Home » Features » Disney 53 Double Feature Part I: Robin Hood

Disney 53 Double Feature Part I: Robin Hood

by Luke Ryan Baldock

As we march bravely on through 2013, THN will take a nostalgic yet critical look at the 53 Walt Disney Animated Classics, from SNOW WHITE to WRECK-IT RALPH, through the obscurity of FUN AND FANCY FREE to the second Golden Age of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. These are the films the Walt Disney company are most proud of, the ones that hold a special place in our hearts, the ones that still cost a fortune to buy on DVD. This week we’re confronted with the absurdity of animals acting as humans in ROBIN HOOD…

Robin Hood Quad

1973/83 Minutes

Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman

Budget: $15,000,000

Box Office: $32,056,467

Disney was dead to begin with, and leading the charge in Disney animated films was Wolfgang Reitherman. However, all was not well. Restricted budgets meant a plethora of recycled designs and sequences from the Disney vaults. The industry was still a few years away from home entertainment (where ROBIN HOOD’s sales would match its original box-office take), and Disney used this attempt at garnering a more male audience.

The film also took the bizarre decision of offering us anthropomorphised characters, rather than humans. This was something the company had not done up until this point. It was an odd choice for Disney, and meant that Maid Marian has forever been left off the invite list to the Disney Princess’s balls.

SYNOPSIS

We begin on a book titled ROBIN HOOD (you may have heard the story), before a cockerel minstrel interrupts our reading pleasure to tell us even the animal world has their own version of ROBIN HOOD. Fair dos, I suppose even humans retell tales from the animal world such as WATERSHIP DOWN and ANIMAL FARM. After the opening credits, we find Robin Hood and Little John walking through the forest and laughing back and forth at what the other one has to say. We then meet Prince John, who has had his brother hypnotised and sent him off on the crusades; hear that Muslims? It wasn’t really our fault, just an evil lion prince and his snake sidekick. Robin and Little decide to rob Prince John by dressing up in drag and acting like fortune tellers. The ruse works and Robin Hood gives his money to the poor.

Elsewhere in the mythical and dark land of Nottingham, the unscrupulous sheriff is collecting taxes from the townfolk. He’ll even rob a blind man, but it’s okay because the blind man turns out to be Robin Hood, who proves his knack at being a benefit fraud. So far we’ve covered the slaughtering of Muslims in their own lands, high taxes, and benefit cheats in merry old England. Some films truly are timeless. As Robin goes around being a do-gooder, his childhood sweetheart, Maid Marian, plays a game of badminton with her nurse and wonders whether Robin remembers her (he does).

Prince John intends to capture the outlaw known as Robin Hood by setting up an archery contest, which he knows Robin will be unable to avoid, because when he’s not stealing stuff that doesn’t belong to him, he’s just being an arrogant show-off. Robin Hood wins the contest but also escapes the trap. Prince John loses all respect (if he had any to begin with) and decides that he will imprison all the poor people/animal/things in a last ditch effort to trap Robin. Will this final plan work? Will the film end suddenly? Will the hypnotism angle be referenced again in any way, shape, or form? The answer to each of these questions is the same… and isn’t “yes”!

Lessons Learned:

  1. It’s okay to steal from rich people as long as you intend to give the money to the poor.
  2. Men and women should date within their own race/species.
  3. Those who achieve power through corrupt means will one day answer for their crimes.

Robin Hood Image

THE HERO

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Robin Hood is portrayed here in the same way he is in most variations of his story. He is a charming and very English gent, always looking out for the downtrodden and maltreated. He is also very confident, which often leads to cockiness. Unfortunately, the film never explores this area in detail and he pretty much always gets what he wants and doesn’t face any consequences. He isn’t even challenged on it. Thankfully, with voice work from Brian Bedford, Robin maintains a tone of humbleness in his voice.

THE HEROINE

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Maid Marian is a playful little thing and once again well voiced. The best part about her is that she is never really in danger, and thus avoids damsel in distress territory. Perhaps her views on love, having not moved on from when she met Robin as a little boy, are rather simplistic, and the fact she waits around for the only other fox in the kingdom suggests she may be a tad racist. Still, she’s a pretty little thing (for a fox), and can also handle herself in a fight, as well as being kind and considerate.

