Following Snow White, 101 Dalmatians and The Aristocats, Disney must by now be running out of animated classics to re-release. So this summer we have the 1981 effort that was their final spirited flourish until The Little Mermaid put them back on course. And all charmingness aside, this cute but rather thinly plotted yarn exposes the cracks that were present in the pre-renaissance Disney empire.
It starts off promisingly enough: Tod, a fox cub with the obligatory big-eyed, soft-furred cuteness is abandoned by his mother while being pursued by hunters, rescued by wise old owl Big Mama, adopted by a little old lady and finally befriended by Copper, a playful puppy with adorably droopy eyelids. For a while things are fine and dandy, until Copper goes away for the winter and returns older, wiser, and the best fox-hunter in the business, a situation which puts his lifelong buddydom with the now post-pubescent Tod to the test.
And it's here that the movie falters. While the backgrounds and animation are wonderful, the film suffers from an intensely depressing middle section, full of heart-stopping chases, damaged friendships and forgettable songs more likely to invoke fidgets than sniffles among the younger contingent in the audience. It takes Tod's transformation into a misty-eyed lovepup, and a rousing final as good as any in Disney's recent efforts to steer things back on track.
As one of the studio's more modern efforts, this is head and shoulders above the 1988 clinker Oliver And Company but still pales in comparison next to 101 Dalmatians. As a school holiday diversion, however, it should keep things ticking over nicely until Pocahontas lands on these shores.