Keith Coogan celebrates the 30th Anniversary of the Walt Disney animated classic The Fox and the Hound, on Blu-ray now!
In celebration of The Fox and the Hound's 30th Anniversary, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment proudly presents a special 2-movie collection of The Fox and the Hound and The Fox and the Hound 2 in dazzling Blu-ray High Definition for the first time, in stores now.
Experience these timeless tales of true friendship, set against a backdrop of comedy and music in perfect harmony. And now, both inspiring classics sparkle with spectacular sound and unsurpassed picture quality. Featuring lovable characters, brilliant animation, stellar voice talent, and unforgettable songs, The Fox and the Hound / The Fox and the Hound Two Blu-ray 2-Movie Collection includes two heart warming stories of loyalty and trust that your family will treasure for all time.
We recently caught up with actor Keith Coogan, who plays young Tod the fox in this Walt Disney animated classic, to reminisce about the making of the movie. Check out our conversation below.
What was your impression of doing voice work for Walt Disney back in the 80s? You must have been incredibly young when you took this project on...
Keith Coogan: Oh, sure. I think we did the voices between 1977 and 1979. The film was released in 1981. We did multiple sessions. We'd go in and do various scenes. Then we'd wait eight to ten months, and they would bring me and Corey Feldman back as our voices matured. Because they wanted that within the context of its own continuity. They wanted their fox and their hound to age a little bit. Also, I think they were getting some of the animation done in those gaps. This was a huge soundstage that they would put you in. You were not in a booth. You were on a stage in this huge room, and you are not working with Pearl Bailey, you are not working with Corey Feldman. You are working with an assistant director that is doing all of the other lines with you. This was the first voice acting I had done. That was very difficult for me. I would use my eyes. That is one of the first things my family, my mother and my grandfather, had taught me about acting, "Use your eyes!" Not being able to do that physical aspect of it, and having to put it all into your voice? That was a little bit of a challenge. But I love it. I love watching it. I don't see or hear myself in it. It's just this little fox. To see it when the movie was done? That was truly scary. The first screening we saw had a charcoal sketch of the bear sequence. Even unfinished, at two or three frames per second, it was very intense and very scary. I knew this was not necessarily going to be a light and fluffy Disney movie. It had some very serious messages in it, that, to this day, resonate. I am, to this day, very proud of my work on The Fox and the Hound.
I was around your same age when the movie came out, and I remember that it was quite a big deal for Disney to be releasing this first original animated movie in a number of years. Were you aware at the time just how big of a deal this was?
Keith Coogan: I was not aware of that as a child. I just saw it as a succession of the classic animated Walt Disney films. I didn't know about the handover from the old animators to the new animators. And I am only now learning about how some of the fans felt, and how some of the people who are really into animation and its history, what their opinions on it were. The message of the movie, and the heart of the story absolutely work. There are some complaints, where they say the character work didn't match the animation, or that the animation wasn't as fluid as the older animation. It's interesting that this picture represented a hand off from the old guard to the new guard.
You didn't get to act against Corey Feldman during the recording sessions, but did you work with him outside of the studio, to get a feel for his character and who this fox and hound were as friends?
Keith Coogan: Not at all. I knew Corey. We'd worked together, and we would see each other around town. We both started around the same time. He is a couple of years younger than me, but he started when he was three, I started when I was five. I had no idea that his growl...That was the thing that I loved...I had no idea that he really became the animal. He was an old hound dog, "Arroooowww!!" It absolutely cracked me up. It was enduring. It made me think, "I missed an opportunity to make some fox noises!" The finished picture, once seeing it...I was absolutely surprised by everyone's work and loved being involved in that.
Being as young as you were, I would think that would be incredibly difficult to not know what the other voice actors were doing with their characters. You don't have that to work off of in any way...
Keith Coogan: Yeah, you really rely on the assistant director. He will tell you, "You are really running in this part, so be out of breath!" Or, "You guys are really wrestling on the ground!" And they would maybe tickle you. Something like that. It is weird. You are still doing the physical part, but it's not seen. But it does come through in the voices. And the voice characterization. Some of these people I didn't know. Mickey Rooney, I knew. But Kurt Russell? It wasn't until later that I learned of his body of work. Pearl Bailey? She was an absolute legend. So, what an honor to be a part of that cast! And Jack Albertson? I have been a Jack Albertson fan forever. I just recently got a chance to see Dead and Buried, one of his last films...Maybe it is his last film, but he is terrifying in it. And so different than his work in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. But no, I did not get to see them or work with them. You see the movie, and it is seamless. It certainly looks like we were all in the room together. But that was not the case. You go out there on your own, and you don't know if it's going to work or not.
