30-Day Film Challenge, Day 1: The First Film You Remember Watching

Likely some of you have seen this graphic at some point:

I know I’ve been extremely interested in James Gunn’s list on Instagram.

Literally no one:

Me: I’m gonna’ do it!

I have been plugging along with the list on my private social media accounts, but I thought it might make also be a good fit here, where I can expand on the ideas and add some insight to the films themselves.

So, what the hell? Here we go, beginning with Day 1, “The first film you remember watching.”

Photo courtesy of Disney.
The Fox and the Hound, 1981. Featuring the vocal talents of Mickey Rooney, Kurt Russell, Corey Feldman, and Pearl Bailey.

I was four when this film was released, and my parents took me to the theater for the first time. My mother always tells the story of my reaction when the lights dimmed and the projector clicked on, my jaw snapping open and eyes growing wide in sheer surprise. And why wouldn’t I when the TV in our den was 13 inches and I thought my grandparent’s 19-inch console model was enormous?

I don’t recall that amazement. I do remember having a hissy fit in the car driving home when my father kept vetoing the prospect of getting a pet fox. I also remember nearly crapping my pants at the bear scene.

It’s a film that is remarkably re-watchable, even as an adult. OK, unlike other Disney staples, the music numbers in this film are crap, but if you fast forward through them, the story resonates. Tod and Copper are the star-crossed friendship version of Romeo and Juliet, though their relationship is much more believable and the ending doesn’t treat us to a bloodbath.

It’s a movie that lays some heavy themes on a youngster, apart from some of the genuinely frightening sequences themselves. What is the nature of friendship? What happens when you grow apart? How do you deal with divided loyalties?

How may of you are still close with your childhood buddies? I’m not even Facebook friends with my two closest chums of my formative years? Thankfully, neither are also actively hunting me and my Vixy, but …

I started this list a few days ago, when the protests over the horrific and inexcusable murder of George Floyd were just beginning. Thinking about this film made it impossible not to draw a parallel. And that’s perfectly legitimate.

As a literary and film scholar, we anchor our analyses in theory. One such, which I seldom work in but fully understand is often know as Reader-Response Theory (literature) or Reaction Studies (film). In a gross oversimplification, the theory essentially says that one need not worry about authorial intent or what the filmmaker(s) want us to take away. All that matters is how we react to the narrative. Author biography, historical context, none of it matters.

I discussed this in my livestream of Jaws for the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, which I did on April 23rd. The governors of Georgia and Florida were both, against the advisement of medical professionals, in the process of re-opening the beaches. An unseen killer, inept leadership, businesses hurting economically and faced with closure. It was impossible not to view the film through the lens of COVID-19.

According to the same theory, The Fox and the Hound can also teach us about prejudice and how we should treat those who are different than us. Prejudice is an attitude that is taught; it is not inherent. Put a Black, Asian, and white baby together on the playground, and they will romp wildly without regard to skin color. By the time kindergarten sets in, biases have trickled down from the family into the child’s mind.

Copper is tainted by the deep prejudice of Amos Slade who threatens to “blast” Tod if he sees him on his property again. During the harrowing scene where Copper traps Tod and Vixy in their burrow while Amos sets the exit on fire, the dog never even shows the slightest hesitance at going after his own friend with fangs bared. (To be fair, Tod is equally vicious; his divided loyalty is to his old friend but also his mate.)

Sure, the tears still well up when I watch Copper place himself between Tod and the gun of Amos at the end, but Tod has just freaking saved them both from a stark-raving bear! Jeez, that’s what it took for you to help your friend out?

How do we overcome that? How do we, regardless of whether we are foxes or hounds, Black or white, male or female, gay or straight, come to an understanding, find a way to not only co-exist but to share equally in our humanity?

The film offers no answers. Away goes Copper and Amos, parting forever. As if reveling in pouring salt in the soul’s wounds, we hear the earlier refrain of the movie as we fade to black:

“And we always be friends forever, won’t we?”

“Yeah, forever.”

Actual footage of me every single time.

It’s tough, but it’s life.

And it says a lot about an almost forty-year-old film that it breeched such topics. No wonder I grew up to read depressing literature and enjoy gut-wrenching movies. I partially blame The Fox and the Hound for my bleak, nihilistic outlook on life.

Not that I realized that at age four.

I just wanted a bloody pet fox. Was that too much to ask, Dad?


2 thoughts on “30-Day Film Challenge, Day 1: The First Film You Remember Watching

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