Friday, August 5, 2011

The Bear Necessities: Disney's Fox and the Hound and the Scapegoat.

I have been anticipating the release of Disney's Fox and the Hound on Blu Ray. Yes, you can make fun of me; however, it was a favorite of mine growing up. Nevertheless, I always had difficulty with one aspect of the film. What is intriguing about the film is the entrance of the bear. Tod, Copper and Amos Slade are at the apex of their rivalry when all of the sudden this gigantic bear emerges from the woods where Copper thinks Tod is hiding. How does the bear come into the narrative and what is his (or her) significance?

In the book, the bear causes the conflict between Copper (the Chief character in the film) and young Chief (the Copper character in the film)1. Apparently, the Master (the Amos Slade character in the film) goes bear hunting. When they chance upon a bear, Copper cannot act, while Chief attacks the bear. This creates a rivalry between Copper and Chief. However, when Chief dies chasing Tod (by a train like in the film) the Master and Copper turn their attention to Tod who does not have a relationship with Copper. Thus, Tod serves as a surrogate cause for Copper and the Master. The relentless pursuit of Tod takes the place of the initial cause of the bear. Therefore, Copper regains his esteem in the Master's eyes. Instead, the dog eventually pursues the fox until Tod dies from “exhaustion”2. Thus, the old fox simply dies and ends the conflict. The film, of course, changes this completely.

It is certain that Disney would not have such an ending for one of their films. Rather, the bear serves as a scapegoat which personifies the brute rage of the characters involved. Furthermore, all the characters turn their attention to the bear, which they all take turns wounding. Finally, the bear dies extinguishing the enmity between Todd, Slade and Copper. The film partially maintains the rivalry between Chief and Copper, yet alters the story to emphasize the relationship between Copper and Tod.

Tod, then goes against the grain by maintaining that his relationship with Copper is stronger than expected societal roles. Copper too is conflicted. Nevertheless, after Chief is injured while pursuing Tod Copper vows to kill the fox. Therefore, the film revolves around the love/hate relationship of these “natural” enemies. Catching Tod becomes the chief motive of the film.

The character of Tod is an interesting one. He is a wild/domesticated animal. He is like Copper in that he is a pet, but he is also by nature and outsider – one to be hunted. Therefore, his relationship with Copper appears unnatural. Even Big Mama the owl warns Tod about the eventually danger posed by this relationship. René Girard points out that “in the most closed cultures men believe they are free and open to the universal; their differential character makes them the narrowest cultural fields seem inexhaustible from within. Anything that comprises this illusion terrifies us and stirs up the immemorial tendency to persecution.”3 Therefore, someone whose existence calls into question what we deem to be normal and right becomes the object of derision; or as Michael Kirwan puts it: “[Human] beings are by nature mimetic scapegoaters.”4 Of course, this relationship causes the injury to Chief which brings about feud between Tod and Copper. This leads to the bear.

At this point, Tod becomes a scapegoat. Tod's difference/similarity causes him to become the object violence. Tod's entrance into the domestic realm reveals the hidden conflicts and violent tendencies beneath the surface of the society. Tod continually breaks the rules, which leads to his banishment. However, Slade's rage spurs him on to eliminate the intruder. Naturally, Disney could not kill Tod. Rather, a bear comes out of nowhere. The characters transfer their vitriol to the bear. Each character take turns wounding the bear. Tod selflessly saves Copper and Slade by leading the bear away. However, in blind rage the bear eventually does himself in as he and Tod plummet to the water below. Tod, then, emerges as a hero and all three characters are reconciled. This is evidenced by the transformation of the caterpillar into a butterfly.

During the film, the two birds Boomer and Dinky chase Squeaks the caterpillar relentlessly. In fact, their pursuit acts as a parody of Tod and Copper. However, at the end of the film the caterpillar becomes a butterfly ending the chase. The cycle of violence is over and all the characters enjoy a sense of peace. Even Slade and Widow Tweed are getting along. We are then left with a postcard ending with Copper fondly reminiscing about his friendship with Tod, while Tod stands on a hill overlooking the small farm town. All of this due to the intrusion of some poor bear who was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Matthew Jimenez is currently studying Theology and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA.

1See for more details. The book is hard to find, so that Wikipedia gives some benefits.


3René Girard. The Scapegoat (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1989), p. 22.

4Michael Kirwan. Girard And Theology (New York: T & T Clark, 2009), p. 21.

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