Twenty-five years after its predecessor charmed auds with an uplifting tale about an unlikely friendship between natural enemies, “The Fox and the Hound 2” arrives just in time to serve as a handy-dandy Christmas stocking stuffer. Lightweight vidpic should sell well, and likely will continue to amuse small fry well into next summer — or at least until Disney releases its next direct-to-DVD sequel to an animated classic.
Although the original “Fox and Hound” has never been ranked among the best Disney output, the 1981 toon feature has impressed many as a metaphoric fable about the triumph of better impulses over bad influences. Specifically, it’s a story about an orphaned fox and a puppy that become great buddies long before they know they’re supposed to hate each other. After they grow into adulthood, alas, they are sorely pressured by outside forces — and especially by the dog’s surly, straight-shooting owner — to accept their traditional roles as hunter and prey.
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The new vidpic is notably brighter and lighter, as helmer Jim Kammerud (working from a moppet-skewing script by Rich Burns and Roger S.H. Schulman) emphasizes slapstick and tomfoolery, not life lessons and consciousness-raising. The eponymous quadrupeds are once again mischievous children, not yet unduly burdened by full awareness of the roles society imposes upon them.
Copper (voiced by Harrison Fahn), the spirited young hound, and Tod (Jonah Bobo), his foxy friend, are estranged — temporarily, of course — only when Copper neglects his friend after joining a harmonizing novelty dog act whose canine leader, Cash (Patrick Swayze), dreams of Grand Ole Opry stardom. Cash employs Copper as a replacement for the diva-like Dixie (Reba McEntire), a bitch in every sense of the term. But Dixie is telling Cash (and everyone who’ll listen) that she’s not going.
The 1981 pic featured vocal performances by Mickey Rooney (as the adult Tod) and Kurt Russell (as the grown-up Copper). For the vidpic, star power is provided by Swayze, who’s frisky and funny as the ambitious Cash, and McEntire, who deftly alternates between haughty egomania and Southern-fired sweetness. McEntire also contributes to the pleasantly country-flavored soundtrack, as do Trisha Yearwood, “High School Musical” star Lucas Grabeel and “American Idol” vet Josh Gracin.
Abundance of cornpone humor and folksy dialogue — “You’re as nervous as a tick on Dip Day!” — may be a slight turn-off for urban youngsters. Overall, however, “The Fox and the Hound 2” is sufficiently spirited to engage all members of its target demographic. Tech values are standard for Disney direct-to-video product.