Did Disney ever offer you access to a real fox, to study and learn from. Would the animal have provided you with some inspiration?
Keith Coogan: I didn't really take to the fox part of it. I was just a young innocent kid who didn't realize that adults feel this way. Or that things change when you grow up. I played it as, "Hey, a new friend that I get to play with!" So, that was me, just a little more amped up. On camera, I wouldn't be as animated in my voice. You hear some voice cracks. That may have come at the end of a long day. Very cute on screen. I had no idea that this was an option, so no, I never saw any foxes. They did show me the model, and they showed some sketches of what the fox would look like. But the animators had been introduced to a real fox and a real hound, in order to do these character sketches. They met with us, the kids that were going to play these characters. But no, I was never exposed to a fox.
What is the perception that you see coming from both the Disney and the animation fans about The Fox and the Hound. Do you feel a part of an elite group? As these sorts of productions really don't exist on this level anymore...
Keith Coogan: Oh, sure. I am incredibly honored that people recognize those great works, and that they were handing it off, here, to that younger generation. Another cohort of mine, Wil Wheaton, did the next Disney picture, The Black Cauldron. I knew this was a classic Disney animated picture. And it was way before computer animation. When you can knock them off a little quicker. Some really intense animation aficionados were decrying the use of Xeroxing, and inconsistencies in the backgrounds. Stuff that you don't notice as a kid. I always thought the picture was incredibly solid. They were comparing it to some of the true Disney classics. What I think was a success was the message. The emotion. The heart of that picture worked. It works every time on everybody. It's on the list as one of the saddest movies ever. I love some of the comments, "Oh, my God! I showed my kid this, and we bawled!" It wasn't made in a time when race was necessarily an issue. You could say that it's about race, or about class. It was about growing up, and growing away from your friends. It is incredibly bitter sweet to watch it, and I will always be proud of that work.
It is a story that resonates. Even today. And going back and watching it now, it's evident how solid the writing is...
Keith Coogan: Yes. It's a very funny movie. It's a great adventure. But really it's about these two friends, and how life will dictate whom you can be friends with. It's about an innocence. That was the thing, I was an innocent at eight years old, making this film, with no idea these were the overall arching themes. As a kid, I just thought it was really sad. Now, as an adult, I see what an absolute great message it contains, and how great that message was delivered.
Are you involved with any of the supplemental features offered on this new Blu-ray?
Keith Coogan: No. But I really love the featurette on here that focuses on the handing off of the guard. They have some of the original classic animators talking about the picture, and how they had set it up, and they set up the characters, and they said, "Okay, kids, go make this film." I do remember a great party they had at the Disney ranch. It was basically, "We're kind of done with the picture!" But they weren't finished with it yet. They had the charcoal drawings for the bear sequence, but they still had this great party. Everyone was there. It was huge. Hundreds and hundreds of people. Because all of the background animators, and the Inbetweeners, and the tracers...I did see people talking about the style. It wasn't that outline style. There was also some reuse of Bambi. They reused some of the backgrounds. There was also a similarity between the mother being hunted at the very beginning. Losing that, and orphaning the child...That was very similar to the Bambi opening, and it was very effective. Kids are sitting there going, "Oh, my gosh! What is going to happen next?" So you do care about the fox. I also love the adults in the film, how they tie up the movie, and they don't kill anybody. It's kind of like Lady and the Tramp. They aren't going to kill Chief, instead he is going to get wounded. But still, all of those stakes are there, the terror and the intensity. The only one that dies is Tod's mom.
In doing this interview, you were introduced as Keith Mitchell, which is how you are credited on the film. I, like many people, know you as Keith Coogan. Why did you change your name after the Fox and the Hound?
Keith Coogan: I started out as Keith Mitchell. I had done probably about ten years of television work under that name. Then my grandfather passed away in 1984. I wanted to honor him and his name. I felt I was making a transition from a child TV actor to an adolescent. I was moving into feature films, and I wanted to make that change. For one year, I was Keith Mitchell Coogan on my headshots. The next year, I was just Keith Coogan. And I have gone by that ever since, maybe 1984 or 1985. That is my mother's maiden name, and it was out of reverence for my grandfather.
The Fox and the Hound / The Fox and the Hound Two Blu-ray is in stores now. Get yours today!
The Fox and the Hound was released July 10th, 1981 and stars Mickey Rooney, Kurt Russell, Pearl Bailey, Jack Albertson, Sandy Duncan, Jeanette Nolan, Pat Buttram, John Fiedler. The film is directed by Ted Berman, Richard Rich, Art Stevens.