Classic No. 21 Robin Hood (1973)

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Robin Hood is not the first time in which Disney have attempted to adapt the English folk legend of Robin Hood – they produced a live action feature in 1952 called The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men. But it is the first Disney animated feature film that showcases entirely anthropomorphic animals in human clothing, with no human characters at all. When Walt was still alive, the studio were considering making a film about the European fable of trickster, Reynard the Fox, but Walt was concerned that Reynard was not an ideal choice for a hero and that the themes from the fable were controversial. Consequently Ken Anderson had to incorporate many of his ideas into Robin Hood, hence why Robin Hood is told from the point-of-view of the ‘animal kingdom’. Ken Anderson was on story, Larry Clemmons (again!) wrote the screenplay and Wolfgang Reitherman (again!!) directed the film. This film was made on the cheap and production lasted a mere sixteen months. Tiny budget, zero time …

This is inevitable

Disney was not in a good place at this stage financially (and likely emotionally as well) – due to the tiny budget and limited time, they had to cut a lot of corners, and consequently this will show in Robin Hood. But does that mean that the film is bad? Or did the creators have to work extra hard in spite of the small budget, and create ‘excellence’ on the cheap?

There is no original trailer, so no Original Trailer Time –

Protagonist

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Robin Hood is a highly likeable and charismatic protagonist; very much a ‘man of the people’ in every sense – he is loved by young and old. The people of Sherwood Forest are oppressed and disillusioned under the tyrannical rule of Prince John and his excessive taxes, and outlaw Robin is the vigilante who keeps their hope alive: bringing money to the working people, and giving the children a hero to rally behind. He also shows his willingness to place himself at risk for the sake of the people, as he throws himself in harm’s way on several occasions, such as preventing Friar Tuck’s hanging, and turning back during the escape to rescue a young child.

He is a master of disguise, and is able to hoodwink the royal guard on several occasions by taking on the roles of a travelling gypsy woman, an elderly blind man, a stalk archer and a vulture:

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These disguises are accompanied by different personalities, and voices: which really showcase the versatility of Brian Bedford. Tommy Steele and Terry Jones were considered for the role of Robin and the former was even offered the role. Brian Bedford, known primarily for Shakespeare, has an excellent voice and he brings so much to the character, likely contributing to why Robin, despite being a fox, often makes many lists documenting most fanciable Disney leading men. He is, after all, an appealing romantic lead – A swordsman; an archer; a one woman man; an athlete; an entertainer; a philanthropist; and to top it off, he is rather dashing, witty and debonair. All the women want him, and all the men want to be him, figuratively speaking. This does not mean that he is perfect – Robin’s biggest weakness as a character is that he is reckless, often taking too many risks. He is constantly having near misses in terms of getting shot, he risks his life to get a kiss from Maid Marian, and he couldn’t just leave that last bag of money in Prince John’s bed chamber behind – the one that the latter was caressing in his sleep. He could have gone on ahead without it, and the jail break may have gone smoothly. But something that works really well with this version of Robin Hood, is that he openly admits that he is a performer – when he is robbing or being a master of disguise. But when addressing the people of Nottingham, as himself, he is not a bombast like many Robin Hoods are, but instead he is rather quiet in person – a bit like soft-spoken or reserved actors who normally play extroverted roles. The scene in the rabbits’ house is a great example of Robin’s gentle and quiet nature.

Robin really is Disney’s first true, classic leading man; before Robin Hood, the leads have been princesses or young women (Cinderella, Snow White, Aurora), boys (Pinocchio, Wart, Mowgli, even Dumbo and Bambi), anti-heroes (Ichabod, Mr Toad), animals in domestic environments (Lady, Pongo) etc …The closest that we may have had to leading men before have been Tramp, Pongo and Prince Phillip – but while Robin reigns in an anthropomorphic world, Tramp and Pongo are dogs in human worlds and thus limiting them as leading men, and Prince Phillip, in spite of the epic climax, has such a small role in Sleeping Beauty (as we said before, it truly is the fairies’ story) – Robin is a leading man and the star of his own world – the first action hero.

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They were clearly inspired by the Errol Flynn adaptation

Antagonist[s]

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Prince John is the first out-and-out cowardly villain since Captain Hook, but has a completely distinct character from his ‘Restoration-Era’ counterpart. This is primarily because of the voice acting of Peter Ustinov, who is having an absolute blast playing the whiny, man-child, liable to throw a tantrum if things don’t go his way. We would love to have seen what Peter Ustinov looked like in the recording studio when delivering these lines. He makes every single line that he has memorable. He is hilarious and absolutely game for silliness and for making himself sound ridiculous – any time he does that laugh, we would crack up.

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(Special Note from Melissa: A personal favourite moment)

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You just can’t get the staff …

An absolute favourite moment for both of us – likely the most quoted since we watched it!:

Prince John’s childishness and thumb-sucking tendencies are known to all and sundry throughout Sherwood Forest, and consequently he is a laughing stock amongst the people. Unfortunately, despite his cowardly nature, he is in a position of power, which he exploits in order to keep everyone beaten down. When he learns about how he is mocked by the people of Nottingham, he triples their taxes, and everyone ends up in prison when they can’t pay. He is a very effective villain, in a different way to the established norm: he doesn’t possess a great deal of physical strength, and so wouldn’t be able to fight with Robin, but he is able to wound him in other ways, by targeting the people of Nottingham. Essentially he is not so foolish that he does not comprehend Robin’s weak spots, and knows exactly how to manipulate him into situations, such as organising the tournament with the prize being a kiss from Maid Marian, as well as planning to hang Friar Tuck.

