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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Disneyear: Robin Hood (1973)

I wonder how many folks of my generation were introduced to the story of Robin Hood through the Disney film. Well, I can say I certainly was. And looking through research on this particular film, I found out it had a pretty muddy production. Originally called for an adaptation for the Reynard stories, Ken Anderson decided to add some elements from the Robin Hood legends instead. The biggest problem though was it's budget, which was so tight back then that a lot of animation had to be reused. Not just from other Disney movies but also from itself. When it was released, it wasn't that well received by critics but had grown an audience overtime, like most of the 50's films I reviewed earlier. Now that the history's out of the way, let's head on over to Sherwood Forest to meet up with Robin's band of merry men... er menagerie, rather.

This film is pretty much the story as Robin Hood except every character is an anthropomorphic animal, like Robin himself is a fox, Little John a bear, and Prince John a lion. In case you don't know the story, it goes that after Prince John's brother Richard leaves for the Crusades, he takes over the land squeezing out every bit of money from the villagers through taxation. This is where ol' Robin and Little John come in: they rob from the rich and give back to the poor while keeping one step ahead of the Sheriff of Nottingham. One day, the prince conducts an archery contest to try and trap Robin. After getting there in disguise, he gets compromised but escapes as usual with Maid Marion to Sherwood Forest. After the merry men get the song Phony King of England around, John raises taxes due to humiliation and has Friar Tuck arrested. Robin and John decide to break him put through a very exciting climax, the bad guys get thier just desserts when Richard returns, and Robin and Marion get married.

This sounds a little weird considering every character is a cute little animal, but this is a good adaptation of the story. It follows the story very close and does a good job telling it's own version. Casting Robin as a fox was a clever idea as was every other character as it leads to some creative jokes with them. The music is pretty fun too. Mostly written by Roger Miller, these songs are actually kind of nice and have their own style and likability to them. Whistle Stop, in particular is pretty catchy. And I did like the song Love. It's a lovely moment, forgive the pun.

The action scenes are actually pretty exciting, easily the best thing about this movie. I think they're on par with the Errol Flynn version, especially the climax. It's easily one of Disney's best. It's so suspenseful as well as well put together. It starts off very quiet as the prisoners escape and Robin sneaks John's gold out and then it gets really energized once caught. And the danger doesn't stop, it keeps building and building with everyone and everything trying to kill him. He just can't catch a break! Then after he dives, you actually think he died after the arrows hit him in the ditch. But hey, it's Disney, you know they wouldn't do that! Well, I take that back, there is a scene where Robin makes it out, but is wounded and taken to Maid Marion (at least she does something in this version of the third act!). Then John and his sidekick Hiss follow him and attempt to murder him in cold blood! Then Richard does come back to lay the law down. I'm glad it's on Youtube. Check out the alternate ending here.

Like in Mel Brooks' Spaceballs, I found the villains to be particularly the funniest part of the film. Prince John himself, played by Peter Ustinov, makes this very femmy and kind of a hissyfity bad guy, but I think he's hilarious for that. Especially when paired with his sidekick Sir Hiss, played by Terry-Thomas. These two bicker a lot at each other. They're almost like a married couple. Watching it again, I found that the Sheriff of Nottingham was pretty funny too. He's just such a bastard in the ways he'll rip people off. Even a blind person! That is evil!

My biggest qualm, again, is the reusage of animation throughout the film. To be fair, they had a tight budget, so it's not like they had a choice. I know that other films did this too, but Robin Hood does it more than any other Disney film, especially in the Phony King of England scene. Watching this clip on YouTube, it's pretty obvious. 

Aside from that, Robin Hood is a film I recommend. It's far from Disney's best, but it's still a good fun family adventure film and a good way to be introduced to the story. Some scenes may drag on a bit, but I think it's allowed to drag like in Bambi because you know the good parts come later. So if you haven't seen it yet, check it out from your DVD rental store and give it a try. It's pretty good.


David said...

Nicely written article. I love Robinhood stories from mt childhood.

Wilson Floss said...

This is actually more fun to watch. The cartoons makes it so much more fun than the real people. And the action scenes are very thrilling.

Chris Sig said...

The only little qualm some folks may have are the Americanisations of a few characters, such as Friar Tuck, Little John and the Sheriff of Nottingham (since, after all, it is based on a British Legend), but overall it's another Disney film that has a firm place on my shelf for the same reasons already stated.