26 May 2013

DISNEY SEQUELS: COLD STARES, COLD SHOULDERS, COLD NOSES

We've finally arrived at The Fox and the Hound 2, and I can finally tell you all a story that will not make me look very intelligent or noble, but will maybe clear some things up, anyway.

It's come up more than once during this misbegotten slog through the direct-to-video Disney sequels that perhaps I should really not be bothering, and that's fair. But bother I have, and bother I shall, until I see this through to the bitter end: I do not leave things unfinished, particularly things that are Disney-related, though I maybe take much too long to start them. But that doesn't answer the question of why I started in the first place, and boy, isn't that embarrassing: it goes all the way back to the summer of 2011, when The Fox and the Hound was released on Blu-ray - not a movie I much liked, you understand, but in the throes of Disney completeism, and with an eye to one day writing a book on the subject, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to buy every single Disney animated feature when it came out on Blu-ray, in what would presumably be the last version that would ever end up on physical media, particularly in the case of a B- or C-list film like this one.

In a nasty twist, this Blu-ray was the first Disney released that included, at no extra cost, the film's DTV sequel. So now, I found myself owning a Disney movie I didn't really like and a cheap sequel that I would almost certainly like even less, and obviously my first thought about all this was, "Well, I guess I'm going to have watch the damn thing. And if I'm going to spend the time watching it, I'm fucking well going to get a blog post out of it." When, a year later, the same thing happened with Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World, the time had clearly come to stop procrastinating, and now, months later, here we are.

As comes as no surprise, it wasn't worth the wait, and also I am a goddamned idiot. I'll tell you what is at least a little bit surprising: how unbelievably deficient of a sequel it is. I'm sorry, "midquel". But still, and at the risk of courting hyperbole, this is as unacceptable a travesty of the original as DisneyToon Studios ever put their name to (but not, exactly, "produced" - most of animation was done at Manila's Toon City, a regular contractor for Walt Disney Television Animation). Not, please understand, because it violates the spirit of the first Fox and the Hound, or whatever. I have little investment in that film. But if you're going to extend its narrative in some way, even if you're going to do so by dropping a scant feature's worth of drama right in between two random scenes - unlike Disney's other midquels, all of which take place during some lengthy narrative gap in the original film - there are surely better ways to do it than by inventing a half-dozen major new characters to drive the conflict, since we know that the titular fox and hound must remain best friends, given that they are best friends during the entire span of FatH during which FatH2 could conceivable fit into, and by giving one of the only figures in the new movie taken from the original a character arc that is entirely irreconcilable with his other incarnation - I refer to surly hunter Amos Slade (Jeff Bennett), who as a result of this film's events, has begun softening to his neighbor, the widow Tweed (Russi Taylor), something that does not, and can not happen in the first picture until its epilogue, a full year later than the events of FatH2.

In fact, the question is surely not, are there better sequels or even midquels to the original Fox and the Hound, but, could there possibly be a worse one? Perhaps having the adult version of the characters go into space and fight the cyborg reincarnation of the bear from the climax - but no, even that would at least sidestep glaring continuity issues. Simply put, FatH2 does not seem to exist in the same world as the original film at all, with characters who no more than superficially resemble the older versions going through a plot that requires an entirely different register of suspended disbelief. If the new film was telling a vital and engaging story, that would be one thing; but it's really not.

So here's what's going on: late in the summer (the foliage suggests early autumn, but the plot revolves around a county fair, and even "late summer" is pushing it on that front), the little basset hound puppy Copper (Harrison Fahn) who has spent the year to date becoming best friends with a fox cub named Tod (Jonah Bobo), is being trained to hunt. It is not going well, and his owner Slade and elder dog colleague Chief (Rob Paulsen) elect to leave the pup behind rather than take him along as Chief competes in the county fair's dog show, the implication being that he's to be judged for his hunting prowess, which is not something I thought they did in dog shows. And I was in 4-H. But let it pass, the point is to get Copper feeling awful about how he can't do anything at all, so when Tod, spotting the fair trucks announcing that evening's firework display, suggests that the pair sneak in to have fun and watch the show, Copper will be looking for something to cheer himself up.

It comes in form of an all-dog country & Western band called almighty jiggling Jesus on a hot pink pogo stick, what the fuck did I just type, an "all-dog country & Western band", yes, that's what I thought, called the Singin' Strays, headlined by Dixie (noted country superstar Reba McEntire) and Cash (Patrick Swayze, noted in no genre of music with which I am familiar), where Copper- no, fucking wait, I'm not ready to move on yet. A dog band?

A dog motherfucking band (with a hanger-on in the form of a grey cat voiced by Kath Soucie that looks and sounds like she has a two-pack-per-day cigarette habit, because once you've gone dog band, the sky is the limit). The first Fox and the Hound is maybe not the most stridently realistic talking-animal film in Disney's corpus - Bambi, The Lion King, even Bolt are all more honest with animal physiognomy and behavior - but it was awfully straightforward about recording animal behavior, and the interaction of animals and humans, especially for a film that came hot on the heels of a decade where Disney released Robin Hood and The Rescuers. It ain't Bambi, but you can tell that it wanted to be the Bambi for a lighter, more family-friendly age of softer cartoons.