(Special Note from David: It was hard to buy into the threat posed by Captain Hook during the sword-fights, especially as he had spent the majority of the film getting knocked about. This approach is a much more effective use of the ‘cowardly villain’)

Prince John being a ‘mummy’s boy’ is a smart allusion to the real King John, who was not a popular King, especially in comparison with his more popular brother King Richard the Lionheart. As Prince John says in the film, ‘Mother did always like Richard best’; allegedly Queen Eleanor would refer to John as ‘My dear son’ and Richard as ‘My very dear son’.

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A complex is inevitable

Sir Peter Ustinov also played Prince John in the German dub and you can hear him in this video that we came across on YouTube:

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The character of Hiss is essentially the whipping boy for Prince John. Being such a weedy character, there needs to be someone who he can impose his dominance over, and the serpent Hiss fills that quota. This dynamic leads to some entertaining moments where Prince John ties Hiss up in knots (“get out of that if you can!”). The pair of them do behave rather like a bickering couple, with Hiss being the long-suffering partner whose catchphrase is ‘I knew it!’ and Prince John as flippant, immature and tempestuous. The voice actor, Terry Thomas has a gap between his teeth and they worked it into the character design for Hiss, meaning that his forked tongue can pop through when he speaks.

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The Sheriff of Nottingham (that’s Nottingham, Alabama – obviously!) is played by Pat Buttram. Buttram has a much more prominent – not to mention relevant – role this time around (compared to his role in The Aristocats). Originally Ken Anderson conceptualised the character as a goat in order to challenge normal stereotypes of animal characters, but Wolfgang Reitherman overruled and insisted he be a wolf instead – a villainous stereotype. The Sheriff is Prince John’s personal right hand, who carries out all of the dirty work: primarily collecting all the taxes, which he performs with barely contained glee. This trope is used on several occasions, and just about every time somebody is seen holding money, it’s just a matter of time before the Sheriff turns up to swindle them out of it. As the money-troubles of the people in Nottingham escalate, the character’s nefarious nature really shines through. He is truly unsympathetic towards the plight of the people, and takes great pleasure in sniffing out every penny of their money – taking from the injured, the blind, children and a church poor box.

The villains within this story (despite the fact that they’re animals) feel a lot closer to real life, as taxes and debt are very much everyday issues that we encounter in the real world. This is another reason why Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham are so effective in their despicable and petty natures. Akin to hating non-magical villains like Lady Tremaine, and (stepping aside from Disney), Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter, we hate these figures because they are recognisable and tap into real world situations. That’s not to say they aren’t still entertaining – the Sheriff of Nottingham is so unashamedly despicable, after all – but there is a definite line to be drawn between finding it funny and being appalled.

Supporting Cast

The cast has an unusual combination of British and American actors, with the latter being primarily veterans from Western film and television, such as Ken Curtis, Andy Devine, Pat Buttram and George Lindsey.

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Little John is Robin’s best friend and ‘partner-in-crime’, a loyal and likeable character who looks not-at-all suspiciously like Baloo. This is the third consecutive appearance from Phil Harris in the canon, and although he is no less likeable than before, he really seems out of place here. There was enough of a distinction between the characters of Baloo and O’Malley to warrant reusing Harris’ talents, but here it feels a bit too much like the studio is going through the motions. However this does not mean that we did not enjoy his performance – it’s Phil Harris after all!  One element that we really enjoyed was his ‘Sir Reginald Duke of Chutney’ – ‘Move it creepy! Get lost! Be gone long one!’ We adore the hilarious fact that unlike Brian Bedford who performs a range of accents for different characters, Phil Harris ‘attempts’ it for a few lines and then decides ‘Ah screw it, ain’t my style’, and bursts on with his usual shtick.

It is interesting that Disney chose to have Robin Hood and Little John as more of a double act, less focussed on the Merry Men, and thus showing early signs of the ‘Buddy Movie’ formula that will become very popular.

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Maid Marian is the primary love-interest within the film, but things are a little different this time around. For the first time in the canon, the young lovers actually have a history (they do not meet for the first time during the film).

(Special Note from David: This is something I really think they should have made more of, as there were some nice moments, but there should have been more)

(Special Note from Melissa: Agreed. She is not in it enough, which gives her less opportunity for development)

Maid Marian is sweet-natured and kind, very much akin to a Disney Princess:

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But no matter how much you prance around the room, you will not get a number and you will not be invited into the Disney Princess club!

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Their relationship is an engaging one – very romantic and their connection is intense, as they long for each other when they are apart, and when together, their chemistry is excellent. They are able to get a lot across about their relationship despite limited screen time. Their exchange when they meet again for the first time when Robin Hood is in disguise is adorably flirtatious and genuinely sweet. The dramatic scene in which Robin Hood has been sentenced to death, is impactful as Marian – in tears – pleads for his life, but it is a shame we could not have seen more of the two of them together before. A midnight balcony scene or a climb to her window (very Robin Hood-like) would have been much appreciated. It feels like we are being robbed of time with two characters who have great romantic chemistry, and that annoys us.

