In the mid-1920's, an up-and-coming young animator had a brief encounter with an up-and-coming child star. Although they only met in passing, Mickey Rooney remembers Walt Disney as "a very charming man." More than 50 years later, in 1981, Rooney would find himself starring in one of Walt Disney Studios' most beloved animated films, The Fox and the Hound. Rooney voiced the character of Tod, an orphaned fox cub who forms an unlikely friendship with Copper, a coonhound voiced by Kurt Russell. The film also stars Pearl Bailey, Pat Buttram and Jack Albertson. The Fox and the Hound and its sequel The Fox and the Hound 2 was released in a 30th Anniversary 2-Movie Collection on August 9, 2011.
Although he is quick to deny it, Mickey Rooney is the definition of a Hollywood legend. With a career that spans nine decades, he has defied the odds in an industry that often typecasts performers. He got his start crashing his parents' vaudeville act while still a toddler and, just a few years later, he became a silent film sensation; starring in the popular "Mickey McGuire" shorts. In the 1930's Rooney made a successful transition to sound films, headlining in the long-running "Andy Hardy" series and teaming with his friend Judy Garland in such classic musicals as Strike Up the Band and "Girl Crazy. Rooney was awarded a special Juvenile Oscar at the 1939 Academy Awards ceremony and the next year was nominated in the competitive Best Actor category for Babes in Arms, the first of four Oscar nominations. He also won an honorary Academy Award in 1983 in recognition of 50 years of memorable film performances. Having also won an Emmy and two Golden Globes by that time, many actors would be content to rest on such precious laurels but Mickey Rooney, now 90, continues to work on stage, screen and television and recently wrapped a cameo role in the highly anticipated Walt Disney Pictures Holiday 2011 release, The Muppets.
Reminiscing about voicing the role of Tod in The Fox and the Hound, Rooney has only fond memories. "I love the whole Disney company," he says, "and I like to do voices, so this job was a pleasure. I didn't even have to ask to see the script because I trust Disney. They won't release a movie unless it's right."
A consummate professional, Rooney says that he treated voicing the character of Tod just as he would any other part. He learned his lines and counted on the director to give him cues as needed. Demonstrating his quick reflexes, Rooney repeats a line several times, varying the inflection on each reading. He adds that his participation in The Fox and the Hound ended when the voice-overs had been recorded. He would never presume to advise the animators, stating, "I just want to make sure that I give the animators everything they need, so they have plenty of choices to match their animation."
The lessons about friendship at the heart of The Fox and the Hound are near and dear to Rooney. When asked the secret of keeping lifetime friends, he says, "If you listen, you'll learn. If you talk over each other, you don't accomplish anything." He counts his pet dogs and birds among his friends and, as a dedicated animal activist, he adds, "All animals are very precious."
Rooney's only regret is that he did not have the pleasure of working with any of the other voice actors in The Fox and the Hound. Of Kurt Russell who, like Rooney, began as a child actor, he says, "I know and admire Kurt and I think he is a very talented actor." Rooney remembers the late Pearl Bailey, who voices Big Mama and was best known as a nightclub singer, as "wonderful and clever." He notes that, although he did not know Bailey well, he was friendly with her husband, jazz drummer Louie Bellson, since Rooney himself is a talented musician who plays drums (as well as several other instruments).
Mickey Rooney hopes that families will rediscover The Fox and the Hound in its remastered 30th Anniversary edition. He's proud that the film is still finding an audience three decades after its release although he resists referring to himself as the "star" of the movie. "Everyone who worked on The Fox and the Hound is important. We're all lucky to be in a business that we love. And I intend to keep on working in it. If Disney has any other voice work for me, I'm ready."