There's something about the fox that has captured the human imagination since the beginning of recorded history.
Ancient Japanese folklore is full of tales of shapeshifting kitsune with magical abilities, while Canadian First Nations legends depict the fox as both a trickster and a wise elder. Even the Greek storyteller Aesop told a fable about a fox who could not reach grapes on a vine and so dismissed them as undesirable – the origin of the modern day expression "sour grapes."
We can't say for sure what it is about the fox that makes it such a relatable creature, but here are nine more foxes from literature and popular culture that have served as symbols of wisdom, trickery and humour.
1881/1940: The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
In Carlo Collodi's book The Adventures of Pinocchio, the Fox is depicted as a con-man who, along with his sidekick the Cat, plots to murder Pinocchio and steal his coins. In the 1940 Disney film, the character (renamed John Worthington Foulfellow) is sanitized somewhat and instead of attempting to murder Pinocchio convinces him to join Stromboli's puppet show and travel to Pleasure Island.
1909: The Road to Oz by L. Frank Baum
In the fifth Oz book by L. Frank Baum, Dorothy returns to Oz by way of Foxville, a town inhabited by anthropomorphic foxes and their leader King Dox. Dox finds Dorothy's travelling companion, Button-Bright, to be very clever, and so transforms his head into that of a fox.
1943: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
In the beloved novella The Little Prince, the fox approaches the prince and asks to be tamed. The prince obliges, and in the process of taming the fox comes to understand the true meaning of friendship. When the pair tearfully part ways, the fox delivers the book's essential message about human relationships: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
1965: Fox In Socks by Dr. Seuss
What happens when a fox in socks meets a Mr. Knox in a box? All the vaguely nonsensical rhyming fun that makes Seuss's books still popular today. The cover warns: "This Fox is a tricky fox. He'll try to get your tongue in trouble."
1967/1981: The Fox and the Hound by Daniel P. Mannix
In order to realistically portray the behaviours of the animal characters in his 1967 novel, Daniel P. Mannix spent more than a year studying wild foxes as well as a mated pair he kept at his home. The latter were so tame, he wrote in his postscript, that he "could turn them loose and watch them hunt, fight, make love, and live an almost normal life."
While the novel is a bleak depiction of sport hunting and the impact of urban development on wild animals, Disney managed to adapt it into an adorable animated film about friendship overcoming differences.
1970/2009: The Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
It's tough being a fox: get too good at stealing chickens, and you'll attract unwanted attention from the farmers. However, the titular Mr. Fox handles his nightly battles with Boggis, Bunce and Bean with aplomb while still managing to be a good friend and father.
The 2009 film adaptation of the Roald Dahl book received hugely positive reviews for its vintage-look stop-motion animation and genuine emotional core. The film uses a song from another movie featuring anthropomorphic foxes: "Love," which was originally written and recorded for Disney's Robin Hood.
1973: Disney's Robin Hood
Initially, Disney wanted to make a film about Reynard, the main character of a series of allegorical fables about an anthropomorphic fox who deceives other animals for his own gain. However, fearing that Reynard wouldn't make a great hero, the studio decided instead to make Robin Hood — with foxes.
1990s: Miles "Tails" Prower, Sonic the Hedgehog
Fans of early video gaming will surely recognize Miles "Tails" Prower, the two-tailed fox who first appeared in the 1992 SEGA game Sonic the Hedgehog 2. The character - whose name is a play on "miles per hour" — has been more fully developed in subsequent games, comic books and television cartoons: he is a mechanical genius who loves mint candy, fears lightning and is fiercely loyal to his best friend Sonic.
2016: Disney's Zootopia
After a bit of a lull, a fox character will once again seize the spotlight in the upcoming Disney animated film Zootopia. Not much is yet known about the character Nick Wilde except that he is a con artist who tries to trick a rabbit cop, only to wind up helping her solve a mystery. The film hits theatres on March 4th.