(Special Note from Melissa: But at least we have this:)

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Maid Marian is not a Damsel in Distress like you would expect, and she is only saved by Robin Hood once. Resulting in this fabulous move:

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The proposal between them during the massive scrap is charming, funny and surreal all at once, as they plan their honeymoon (‘London! Normandy! Sunny Spain!’) and future while fighting off faceless guards.

(Special Note from David: Later on this would be ripped off in the third Pirates of the Caribbean film … Although you were probably asleep by that point)

The love scene between Robin Hood and Maid Marian is lovely – really tender and sweet (although it could have done without the classic Hollywood-inspired extreme close-ups of eyes …). However, the mood is completely ruined by Friar Tuck’s screams of ‘SURPRIIIIIIIIIIIIISE!’ The entire village has gatecrashed their love nest.

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The look on Marian’s face sums it up pretty well

Maid Marian does not even feature in the climax – an unusual move for a Robin Hood film, but unfortunately for us this is a huge error. She disappears from the film after ‘Phony King of England’ and does not appear until the very end, and even then she has no lines. In the original ending (which we will discuss more in ‘Story’), she returns in the climax to nurse a wounded, unconscious Robin Hood, and boldly stands up to Prince John, shielding her fiancé from harm. Omitting her from the third act is a huge insult to her character because she and Robin Hood have such a lovely build in their relationship. Her absence is absolutely ridiculous during the time in which Robin Hood is in major peril – but oh no we get the kid, Skippy, to be there instead.

Who made THAT decision?!

Friar Tuck was originally meant to be a pig, but this was changed for fear of insulting specific religions. Therefore they changed the design to a badger …

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Have the animators ever SEEN a badger?

(P.S. We looked up other breeds of badgers. They still look nothing like Friar Tuck)

Even this is closer to a real badger

(Special Note from Melissa: Check out Andreas Deja’s blog, it shows Ken Anderson’s original concept design for Friar Tuck as a badger – when it actually looked like a badger: http://andreasdeja.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/ken-andersons-robin-hood.html )

Friar Tuck has an unfortunate habit of inserting himself into scenes without being invited, and bellowing when he should be quiet.

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There’s a prison break going on you moron! STOP SHOUTING!

He also makes impressive faces:

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If Edgar were an animal …

However despite barging into scenes and having the inability to speak at a normal volume, we do like the character; we love how he stood up to the Sheriff of Nottingham and went berserk at him, telling him where to go and fighting a creature double his size – not a wise move perhaps but still GO FRIAR!

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I’ll give you TAXES! And high house prices! And youth unemployment!

Maid Marian’s Lady-in-Waiting, Lady Kluck is a very enjoyable character. Carole Shelley voices her, while Monica Evans voices Maid Marian, bringing about déjà-vu of the goose double act from The Aristocats, but in this case this voice double act works much better in the pairing of Maid Marian and Lady Kluck. The latter is a feisty, no-nonsense, Scottish comedy sidekick who is a warm motherly figure to Maid Marian, a figure of fun for the children and all the while can hold her own in a MAJOR scrap.

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Where was she during the climax?

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Unlike the kids from The Aristocats and Bambi, the kids from Robin Hood feel shoe-horned in and really over-stay their welcome. They are not in it a lot and yet they feel like they are in it way too much. When watching Robin Hood, we really wanted it to go back to the ‘adult’ scenes because we were feeling invested in them, and the kids just felt like an interruption. Maid Marian could have been introduced in a different way! That scene before the kids go into the garden just draaaaaaags with its own self-indulgent cutesiness – if this had come out in the 1990s or 2000s, they would have had a spinoff series on the Disney channel – just imagine it – The Sherwood Gang featuring the Leader, the Nerd, the Girl and Toddler.

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And it would have been awful

(Special Note from David: Also, the main kid is called Skippy, which – regardless of context, setting, time-period, etc. – is the stupidest name for a character ever!)

(Special Note from Melissa: Plus something that has always bothered me – this exchange at the end: ‘Hey Skippy, how come you’re going?’ ‘Well Robin’s gonna have kids so somebody’s gotta keep their eye on things’. Pardon? What on earth does that mean? Why are you going? Plus kid, these newlyweds I am sure … DO NOT WANT YOU ON THEIR HONEYMOON!)

(Special Note from David: I hate this kid.)

There are minor characters like the Church Mice, vultures Nutsy and Trigger, and Mother Rabbit, voiced by Barbara Luddy, who shares a genuinely lovely moment with Robin Hood.

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And also Otto the Dog, voiced by J. Pat O’Malley …

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Who feels just dandy gleefully dancing around on his “broken” leg

Artwork and Imagery

While the character animation can be very creative and the visual gags clever and fun, we must be frank – Robin Hood is not Disney’s prettiest film. In fact, this film has been the hardest so far in finding stunning shots, because it generally features basic and drab backgrounds and sketchy animation, lacking the fine details and high quality that we are accustomed to seeing from Disney. Plus we have plenty of Hanna Barbera-like chase sequences. However, these shots that we found are quite lovely:

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The first two thirds of the film are incredibly bright and sunny in their palette, but as soon as the people of Nottingham are sent to jail, the film retains a gloomier, duller and darker palette until the final two minutes.

