Saturday Matinee #114: "The Fox Chase" (June 25, 1928)
Published March 9, 2013
by Albert Gutierrez
While most Disney fans may be checking out Oz, the Great and Powerful this weekend, yours truly will be spending time with Os, the Lucky and Comical. It's no secret how much I enjoy the adventures of Mickey's older brother; I'm forever advocating for Disney to do more with him beyond the "Epic Mickey" video games. Heck, I've suggested time and again to my friends that Oswald get his own television series on Disney Junior, going so far as to conceptualize one myself: "Oswald's Sandwich Shop," in which our lucky rabbit runs a sandwich shop with girlfriend Ortensia and three characters of my own creation: nephews Oscar and Oswin, along with Mintzy the Fox, a "frenemy" who works at the shop but secretly wishes to take over. It is Mintzy that really inspired this week's Saturday Matinee, as we take a look at Oswald's "The Fox Chase."
Fancy a fox chase? Oswald and Ortensia certainly do. As they and others ready their horses for the big chase, the fox points and laughs at the hounds, also gearing up to chase him. Oswald can't seem to control his horse; they face the wrong direction, then don't run when everyone else does. In fact, Oswald's horse knocks him right off, and causes trouble whenever Oswald wishes to mount him. While Oswald attempts to mount his horse, the fox is gaining considerable lead over the hounds. He masterfully jumps over a brick wall, as we see a variety of hounds make their way over, each in their own creative way.
Oswald tries to tie a ladder to his horse's tail in order to climb him, but the horse runs off. In frustration, Oswald yells "WHOA!", and the word manifests itself, effectively stopping the horse. Oswald successfully remounts the horse and continues the chase, just as the fox moves a pond for the hounds to jump into. He even causes a basset hound to accidentally knot itself when chasing him. As the fox runs off in a new direction, Oswald and his horse manage to catch up and follow. Eventually, the untangled basset hound becomes Oswald's new steed, albeit one that needs balancing.
The fox takes refuge inside a hollow log, continually bopping two dogs - and Oswald - on the head whenever they approach. Oswald then decides to roll up the log like a tube of toothpaste, only to reveal an angry skunk pushed out. In fright, Oswald and the hounds run off, just as the skunk pulls up his stripe to reveal... the clever fox.
"The Fox Chase" exists today thanks largely to a 16mm print sold to private collectors. Thankfully, the condition is better than one would expect, although we still see dirt and lines aplenty, results of aging and other factors through the decades. However, that it exists at all is a miracle in itself, especially since so many of Oswald's shorts are lost to time. The history of "The Fox Chase" itself is quite interesting, as relayed by Jerry Beck in his commentary. He notes that the cartoon premiered at the Colony Theatre, an important venue in Disney history. This would be where Mickey would make his own debut five months later. Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks were deep into their secret production of "Plane Crazy" when "The Fox Chase" was in theatres.
The sport of fox hunting would be used throughout other Disney projects, albeit without the expectedly gory finale (it traditionally involves the hounds killing the chased fox). In the United States, fox hunts were often just a "fox chase," done for sporting rather than pest control. That is likely why this short film goes by that name, although other Disney projects are routinely called Fox Hunt. This includes a 1931 Silly Symphony and 1938 Donald & Goofy short, both called "The Fox Hunt." A fox hunt also plays a significant part during the animated sequence in 1964's Mary Poppins.
Finally, the 1981 animated feature The Fox and the Hound turns that convention on its head, showing audiences how a friendship can develop between the two animals meant to be enemies. Much like Oswald's "Fox Chase," 1981's The Fox and the Hound sanitizes the source material. The ending in Daniel P. Mannix's original novel is far more depressing than the hopeful Disney ending. Mannix had the obsessed hunter and Copper chase Tod to exhaustion and death. Disney's version instead suggests an understanding between Tod and Copper more along the lines of "we'll be parted, you and me, but remembrance will keep us friends." (This quote originated from the Hallmark Hall of Fame's 1987 telefilm The Secret Garden - based on the Frances Hodgson Burnett classic - as the last line spoken by Dickon to Colin and Mary).
As always, Oswald's shorts can be found in "Walt Disney Treasure: The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit." And, as always, you can count on Oswald to cheekily moon the audience when he pronounces...
Get to it, Disney...