Thursday, February 23, 2012

#24: A star-crossed bromance

(c) Disney
The Fox & the Hound, 1981
watched February 12, 2012

It's not the most glamorous, funny or beautiful film, but there are some pretty unique things about The Fox & the Hound. This is the first of these films built around a friendship between two male characters. While previously seen in Bambi and The Jungle Book, F&H draws much more deeply on this theme of male friendship by bringing together two characters who are not naturally supposed to be friends. It's somewhat refreshing not to see another sugary love-at-first-sight romance, or even a good-thwarting-evil epic. Instead, Disney successfully banks on the emotions that arise in every person as they recall their own childhood friendships, and the ways life and society makes it impossible to maintain them. This simple yet rich tale of friendship connects with a broad audience.

I also think F&H may be the first time Disney addresses the issue of race in a way that is thoughtful and compelling, rather than offensive or confusing. Oddly enough, neither Tod or Copper are "racialized" characters. They are, however, characters set in a context where their roles have been firmly determined by society. Copper's aim in life is to become an effective hunting dog and to loyally assist his owner, Amos Slade. To do anything else would deem him useless and a failure. Tod, an orphaned red fox, lives less clearly within his role as 'the hunted', since he is raised domestically as a pet for the first year of his life. This explains why he is more confused about the change in Copper's attitude towards him as an adult and reluctant to accept what society has served them.

The friendship is ultimately tested in the climax of the film, when the hunter and hunted find themselves at each other's mercy. Tod risks his life to protect Copper from the monstrous bear, nearly dying in the process. In response, Copper stands between his fox friend and his master, who is about to shoot him dead. Without a single word spoken in this moving scene, they demonstrate a courageous love for each other, while also acknowledging that they will never be friends again. It's a surprisingly bittersweet moment for a Disney film.

External definitions of their identities and relationship to one another ultimately win out over what was a strong budding friendship (or as we might like to call it now, bromance). We see a commentary on the divisions society makes between people and groups of people, where there need not be. This applies not only to ethnic segregation but class, gender, and any categories we like to put ourselves in.

While F&H certainly lacks the same polish and timelessness of other classic Disney films, it does make one pause and reflect on human nature. We long to find the two main characters together in the end, laughing and playing. We know, however, that how it really ends is much closer to reality - a reality that is in great need for renewal and change.

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