The financial strains that the studio were under during this time are particularly apparent when looking at the artwork for Robin Hood. The studio had recycled animation before in order to cut corners, but here there was so much re-used artwork that it is very distracting, not only from other films but from Robin Hood itself. We are not going to go into every detail that Robin Hood recycles because otherwise we will be here all day. If you want to see something specific, check out ‘The Phony King of England’, which ironically makes up ‘The Phony King of Animation’, as almost the entire sequence is comprised of frames and animation from other films. Wolfgang Reitherman allegedly thought that recycling was a means of showing off his knowledge of the Disney classics – as if he had simply gone mad stuffing the film with Easter eggs. This was the first Disney film not to contain any human characters, and one has to wonder how much of this decision was influenced by the ease with which animation could be reused. The character of Little John being a bear, with the exact same design and shape as Baloo, supports this theory.

On a completely separate note, from our observation, Robin Hood is certainly full of the most risqué and irreverent shots in Disney feature animation. This is not huge for average cinema, but rather cheeky for Disney. This is what the lads get up to when Walt is not around:

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Is the image of Hiss looking up Robin Hood’s ‘area’, and knowing it is him a special nod to Errol Flynn?

Music

The film boasts another memorable soundtrack; wisely the studio did not try to emulate the sound of the Sherman Brothers, and instead went for something completely different. The soundtrack to Robin Hood showcases the music of Roger Miller (integrated into the film via Miller’s portrayal of the minstrel Alan a Dale), although a couple of songs were written by George Bruns, Floyd Huddleston and Johnny Mercer.

(Special Note from David: I really think that the whole soundtrack should have been written by Roger Miller)

(Special Note from Melissa: But at least the other songs are still good)

In terms of the underscore, it is more of George Bruns doing his usual stuff, as we hear familiar strains, particularly during chase scenes and intense creeping around scenes. Also we know George Bruns didn’t work on Sleeping Beauty but the royal marching song sounds just like ‘Hail to the Princess Aurora’ but in a slightly different key. Hello ‘Hail to the Princess Aurora’, we’ve missed you, oh how the quality of animation has declined since we last heard you. Although at one point, they do give up on it and change it to another royal march, perhaps realising that someone may notice …

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Sadly it is the last Disney animated feature for which George Bruns composes the score. We will miss Bruns.

The strange fact about the songs in Robin Hood, is that they neither have a medieval or particularly English sound (which we imagine the Sherman Brothers probably would have been able to achieve), and yet it still works. The songs have a rather country feel, courtesy of the brilliant Roger Miller.

“Whistle Stop” is the absolute epitome of simplistic song-writing: it has a very straightforward tune, no lyrics, and a slow laid-back rhythm; and yet it is incredibly catchy and memorable. After a while the pace quickens, and the instrumentation becomes a bit grander, before settling back down again. The song plays over the opening credits, and gets itself stuck in your head for the rest of the film.

(Special Note from Melissa: And to be honest, the rest of your life!)

“Oo-De-Lally” is used to introduce the characters of Robin and Little John, detailing their lifestyle by chronicling a typical day. Consequently the lyrics have a very clear narrative, telling a story as opposed to exploring a concept or an ideal. It offers the most delightfully laid-back and chilled opening to a Disney film so far. It is a memorable, fun little number, and the only real issue with it is that it’s over too quickly.

(Special Note from Melissa: I always remember that they had to repeat the song twice on my Sing-a-long Songs video because the song is so short, and even then, the song is still brief! And on another note, I used to snigger as a kid that the lyric sounded like ‘Laughing back and forth at what the oven has to say’)

“Love” has a completely different sound from every other song in the film. Disney are no strangers to love songs, but this one feels different to its predecessors: much more contemporary, yet simple and pure enough to have a timeless feel. In many ways it is a bit of a hidden gem. Nancy Adams, the wife of songwriter (and writer of this specific song), Floyd Huddleston, sings the song practically in a whisper, reminding us of contemporary singers like Katie Melua, Carole King and Norah Jones. Although we only hear about Robin Hood and Maid Marian’s past relationship, this short song captures that feeling of nostalgia for those carefree days that are long gone yet ‘only feel like yesterday’. Quite the romantic number it emphasises on the endurance of love, despite the brevity of life:

“The Phony King of England” is a lively barn-dance of a number. Much like the way in which the village gatecrashes on Robin and Marian’s love nest, this song unabashedly elbows ‘Love’ out of the way.

 The song sees all of the characters lampooning Prince John and his cowardly ways. It is performed by Phil Harris – and not Roger Miller, even though Alan-a-Dale is in the scene …

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I’m being smart. If I sing this blasphemous song I will end up in jail

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Ah …

Well at least I’m not in a George R. R. Martin novel

Phil Harris’s voice is upbeat and jovial, in-keeping with the tone. It is also fun to hear the song performed by Hiss and the Sheriff of Nottingham in the next scene – even supporters of Prince John love the song – ‘That’s PJ to a T!’ and ‘It’s a big hit! The whole village is singing it’. The sequence is notorious, however, for the excessive amount of recycled animation, as it borrows heavily from The Jungle Book, as well as The Aristocats and even Snow White.

Cameos or just pure shameless?

