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MOVIE REVIEWS : Producers Should Curb These Dog Cartoons

March 26, 1988|CHARLES SOLOMON

Dogs star in two animated features that are showing citywide, but when they see how they've been portrayed, people may have to look for a new best friend.

Initially released in 1981, "The Fox and the Hound" (in reissue) represented the first major collaboration between the old animators, who had worked at Disney since "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937), and the new artists who had been trained at CalArts.

But the story of a fox kit and a hound-dog puppy who begin as friends but are forced to become enemies when they grow up didn't give either group much to work with. The events feel predictable, and the film lacks the emotional impact that distinguished the classic Disney features.

The young artists obviously learned a great deal from the old masters: The animation itself is handsome and fluid, with each character moving in an individual way that reveals his personality and anatomy. Tod the fox walks with a delicate grace that reflects his slender build. Like a real puppy, the young Copper seems to be all paws and eyes and velvety skin that falls over his face in luxurious folds.

But without a story, even good animation becomes an empty exercise in technique. "The Fox and the Hound" gets exciting only 10 minutes before it ends, when Tod and Copper battle a gigantic grizzly bear. This electrifying sequence contains the most dynamic animation produced at Disney between "The Jungle Book" (1967) and "The Black Cauldron" (1985), but it makes the rest of the film seem even more pallid.

"The Fox and the Hound" may be unimpressive by Disney standards, but it looks like "Fantasia" next to "Pound Puppies and the Legend of Big Paw" (citywide). Based on yet another line of toys, "Pound Puppies" lends new vehemence to the expression "going to the dogs."

The muddled story centers on the ancient Bone of Scone, a relic supposedly found by King Arthur that enables the Pound Puppies and Purries (cats) to talk to children. Marvin McNasty tries to steal the Bone, which will enable him to rule the world. How it's supposed to do that is never explained. Aside from enabling the Puppies to talk, the Bone doesn't seem to have any magic powers--it doesn't even help McNasty talk to his own guard dogs.

The Puppies and Purries, led by the self-consciously hip Cooler, set out to thwart McNasty's plan. When they fail, they're rescued by a canis ex machina : Big Paw, an enormous puppy who's apparently guarded the Bone since Arthurian times. The film ends with a shamelessly commercial finale of boys and girls "adopting" every dog and cat in sight. (Customers don't buy Pound Puppies toys, they "adopt" them.)

"Pound Puppies" reaches a new low in animation quality: The characters go out of focus in the pan shots, and Cooler's nose disappears in one scene because the artists apparently forgot to paint it. In an unsuccessful attempt to disguise the limits of the animation, director Pierre DeCelles cuts to a new angle every four or five seconds, which means the camera moves more than the characters.

The vocal performances are uniformly flat and the score is a lame pastiche of '50s rock 'n' roll, including excruciating rewritten versions of "At the Hop" and "Duke of Earl."

"Pound Puppies" shouldn't happen to a dog.

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