Making the Grades
Once upon a time, in a quiet forest, there lived a mother fox and her baby. Then the sound of a shotgun shatters the peace of their woodland home and leaves the cub an orphan. Taking the frightened little one under her wing, a kindly owl known as Big Mamma (voice of Pearl Bailey) arranges to have Tod (voice of Keith Mitchell) introduced to Widow Tweed (voice of Jeanette Nolan). Within moments, the lonesome old woman adopts the needy stranger and the two become good company for one another.
Meanwhile, at the farm next door, Amos Slade (voice of Jack Albertson) brings home a new hound. Although the pup isn't much to look at yet, the sportsman is sure he can raise Copper (voice of Corey Feldman) into a fine hunter with the help of his aging, experienced dog Chief (voice of Pat Buttram).
Living in the same neighborhood, it is no surprise when the fox and the hound find each other. What is unexpected is the friendship that develops between the youngsters, who are too naive to realize they ought to be avowed enemies.
Although the chums have fun together all summer, the arrangement ruffles the feathers of the ever-watchful Big Momma who predicts trouble in the future. The wisdom of her warning becomes apparent the next spring when Copper (now voiced by Kurt Russell) returns from a long winter away in the mountain where he has apprenticed in the hunting trade. Taught to follow the commands of his master, the hound now sees Tod (voiced by Mickey Rooney) as his prey instead of as his pal. And this new perspective is about to forever change their relationship and their world -- especially for the maturing fox.
For family viewers, this 1981 Walt Disney production offers a simple storyline. Still, it may not be appropriate for very young viewers. The loss of a mother figure, the sense of betrayal when a friend turns foe, a trigger-happy hunter with a vengeful streak, and some angry encounters with ferocious forest dwellers, will all be good reasons for little tikes to be frightened.
Yet what does make this movie worthwhile for older children (and perhaps even adults) is the idea that opinions can be shaped by one's environment or by the views of others. The two title characters enjoy a happy association, ignorant of the traditional pecking order, until they are taught otherwise. Relating this story to our own preconceived notions or prejudice, this old dog just might teach us all a few new things about the way we look at the world.