 “Not In Nottingham” is a much more downbeat number, and really sets the tone for the film’s third act. The gentle arrangement underscores the melancholy lyrics really well, and Roger Miller’s voice starts to tremble ever-so-slightly towards the end, which is a nice extra touch. Another nice touch is the way that the chained up prisoners, march slowly into the prison in time with the rhythm. It is wonderful that a song that sounds similar to that of a 1960s melancholy protest song can work so perfectly for a film set in medieval England. It is our favourite number from the film; like all of the songs, it is a pity that it is so short and that there is no decent recording of it, because it is a golden number for Disney. It has meanings on so many levels, and truly illustrates pain, despair and hopelessness – a real sign of the times for Disney.

Story

Robin Hood is a great ‘fighting the establishment’ story (quite fitting for the seventies) and we love that element of the film. Technically the first two thirds of Robin Hood do nothing wrong; the first act sets up the characters and their situations, while the second act brings them together. It has all the components of exposition, rising action, climax and denouement. The film is not exactly episodic but it is comprised of episodes that come together from the tournament onwards – this is where Robin Hood/Little John, Prince John/Hiss, Maid Marian/Lady Kluck and the Sheriff/the people of Nottingham, all come together, just before the half way point. But strangely enough, the story is messy and has a tendency to wander and meander, with focus taken off characters that we want to spend time with. We wanted more scenes between Robin Hood and Little John, and Robin Hood and Marian, but we didn’t get them. It seems as if the filmmakers felt an obligation to have a romantic plotline due to the iconographic nature of Robin Hood and Maid Marian, and yet they seem reluctant to invest too much time on it for fear that the kids in the audience will get bored, which is why we meet Maid Marian accompanied by annoying kids, and also the love montage is suddenly, instantly and even immediately interrupted.

(Special Note from Both: Did you like that? Because that’s all you’re getting!)

While the first two acts are mostly upbeat, the third act establishes itself immediately as a gloomier and more desperate set-up, building up to a terrific rising action and climax. Technically the third act is the strongest of the three, until … the ending. And this is where it goes very wrong and sends it crashing down.

The climax is outstanding until that point – the intense jailbreak, stealing the money bags from Prince John’s bedroom, arrows flying everywhere, the youngest child getting left behind, Robin getting trapped inside and climbing up buildings, the castle getting set on fire, Robin leaping from the top of the castle, and getting shot at repeatedly in the water – a marvellous climax! However … they spoil it with a fake-out. The storyboarded alternate ending on the other hand is excellent – Robin has actually been shot. This had been foreshadowed in the film repeatedly, that he would not always be so lucky, revealing our protagonist as vulnerable and not at all invincible. Little John smuggles his wounded friend to the church, where he is cared for by Maid Marian. Prince John and Hiss follow trails of blood and the former takes out a dagger, forebodingly remarking that he should put Robin out of his misery. Maid Marian stands in front of Robin warning Prince John to not come any closer, risking her life for her fiancé. King Richard arrives just in time and reprimands Prince John, albeit not banishing him because it would ‘upset Mother’. Robin recovers and he and Little John are knighted, followed by Robin and Marian’s wedding – HOORAY! Pity they didn’t use that ending … this ending brought out the best in characters – it brought Maid Marian into the climax in a powerful and bold way (no damsel in distress here!) , it made Prince John a lot more threatening and it introduced King Richard in an unexpected and dramatic fashion. But no instead we get a fake-out, the kid Skippy gets the spotlight instead of Maid Marian (gahhhhhhhhhhh!), everything got ‘wrapped up’ off-screen and Kind Richard just randomly shows up in the final scene to make a lousy joke – ‘It appears that I now have an outlaw for an inlaw! HAHAHAHA!’

The biggest problem with this ending – aside from being underwhelming, and feeling very tacked-on – is that it really weakens the overall story, and does a huge disservice to most of the principal characters.

(Special Note from David: I was willing to give the film-makers the benefit of the doubt with regards to the ending, especially since the studio was short on money at the time. But then I learned that their reason for not using this ending was because they didn’t want Prince John to be too threatening. This is a good example of how an unwillingness to take risks can weaken the overall product)

Here is the alternative ending, which unfortunately is only available in storyboard format:

 David’ Verdict

This is another film that I remember very clearly from my childhood, and one that I really loved back then. Watching it now there is still a lot that I like about it (and some things I actually appreciate more than I used to) but I’m also much more aware of the films shortcomings and can’t help but lament the missed opportunities.

First the good: Robin is a great protagonist, likeable, charismatic, funny and sincere; all at the same time. Brian Bedford does a fantastic job in this role. Similarly, Peter Ustinov makes Prince John a very memorable and entertaining villain. I’m not going to moan about inconsistencies with the accents, because there’s not many Disney films where that isn’t an issue, but it is noteworthy that the standout characters in this film (about an English folk hero) are the ones voiced by English actors. The film boasts several highly entertaining set-pieces, particularly during the final act, and there are plenty of memorable comedic moments as well.

The soundtrack is also really good, short memorable songs that encapsulate the era in which the film was made, as well as proving that there is life after the Sherman Brothers’ departure! “Not In Nottingham” is my favourite song from the soundtrack, although I do wish that there had been more songs by Roger Miller, as this is the only film in the animated canon in which he appears.

This brings me around to the film’s problems: there are some good characters in the supporting cast, but there are also a lot of superfluous characters who serve little to no purpose: principally Skippy the rabbit (as well as his annoying tag-along posse). What annoys me the most about this character is just how much he is in the film, at the expense of other characters. But the whole group of kids seem to have been shoehorned into this film.

