Interesting: "The Little Mermaid II," "101 Dalmatians II," "The Lion King II," "Lady and the Tramp 2," "Tarzan 2," "Lilo & Stitch 2," "Aladdin 2 and 3," etc. It seems like Disney has found more money in the direct-to-video animated-sequel market than at the box office. Now, it's "The Fox and the Hound 2," the 2006 follow-up to their popular 1981 release. Like most sequels, it's a pale imitation of the original.
All of the familiar characters are back from the first film, but the basic themes are not. If you remember, "The Fox and the Hound" was a sweet parable about, on the one hand, the natural power of love and, on the other, the issue of bigotry. The fox and the hound are traditional enemies, the one hunted by the other. But in the first film, they became best friends because no one ever taught them the societal rules that would lead them in the other direction. So, the original "Fox and the Hound" presented a welcome message of tolerance, acceptance, and understanding. Now, we've got the sequel, and it is content to give us plenty of action and music but not much more. Worse, the action and music are both rather lackluster.
Yes, all of the familiar characters are back, but not the same voice talents. Tod the fox and Copper the bloodhound are here, taking up where they left off and still pups after twenty-five years, but gone are the voices of Mickey Rooney, Kurt Russell, Jeanette Nolan, Jack Albertson, and Pat Buttram. Now, Jonah Bobo voices Tod, Harrison Fahn is Copper, and Rob Paulsen is Chief. Jim Cummings and others attempt to replicate additional older characters, but they're not quite the same.
Also not quite the same is the threadbare plot. Where before it concentrated on developing the loving relationship between two species of sworn enemies, this time it is simply about two friends having a good time. Yes, there are conflicts that transpire along the way, but they are fairly ordinary, and we can see at a glance how they will turn out. So, the film generates little tension or suspense, and the only excitement it engenders is of the chasing and frolicking kind. Not that that's bad, if you're five or six years old. The new movie just probably won't grab the attention of anyone older than ten.
Here's the setup: Copper is feeling glum because as a hunting dog he can't hunt very well, and he feels like he's no good at anything. But Tod notices a fair coming to town, so he persuades his friend to go along to it and have some fun. At the fair, Copper runs into a group of musical dogs, the "Singin' Strays," lead by their owner, Lyle Snodgrass (Jeff Foxworthy). The two lead singers in the group are Dixie (Reba McEntire) and Cash (Patrick Swayze), two of the primary new characters in the story. They are sort of like June Carter and Johnny Cash. When Dixie temporarily drops out of the group, Copper joins them, becomes a hit, and the first of two jealousies unfolds, this one between Dixie and Copper. Then a second jealousy comes into play, this one between Tod and Copper, because Tod feels as though Copper is forgetting him for his new friends. Meanwhile, the widow and Amos are frantic trying to find their pets.
Needless to say, since Reba McEntire is in it, there are songs. It's just that the songs are not too memorable. Some of them sound like the kind of bluegrass-pop popularized by the Dillards many years ago; others are country-folk ballads of the more sentimental sort. Moreover, the filmmakers don't integrate the songs very well into the framework of the story line, the filmmakers being satisfied merely to insert them artificially wherever they needed to spice up the narrative.
The animation is crisp and clean, but it, too, is simplistic. There is not a lot of characterization in the faces or expressions of the animals or people, and the backgrounds are either modest, pastel, watercolor splashes or practically nonexistent.
Clearly, the Disney studios were going after a very young crowd with "The Fox and the Hound 2." The older film was no great shakes, but it did offer an engaging relationship between the two main characters, ending on a pleasant yet slightly melancholy note. This new film is all about action and movement and sound and good times, with little attention to subtleties. It is a more juvenile film than its predecessor, aimed at a more juvenile audience.
One can hardly complain about the video quality. Disney always put their best effort into DVD remasters these days, and this one's no exception. The image nicely fills out a 1.78:1 widescreen TV with a high-bit-rate, anamorphic picture. Everything is bright and colorful, but nothing is overbearing or showy. The transfer is quite clear, grain never an issue, with definition about on a par with the best the studio has to offer.
The Disney audio engineers provide two soundtracks, one in Dolby Digital 5.1 and one in DTS 5.1. That seems to me like overkill, given that the actual sounds are only so-so. The fact is, there is not a lot one can say about the audio. The disc contains a good, modern, multitrack sound mix, with most of the aural activity coming from the front channels. The stereo spread across the forward speakers is quite good, with limited response in the surrounds, mostly a little musical ambience reinforcement. Dynamics, frequency range, sonic impact, and ultimate clarity are all compromised by their having little reason for being.
It doesn't say much when the best bonus item on the disc is a 1938 cartoon short, "Goofy and Wilbur," filmed in Technicolor, eight minutes long. Even an adult can enjoy that one, but the other extras are primarily for children. There's a featurette, "The Making of the Music," about ten minutes long, that introduces us to some of the songwriters for the picture. OK, children probably wouldn't like it, but I have to admit I didn't find it exactly riveting, either. Next, there's a music video, "You Know I Will," performed by a young fellow named Lucas Grabeel, apparently a Disney teen idol. After that are a couple of games: "Mutt Mix Master" and Disney DVD GameWorld Dogs Edition, both of them colorful question-and-answer type affairs, well animated.
Things conclude with twelve scene selections and a chapter insert; Sneak Peeks at nine other Disney titles; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; and English captions for the hearing impaired. A handsomely illustrated and embossed slipcover encloses the disc case.
As is the case with most of Disney's sequels, younger children will no doubt enjoy "The Fox and the Hound 2." It's got ample color and action, and if a child is not too discriminating, he or she might find the music pleasant. The problem is that I'm an adult, and I can't really guess how other people, young or old, will react to something. I can only tell you that I fell asleep about halfway through this one, partly my fault, partly the movie's. There is not much to hold the attention of older folks here.