THE VILLAINS

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Prince John is one of my favourite Disney villains, but very easily could have been one of the worst. Prince John is an absolute wet blanket. When he is thwarted, he sucks his thumb, puts his finger in his ear and calls for his mummy (whom I’m pretty sure is dead). What’s brilliant is that Prince John isn’t very threatening at all, but he has something that makes him almost invincible and that is power. Even the weakest, least educated and ridiculous human being in the world can be terrifying with a little bit of power, as they are constantly pushed to the limits to prove their worth. He’s very reminiscent of bizarre dictators through the ages. In a modern day retelling, perhaps Kim Jong Un would be cast.

THEIR FATE? After King Richard returns from the crusades (beaming after all the Muslims he’s slaughtered), supposedly having shaken off the hypnotism that was mentioned earlier, Prince John is sentenced to the Royal Rock Pile, where he can chisel away at rocks. It’s not the most exciting end, and he just sort of ends up there as a quick solution.

SIDEKICK(s)/HENCHMEN

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Little John may be a loyal and reliable comrade, but he’s also just Baloo from THE JUNGLE BOOK. His look, penchant for cross dressing, dance moves, and even the voice of Phil Harris, just mean you are constantly distracted. Lady Cluck is a feisty Scottish lass who brings out a lot of humour and female empowerment. These sidekicks are nothing when compared to the henchmen, however. Although Sir Hiss is just another THE JUNGLE BOOK throwback, he is also very fiendish and likable at the same time. The Sheriff Of Nottingham is also enjoyable to watch in all his villainy, and the two share the best scene in which they both sing a song that mocks Prince John.

PLOT

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It’s something you’ll all be familiar with, but with a few changes here and there. It’s certainly a timeless tale, but Disney seems to want to skip from set-up to set-up in a breezy manner, that doesn’t let the characters unfold. There isn’t anything I’d call character development and they are all exactly the same at the end of the film as they were when it started.

LAUGHS

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Peter Ustinov as Prince John supplies some excellent delivery of some of the funniest lines in Disney’s history. “I’ve got a dirty thumb!” is so unexpected, confusing, and funny in a sad kind of way, that one can only laugh. The film also offers a number of clever visual gags.

SCARES

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ROBIN HOOD is completely devoid of scares. The villains are mostly comical, and there isn’t a single situation where you might fear for the characters’ lives.

MORAL/EDUCATIONAL VALUE

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The idea of robbing from the rich to give to the poor may sound great on paper, but it’s also demonstrably confusing for young children. The film doesn’t do enough to separate the rich that have earned their wealth and those that constantly oppress the poor in order to obtain more. Perhaps a better plot would have seen Robin Hood running a marathon to raise money, or holding a bake sale. With the whole Robin Hood and Maid Marian being of the same species, it also suggests certain intolerance for interracial relationships. What it does do right is to remind us to be mindful and watchful of those in a position of power, and when that power is abused we must stand up and fight for the little guy.

MUSIC/SONGS

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The songs aren’t that memorable. The only one I can hum off the top of my head is ‘Oo-dee-lally’. Roger Miller, best known for his song ‘King Of The Road’, plays the narrator Allan-a-Dale, and offers a few other songs, which means the classic British tale of Robin Hood is interrupted by US style folk songs. It works in parts, and they are mostly used as story progression.

LEGACY

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Not much if I’m honest. The story was already a famous one, and the anthropomorphism was something Disney never tried again. The character designs were mostly pilfered from other Disney works, and the ones that were original were supposed to be a telling of Reynard The Fox. Some of the characters would of course show up in HOUSE OF MOUSE, but when the most memorable thing to come from ROBIN HOOD became The Hampsterdance Song, we have to question if we’d been better off without the film at all.

FINAL SCORE: 26/53

 

Part II will be published tomorrow and will feature a retrospective analysis of WINNIE THE POOH.

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