I’ve already mentioned that I think there should have been more songs from Roger Miller in the soundtrack, and I can’t understand why it isn’t him performing “The Phony King of England” – he is playing the storytelling minstrel, after all! I also think that the romance between Robin and Marian is squandered, as there was a rare opportunity to create a truly memorable romance, where the lovers had a past together. There were a couple of great moments that came out of this, but then Marian vanishes for almost the whole of the remaining running time. Instead of getting her character-defining moment during the finale, we get more time with Skippy (erm, Hooray?).

The biggest problem with the film for me though, is the ending. The alternative ending that was planned was a much more fitting payoff to the story, particularly as a way to cap off a memorable climactic scene, but also to give a memorable and worthwhile resolution to the character arcs of Robin, Maid Marian, Little John and Prince John. Instead what we get is a rather uninspired fake-out, followed by an abrupt ‘and then they got married, the end’ wrap-up scene. The ending is the biggest example of the film’s wasted potential.

Overall I think that the positives within the film outweigh the negatives, and so it is still a film that I enjoy and will watch again, but it is also a frustrating film that squanders some truly golden opportunities.

Melissa’s Verdict

I watched Robin Hood a lot as a child growing up, but in a rather unusual way. We had a VHS copy that my Dad had recorded off ITV for my brother, sister and I back in Christmas 1992, complete with adverts (adverts which the three of us continue to quote to each other to this day – including this one featuring Robbie Coltrane:

It was a double bill of Robin Hood and The Sword in the Stone, but the trouble was that the recording of Robin Hood began from about just under 40 minutes into the film. In fact, at this point, it began:

So basically I grew up with half of the film. I am sure I must have seen the entire film when borrowing it from a friend or seeing it at a friend’s house, but for the most part, that was all I had for years until seeing it on DVD later as a teenager. I am very fond of Robin Hood, partly due to the nostalgic association of having it on that old recorded VHS, but also because, despite the low quality in animation and clear cutting of corners, it is a very charming film. Watching Robin Hood is like meeting someone who is dressed really scruffily, but you discover that underneath their shabby appearance, they are actually rather charming, carefree and witty, like Robin Hood himself really! When watching this for the Disney Odyssey, David and I laughed a lot – it is a very entertaining film in terms of comic gags and hilarious delivery of lines. Brian Bedford and Peter Ustinov, for me, were the stars of this film – I adored their voice acting, the former for his vocal versatility and bringing such likeability and heroic charm to the character, and the latter for making me laugh hysterically on such fantastic line deliveries. Both actors were clearly working very hard.

There are some wonderful double acts in the film, with Robin Hood and Little John, Prince John and Hiss, Maid Marian and Lady Kluck, and even later with the Sheriff of Nottingham and Trigger. I really love the relationship between Robin Hood and Maid Marian, primarily because they have a sweet history and the chemistry that they have when they are on-screen together is just lovely. What affects it negatively is that their relationship, despite the terrific build, gets sidelined in the third act, as does Maid Marian’s character. That’s the major problem that I have with Robin Hood – the climax is fantastic up to a certain point – really suspenseful and brilliantly paced. When we reach the ‘fake-out’ in which Robin Hood wasn’t hit with an arrow and Alan-a-Dale awkwardly informs us that King Richard ‘straightened everything out’, I was disappointed. The Alternate Ending would have been a superior ending, so that part of the film does leave me with a bad taste in my mouth – they should have taken the risk and gone for it, made Robin Hood vulnerable (for once!), brought Maid Marian back into the narrative, showed Prince John’s darker side, and introduced King Richard. What a pity. What a waste.

Aside from major story and narrative issues, the other negatives of course are more obvious ones, like the recycled and low quality animation, and for taking focus away from the adult characters in favour of the kid characters. But again, for me, it is impossible to dislike Robin Hood; in spite of its major flaws, the film has a great protagonist and antagonist, wonderful chemistry between characters, fantastic comic timing and the soundtrack, in spite of the songs being rather short, offers a lovely, laid-back quality to the film that we have not seen in previous Disney films. It is an irreverent film in many ways, as if the animators, without their father figure around, are showing signs of rebellion and doing what they want to do, despite the recycled animation. But, as I have heard, many animators did not always see it that way. Overall, it is a fun, laid-back film that offers plenty of laughs. Could it have been better? Yes definitely, it missed many opportunities, but for what it is, the film is great for a lazy afternoon of giggles.

Legacy

Because Robin Hood had a small budget and was made on the cheap, it did fine at the box office, making a profit and it received mixed reviews. Vincent Canby for the New York Times asks, ‘An all-animal/bird version of Robin Hood? Good grief! But then, why not?’ He continues, ‘It should also be a good deal of fun for toddlers whose minds have not yet shrivelled into orthodoxy. The visual style is charmingly conventional, as gently reassuring as that of a Donald Duck cartoon, sometimes as romantically pretty as an old Silly Symphony’. He comments that Robin Hood has ‘a decidedly odd but not unpleasant country-and-Western flavour’. Judith Crist for the New York Magazine perceived Robin Hood as ‘nicely tongue-in-cheek without insult to the intelligence of either child or adult’ and that the film ‘has class – in the fine cast that gives both voice and personality to the characters, in the bright and brisk dialogue, in its overall concept’. But the studio were seemingly embarrassed by Robin Hood. In a recent interview, Don Bluth commented on the film, “I drew with great excitement, thinking how good it was to work on a Disney feature. When Robin Hood was completed I decided it did not look the greatest of films. The heart wasn’t in it. It had technique, the characters were well drawn, the Xerox process retained the fine lines so I could see all of the self indulgence of the animators, each one saying ‘Look how great I am,’ but the story itself had no soul.” Ouch.

