Following the recent release of Disney’s latest animated home premiere, The Fox and the Hound 2, Animated News & Views’ Josh Armstrong spoke with director Jim Kammerud, who likewise helmed such previous direct-to-video titles as The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea and 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure. During the conversation, Kammerud shared his thoughts on Disney sequels in general, as well as traditional animation and his future projects. The main portion of the discussion, however, regarded Kammerud’s directorial vision for Fox and the Hound 2, as he aimed to create a fun adventure that remained true to the spirit of the 1981 classic.
Please note that this interview contains spoilers regarding the first Fox and the Hound film.
Animated Views: Why do you feel now is the right time for a follow-up to The Fox and the Hound?
Jim Kammerud: I don’t know what made Disney pick this year to make that movie. I know that, for me, it seems like a perfectly great time because a fun story came together, and we got this amazing talent to weave into the movie. I’ve had the time of my life working on it!
AV: What made you decide to go with a “midquel” storyline, featuring the younger versions of Tod and Copper, rather than a sequel storyline, with the adult versions of those characters?
JK: I think that there was probably a perfectly legitimate story that we could have made with the grown-up characters. But the people who really like this movie are very young. The people we’re making this movie for – of course, I make every movie for myself – but the people who are going to watch it over and over are young. And it’s fun to make.
A lot of the original Fox and the Hound movie was a little bit dark, and a lot of the playfulness and real Disney fun came about when the animals were younger. There’s an opportunity there to tell the story of what happened before they grow up, because when they grow up, they’re not really friends any more at the very end of the movie. I wanted to tell this story about when they were still friends.
It’s hard sometimes to make a midquel, and it isn’t always my preference. But because we took them out of their normal world and went to a county fair, it made it sort of a new movie. Mostly, I wanted to have fun and tell a story that had a lot of heart but stayed really fun. That was my goal, and I think we achieved it.
AV: Are you concerned that the film being called The Fox and the Hound 2 might confuse some consumers who are expecting a sequel instead of a midquel?
JK: I don’t know, we’ve made a lot of these by now. And a lot of them that have that number “2” have been midquels. It is the second [movie], you know?
AV: For many people, there seems to be a certain negative perception still attached to direct-to-video movies, especially follow-ups to classic films. Did you find that intimidating when working on Fox and the Hound 2?
JK: Well, I’ve done this several times before. I was more intimidated about doing a sequel to One Hundred and One Dalmatians, for instance, than a sequel to Fox and the Hound. For myself, I think that it’s a fabulous opportunity to reach audiences, with these movies.
Sometimes people will comment online, “Has Disney lost their imagination? Can’t they make a new story?” But those people are missing the point! The audience for this story, if I made a new story, wouldn’t get the opportunity to live some more with Tod and Copper. And I don’t see anything wrong with that.
I’ll be honest, not all of the sequels have been as well-made or as successful stories as I wish they were. But I think if someone comes along and makes one with passion, then it’s worth making.
AV: I believe this is the first time you’ve directed a full-length animated feature without co-director Brian Smith. Did you find that a challenge?
JK: Actually, I’m the sole director of Little Mermaid II, but Brian was there the whole time with me. Then we made the next couple of movies together. But it was sort of fun – yes, of course, it was challenging, and it was fun. Brian and I had been together so long, it was fun to do – to be responsible for everything. It’s a little faster to be doing it yourself than to debate things with another person. But on the other hand, you’re missing this bedrock of talent you can count on. Brian was still working on Tarzan II when Fox and the Hound 2 came up.
AV: As the director, what was the toughest decision you made during the production of Fox and the Hound 2?
JK: I don’t know… You know, some of these movies I’ve made have been particularly difficult, and I struggled a lot with them. With Fox and the Hound 2, I just wanted to make a fun movie and have a good time making it. And that’s really what happened.
The people that came together to make the film were all so great. Some movies just have, I don’t know, wings beneath them or something. That sounds corny. But they get their own momentum, and they just kind of flow along. And that’s how this movie went.
AV: In my opinion, it seems that Fox and the Hound 2 features a more colorful art direction than the first Fox and the Hound film. Do you agree? And if so, what inspired this creative decision?
JK: Yes, it absolutely does. But Fox and the Hound 2 has a story with a completely different tone than the first movie. So that prompts the difference in color, in the art direction.
Plus, we had Fred Warter and Beth Albright working on the color for the movie. Fred is just the most talented, genius color-guy in the universe, and I can’t say enough about him. He really gave Fox and the Hound 2 a look that, while very similar to the first movie, has something all its own. Some of it is so stunningly gorgeous, I just love looking at it.
