult Copper and Sandy Duncan as Vixey.