Robin Hood was nominated for Best Original Song for George Bruns’s and Floyd Huddleston’s song, ‘Love’ (losing to ‘The Way We Were’), while the score was nominated for a Grammy Award for ‘Best Recording for Children’. It also won a Golden Screen Award in Germany (six films won this award). Robin Hood found even more success and popularity when released on VHS and later DVD. Despite the grim cloud that hung over it during its release, and the critical response (even from today’s critics), there are many fans of this film today, in spite of any flaws that it has, and tends to be one of the most beloved (at least to twenty-somethings that we have chatted to, who as soon as we would mention that we are writing a review on Robin Hood, would start quoting the film or would say, ‘Oh I LOVE Robin Hood!).

Allegedly Disney are in the process of developing a live-action version of Robin Hood at the moment, which they are aiming to create into a franchise like Pirates of the Caribbean.

On a final note, it is truly the end of an era, as this is the final film in the canon in which we will hear Disney veterans J. Pat O’Malley and Phil Harris.

Next up, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh! Please let us know your thoughts. We’d love to hear from you!

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23 Responses to Classic No. 21 Robin Hood (1973)

  1. Love this film and an extremely quotable movie!

    The prison break climax is probably my 2nd favorite piece of animation ever in a Disney film!

  2. smilingldsgirl says:

    I love the dry wit of Robin Hood. It is very well written despite the recycled animation Where I have a problem with it is in the third act that feels unnecessary and too morose and gloomy given the tone of the rest of the film. Still I enjoy it.

    • We love the dry wit too – some terrific humour in Robin Hood! It definitely is an effective change in tone – it becomes so bleak that in a way is reminiscent of the 1940s films – but it is a huge contrast from the sunnier first two acts.

  3. Furienna says:

    Ah, nice to see you guys again!

    I simply adore “Robin Hood”. Maybe it can’t be considered one of the studio’s real masterpieces, but I still like it very much. I will agree with you though that Skippy and the other kids took up too much time. Then again, I hardly even remembered them when I started reading this review, so I guess they didn’t bother me that much after all. And yeah, maybe they could have done more with Maid Marion. But still, I have no real complaints about the ending like you do. Disney didn’t have the courage in the ’70s to go along with the alternative ending (they probably would have done it in the ’40s or in ’90s though). This movie had already been rather dark for a children’s movie, showing how the people had to suffer from the greediness of the villains. So I guess we have to just enjoy this movie for what it is.

    • Thanks! Nice to see you too in the comments 🙂 That’s the irresistible charm of Robin Hood – there is so much to criticise and yet we still really enjoy it.

      David: I’d forgotten about the kids until rewatching and then I went ‘Oh … great’ …

      Yes it is a dark film as it is, but we think that the dark ending would have been the icing on the cake. There seemed to be such anxiety in the 1970s at the studio, and thus less courage – we’re excited about seeing Disney eventually lift themselves out of that … eventually.

  4. swanpride says:

    If someone would ask me which movie in the Disney Canon has the worst animation, I would always point my finger at Robin Hood. It’s not even the reuse of animation from previous movies. No, what really bothers me is the reuse of animation from the very same movie, flipped cells (did you ever notice that the star of the Sheriff wanders from one side to the other, depending in which direction he walks?) even sequences with limited animation, all that paired with really, really obvious continuity mistakes, like the rings on Prince John’s finger which turn up, vanish, loose their gems, with no rhyme or reason.

    I nevertheless love the movie. To me, it shows that a good movie, even an animated one, doesn’t start with the effects or the visuals, it starts with a good script and compelling characters. And Robin Hood has both, despite the rushed ending. I am actually not sure if the additional scenes would have made the movie better. Robin Hood has the second best climax in the Disney Canon (after Sleeping Beauty), and everything added to it would have paled in comparism. They should have put Marian at the moat instead of Skippy, but that’s it.

    I don’t mind John being the one singing “Phony King of England”. The song fits his character was better than Alan-a-Dale. Thus said, this is one of the movies I prefer to watch in German. As good as the songs are in english, in German they are even better because Alan-A-Dale is voiced by nobody less than Reinard Mey (which brings me to the third point a movie really needs, good performances). It also shifts the tone a little bit, because he is not a country singer but….well, he is hard to pin down, but he usually sings in chanson style and often with really biting commentary about society. In a way he is the modern equivalent to a barde, which makes him the perfect fit for the movie.

    The thing with Robin Hood is that when the movie is good, it is really, really good, and that makes up for the more iffy moments.

    • Just had a listen to the German versions of Not in Nottingham and Oo-de-lally, and Reinhard Mey sounds terrific – a great fit for Alan-a-Dale. They’re both great songs (shame they’re so short!). Also you still have Peter Ustinov in the German one, which is always a plus!

      Yes the animation in Robin Hood is pretty shameless at times – especially when it would re-use its own animation, and like you said there are so many continuity errors. But absolutely Robin Hood has such appealing characters, humour and plot that it makes up for its misgivings more often than not.