AV: Did you include anything in Fox and the Hound 2 that you would like to have seen in the first Fox and the Hound?
JK: I don’t know – each film is from a different era. I can’t quite say.
AV: Does Fox and the Hound 2 contain any abandoned concepts from its predecessor or even selections from the 1967 novel?
JK: I don’t think so. It’s different generations of artists and creators, and things take on their own momentum.
AV: Were there any scenes or concepts intended for Fox and the Hound 2 that you chose to delete? Perhaps there were even some ideas that you were asked or told to remove?
JK: I don’t remember anything that we were asked or told to remove. But there was this whole giant sequence when we first went to the fair, and another song was there. We had a song when we went to the fair that I just decided we didn’t need in the movie. So, we did a lot of work there. It was really fun. We just kind of went running around the fair. Tod was having a great time, and Copper was struggling a little bit and falling into the cotton candy machine and silly stuff like that. But I really needed to get to The Singin’ Strays and get the movie started. I needed Copper to hook back up with Cash, to keep the story momentum going.
AV: One aspect of Fox and the Hound 2 that Disney has particularly promoted is its songs. I’d like to talk about some songs that aren’t in the film, referring to three tunes rumored to have been cut. Is it true that Copper was set to have a song titled Time, while Dixie had two numbers titled Sorry and Girlfriend, the latter one being a duet with Cash?
JK: I don’t remember Copper having that song. Dixie had an on-the-road song, kind of. I think [senior vice-president of music at DisneyToon Studios] Matt Walker talks about this on the DVD, even. But when I came aboard, I was trying to focus some things. Her song got changed into the big production number she sings now, Good Doggie, No Bone!
AV: Was the song You Know I Will ever planned as part of the actual feature, other than just its end credits?
JK: Yeah, that’s the song I was talking about, when we first go to the fair. I’m pretty sure it was You Know I Will there, which is a pretty song, and it really fit the movie. But I just couldn’t put another song into the movie right there.
We had an embarrassment of riches on this movie. In fact, after we got in to mix everything, and we had our fabulous score and all these songs, that was probably the hardest part, because I had to start “killing some babies” and cutting some score I really liked. Otherwise, I was going to have wall-to-wall music.
AV: Interestingly, Wikipedia noted the following actors as featured in Fox and the Hound 2: John Goodman as Dinkey, Larry the Cable Guy as Ryder the cat, Peter Cullen as Ger the raccoon and Eartha Kitt as Big Mama. Obviously, that information is incorrect, as neither those actors nor those roles are – as far as I can recall – in the film. But was there a time when some of that casting was at least being considered?
JK: Well, I can’t say with certainty. I know that none of that was true for the entire time I was on the movie. Sometimes these movies are talked about for, you know, five years or so before they actually start really getting made. And anything could be experimented with in that period.
AV: One thing I’m sure fans of the original Fox and the Hound will notice in the midquel is the absence of the character Big Mama. Could you give some insight into her exclusion? I assume it was out of respect to the late Pearl Bailey.
JK: I absolutely think that was part of it. The other reality is that we aren’t at the farm, where Copper and Tod live, that long. We’re there at the beginning, and we’re there at the very end. But most of the movie takes place at the county fair, where we meet The Singin’ Strays, all these new characters. There just wouldn’t have been enough room to develop all of the characters fully, if I had used every single character from the old film.
AV: Has there been any talk of a Fox and the Hound 3?
JK: No one’s talked to me about it. I’m sure people are talking about things all the time. If they make another one, I expect it will be a while. And we need to find out how well this one does. If enough people see it, I think maybe there would be support for Fox and the Hound 3, because I’m really proud of the way the film came out.
AV: Could you provide any details on your next film?
JK: I don’t think I can. But I’m developing several things. I need to make a 1 pretty soon. I’ve made a lot of 2‘s. I’m working on some 1‘s.
AV: Can you at least tell whether the projects are hand-drawn or computer animated?
JK: If someone asked me two years ago what I wanted to make, I would have said I wanted to make a 3D film, because it was very hard to get a 2D film made then, and people just weren’t interested. If someone asked me today what I wanted to make, I would absolutely say I want to make a 2D film. There are too many 3D films, and there’s no difference to me as a storyteller which medium we make the movie with. I think, today in the theater, a 2D film would be pretty well-received and would feel different and fresh.
Special thanks to Jim Kammerud, for his participation in the interview, and to Mac McLean for arranging and facilitating the interview. Thanks to Beth Eyler, who also helped in arranging the discussion, and to fellow Animated News & Views staffers Ben Simon and Christian Ziebarth for their considerable contributions.