In short, it established a universe in which fuck no, I will not accept the existence of a dog country band, thank you very much. They're not singing in English that the humans can understand. That's a relief, at least. But seriously, as far as reasonable continuations of a narrative reality go, the massive gulf between the quietude of the first film and the wacky pseudo-anthropomorphic animal japery of the sequel is enough to make the chasm-like plot holes of The Lion King II: Simba's Pride seem dainty and minute; enough to make the moronic inanities of The Hunchback of Notre Dame II feel like a retread of the first film's emotional territory.

So, as anyone who's wallowed in enough children's entertainment can undoubtedly guess, Copper accidentally ends up singing lead for the dog band, causing Cash to throw Dixie out on her ear, and as he tempts the pup with stories of fame and glory, Tod realises that his dear friend is leaving him behind. Which makes the fox easy pickings for Dixie's over-the-top scheme to get back at Cash and regain her rightful position in the band. All of this is taking place against the ticking clock of a Grand Ole Opry talent scout (Stephen Root) coming to see the show that night, because it's not a movie about country singers - not even country singers who are god-damn dogs - if there's not a subplot involving a once-in-a-lifetime shot at the Grand Ole Opry stage. All of it plays out just exactly like you'd expect, with the one exception that I, personally, would never have predicted that the talent scout would get into quite so many wacky scrapes with his little scout guide, Olivia (Hannah Farr), it being ridiculous to predict that the movie would pull so much focus from its A-plot, when that A-plot already was already so remarkably distant from the friendship that was fixed at the center of the first movie, and provides the series its title.

That's easily the biggest tell that the story of FatH2 wasn't actually necessary: it can't even drag its sorry feet up to the 69-minute mark without throwing out subplots that don't involve any legitimate characters except trivially, and relying on bloated song and dance numbers to pad out moments that surely couldn't have stretched that long without the help. Both Cash and Dixie get a more-or-less solo to play Mephistopheles to the young protagonists, and neither of them are very good: the Will Robinson composition "Hound Dude" suffers mostly from being generic and banking everything on a phrase that starts out sounding awful and only gets worse as it goes on ("You're a hound dooood"? F'r serious?), but Marcus Hammon's song for McEntire, "Good Doggie, No Bone", is strange as hell, both in the way the song is structured (in the refrain, "no bone" follows "good doggie" by what feels like a geological epoch,), and especially in the way its staged: with a whole chorus line of farm animals, including piglets striking a sexy pose and Tod doing the "Walk Like an Egyptian" dance.


It's strange enough to be the most memorable part of the movie, but not in a good way.

In the meantime, The Fox and the Hound 2 doesn't even look nice; the DisneyToon Studios films had largely gotten to be pretty polished and professional looking by 2006, but of course this isn't exactly a DisneyToon Studios film. The overarching problem is a simple and perhaps inevitable one: instead of maintaining the handsome earthtones of the first movie, the sequel goes full-bore 2000s and indulges in a poppy color scheme devoid of any kind of resonance or texture beyond "ooh, bright!", and a ridiculous surplus of invasive CGI.

And the character animation is indifferent and sloppy: Tod in particular is a literal nightmare, looking like the reanimated corpse of a dead fox that is following along wherever Copper goes, staring accusingly with its mismatched, aimless, unthinking eyes.


In fact, yes. That is my theory now. The Fox and the Hound 2 takes place entirely within Copper's mind, months after he allowed Amos Slade to kill Tod, leaving him crippled with guilt that sent him deep into his own subconscious, where he eternally lives out the only happy time of his life, in a ridiculous, heightened pitch of imagined events. But the truth, in the form of the clearly-broken Tod, will not let him be. It has the benefit of actually being a sequel; and, frankly, it would still not be as divorced from the themes and established rules of the first film as the actual story being actually told.

A fucking dog country band.

5 comments:

Trish said...

Oh, man. I've been eagerly awaiting this one since you started this ordeal. I mean, sweet mother of Walt, the all-dog country band is such an amazingly stupid concept, it's actually kind of impressive that it made it into the final feature film at all.

McAlister Grant said...

"In fact, the question is surely not, are there better sequels or even midquels to the original Fox and the Hound, but, could there possibly be a worse one?Perhaps having the adult version of the characters go into space and fight the cyborg reincarnation of the bear from the climax."

I would actually watch the shit out of that.

Brian Malbon said...

"The Fox and the Hound 2 takes place entirely within Copper's mind, months after he allowed Amos Slade to kill Tod, leaving him crippled with guilt that sent him deep into his own subconscious, where he eternally lives out the only happy time of his life."

You are the best.

JD said...

So...by making a terrible sequel to a crappy movie, does two wrongs make a right, or is it just so bad it's bad?

javi75 said...

A fucking dog country band.

Could it be you didn't know about this? It's Disney and everything.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0276033

That's probably where the bear from the first movie went afterwards.