That was one of the bumpier films I've seen in a while!
The Fox and the Hound has everything - boring bits, exciting bits, funny bits and downright painful bits that'll make you want to hunt down the Disney animators and put horses' heads in their beds. It's tempting to blame this on the fact that this was a handover film, started by the nine grand old men who'd been with Disney right back to Snow White but completed by a new generation of artists who would go on to give us The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. However the visual style is pretty consistent. Much of the inconsistency here comes from the script.
The story (adapted from a book) contains good meaty drama. I didn't have high hopes of The Fox and the Hound, which I expected to be mushy nonsense with tweety birds and musical numbers. However the film surprised me with violence, life-and-death drama, animosity and truly heroic courage. Tod's actions at the end are stirring. You might just have a tear in your eye before this is over. But even that monster bear, impressive though it was, was less frightening than the hunter's spring-traps. Those things could take off your foot! The resolution of the spring-trap sequence was a bit glib and disappointing (wow, Tod's one lucky fox!) but some of this film might just send your children scurrying behind the sofa. That's a good thing, by the way.
But then you've got other bits pasted in. You've got comedy chase sequences between the birds and the caterpillar, which are obviously inspired by Tom and Jerry but are a pretty pale imitation. They're not *bad*, but they just don't have that Looney Tunes energy. You've got Big Momma, who's a sort of Greek chorus. And then you've got Vixie, whom I was praying might snap her annoying neck in one of those spring-traps. She's awful! Awful! Her scenes with Tod are just painful, more buttock-clenching even than the worst of The Aristocats. Mind you, having said that, Tod's attempt to impress Vixie by catching a trout is the film's funniest scene.
But all that only comes once the lead characters have grown up. Everything before then, with Tod and Copper as puppies, is a bit dull. It took me three attempts to get through this film; I watch movies late at night and the first half kept sending me to sleep.
Disney's animators think The Fox and the Hound is saying things about prejudice, the boxes society puts us in and overcoming these barriers. Personally I disagree. In fact, The Fox and the Hound is saying things about animals. The creature body language in this film is stunning - the little bird that hops everywhere, the kicked-spaniel crawl of Tod and Copper when they think they've done wrong... these aren't people with funny faces (as Disney animals often are) but animals that happen to have been given voices. As a result, the relationship between fox and hound isn't just going against "society's expectations" (or some other such nonsense) but against something much more fundamental - their own natures.
Personally I think this makes the film a much stronger story. There's quite a bit of killing going on in this movie (the hunter and his trophies) but there's quite a bit more implied if you're prepared to look for it. Those two birds ain't hunting that caterpillar for kicks. What's more, every creature that talks in this film is carnivorous by nature. We never see the owl or the foxes killing (of course), but there's an ambiguous line where Vixie counts seven baby partridges crossing a mini-stream and says "six would be a perfect number". It's possible that she's talking about how many baby foxes she'd like to have with Tod - but it's also possible that she's talking about how many baby partridges would be left alive after she and Tod have breakfast.
Thus the heroic actions at the end aren't just Tod helping Copper but a fox helping a hound. This is emphasised with their final look at each other, in which the camera pulls back far enough to dispel all anthropomorphic cuteness. Instead we see two four-legged beasts looking at each other. Personally I found that powerful.
This isn't a great film. Much of it is merely cute. It has lazy bits, mis-matched bits and screamingly awful bits (Vixie). However some of its comedy is wonderful and some of its drama is astonishing. Almost despite itself, it's eventually quite impressive.