Favorite Fictional Characters, #266: Tod
In 1981, Disney was undergoing some changes that would, less than a decade later, lead to the "Disney Renaissance" as the mouse empire jump started the modern golden age of cartoon movies. Tensions arose between the old guard and the new turks during the making of this film, and the new kids on the block (including the creative force behind Pixar, John Lasseter) muscled their way to the forefront. For that reason alone, The Fox and the Hound has a place in history. But it's more than a footnote to many of us who were young (I was six) when the story of two young friends who are born to be enemies hit the screen.
Tod was a kit, a baby fox orphan, rescued by the Widow Tweed and raised as a bit of a domestic. He befriends hound pup Cooper (voiced by Corey Feldman when young and Kurt Russell when older), despite the historic antipathy between hunting dogs and foxes. The two youngsters pledge to be BFFs, but their friendship would prove a wilderness West Side Story, complicated by the prejudices and expectations of their families and the tribulations of maturity. When it becomes apparent that Tod can't stay at the farm any more (Cooper's fellow canine and would-be mentor Chief loathes the fox), Tweed takes him to a game preserve. It's a painful parting for Tod and his adoptive mother, but that's only precursor to the emotional wringer to come.
When Chief is nearly killed in a confrontation with Tod, Cooper swears vengeance on his childhood friend. Tod, meanwhile, has found love in the wild with sleek Vixey (Sandy Duncan of Peter Pan fame) and begun to adapt to life in the forest (now voiced by Mickey Rooney). But Cooper and Chief come for him, and the foxes barely escape. Only when the outside threat of a bear appears do the old friends join forces one last time and save Cooper's owner, the traditionalist Slade. Tod and Cooper say their goodbyes, knowing that the revels of their youths are long gone, boiled away in the cauldron of time, leaving memories, regrets, and a lonelier, less free-spirited adulthood.
It always gets dusty for me when watching this film. It's hard to watch the two friends at each others' throats, hard to watch affection soured into savagery, love curdled. Somehow, though, it's even harder to watch them reconcile and realize that childhood is over and gone forever. How many of us still truly know and cherish the friends we loved in our youth? How many of us have had to go from the hearthside to the woods, fighting through the feuds and bears of adulthood, remembering with bittersweet nostalgia the days when we saw our friends every day, in a long warm summer that promised to last forever? There are themes here, to be sure, of structural prejudice, of how difficult it can be to overcome the cultural messages of who we should love and who we should hate. But for me, this story is all about loss. Loss of friends, loss of childhood, loss of innocence. Loss of who we thought we could be, if only the world wasn't so cold and hard.