      Putting Marian at the moat with Little John is a good idea – either way I think we’ll always feel a little miffed about those last few minutes in the film, but the climax itself is brilliant, up there with the best climaxes so far in the canon.

      • swanpride says:

        He is unbelievable…one of the few musicians which are able to stay in the business for decates and touches the heart of multiple generations. If you go to one of his concert you’ll encounter people of every age. All this just with his voice and a guitar. And he always sounds genuine, no matter if he sings about politics, human fooly, love or family.

        Word is that the animators were ashamed of Robin Hood…can’t blame them. To their credit, I think they did the best they could with the budget they had.

  5. anii654 says:

    Sorry I did not get to this sooner. I was celebrating my birthday, though I was thinking about this blog.

    What I really like about this blog is that you two find so many positives in each film, which is an admirable quality that even I cannot do. It makes the two of you special.

    Now back to the movie. It is not a horrible film, or a film that is that bad, but my biggest issue is that the film has such poor execution. There are a lot of ideas that if they went into a bit more, it would have made the film a classic, but they decided to focus on the cheap humor, cutting out some of the meat that would have made this film full of depth and good quality. It seemed like there was only like 4-5 scenes in the entire film to me, since not much happens, and there is so much filler.

    The characters were kind of likable, but a but typical to me. Did not really have an issue with them, though I did not really like them, if that makes sense.

    The music really confused me when I was watching this film last year to review. I swear I sometimes heard jazz, country, and folk, and I wished they chose a theme. It was just kind of confusing to me. Some of the songs are really, really nice though.

    • What lovely compliments! Thank you so much; we really appreciate your positive comments – they make us smile 🙂 It is completely understandable why someone wouldn’t like Robin Hood. We do enjoy the film a lot, but its flaws are very apparent. Apart from the animation, the film suffers from the continued after-effects of the post-Walt hangover of the feature films lacking focus, and essentially going a-wandering. Although we like the songs, the musical focus is very muddled – George Bruns is throwing in jazz, while Roger Miller is performing country and folk, Phil Harris is singing a barn dance number, while ‘Love’ is a 1970s ballad. We enjoy them all, but the film could have benefited from a picking a theme and sticking with it! It really reflects a muddled studio.

  6. MusicalsRock says:

    I’ve been missing you for so long’ guys! your last post was two months ago.
    Your delightful way of writing, pacing and structure make this an enjoyable read. Your love of Disney shines unadulterated through each line you write, and you don’t find that often, not even among most who review the films of Disney. Just reading these just lifts me up to heights my inner child can enjoy once more, and my adult too can rejoice.
    I know you two lead a busy life, but is it possible for you to be bit more faster with your reviews? I started to follow you only recently, and checked for the special e-mail daily and what a joy when it did come.
    You simply are the best.
    You should really try harder to make more people aware of this. I found you through a comment on the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ message boards at IMDb. You should do this more often.
    Oh dear, I do ramble on and on don’t I? Hope you don’t think I’m touched in the head, but that’s what most people say when I declare my love of Disney.

    As for the film, this one of Disney’s most funniest and yet poignant action films. My brother loved this when he was a kid, even though he’s a Disney Hater now. I think all emotions are balanced well. The alternate ending would be good, but we have been feeling a lot of excitement up to now, so that would have felt like riding on it for just more tension. I prefer the quitter ending. What they should have done was to have Maid Marian instead of Skippy, but then what was she doing there anyway? Wasn’t she hiding in the forest and not with the rescue group?
    I am interested about characters than the artwork so I have no issues there.
    I also like the fact that the leading lady has a girlfriend, the concept which is not used by Disney much.

    • swanpride says:

      If you like articles from animation and Disney fans, there are quite a few at wordpress. If you want, I could make a you a short list of blogs and articles along the line.

    • First of all, we are both really touched and genuinely moved by your comments. Thank you so much! They made us smile when we woke up this morning and read them. We are glad that you have such positive opinions about our writing. We would love to gain more readers, followers and comments – just how is the big question. We share it on Facebook, Twitter and IMBD, but we would love to find more means of getting people to discover the blog.

      We’re sorry that this review was a big wait for all of you. The last one that we wrote was in late November, and for a while we took a rest to relax and enjoy the build up to Christmas. Plus we both went to our families for Christmas – with one of us going home for a lengthy period of five weeks. We had planned to write more while we were apart but one of us got a horrendous flu that lasted for most of the Christmas holidays. Then a Masters graduation. Then we were in a play. Basically a crazily busy time – even for us! We were tempted to write up Robin Hood super fast but we knew it wouldn’t be the level of detail that it normally is. However, we still felt bad that it was such a big wait and the next review will up much much sooner than that, and fingers crossed, from then on, more consistent.

      Yes it’s lovely that Marian has a female friend, which as you said, is not a dynamic that we see enough in Disney – even in the entire canon. Who knows where Marian is at that stage in the climax … a big mystery! They didn’t really inform the audience – one can only guess.

  7. Isabel says:

    I really like this film, yet, since I was a kid, I’ve felt there was something “odd” going on with it. I had noticed the used of recycled animation and it quite annoyed me, especially since they use a lot from “Aristocats”, which is one of my all time favourites. However, now that I’m older, and thanks to this review I can put my finger on it: it’s the ending that makes it go wrong. Well, not wrong, but makes it feel weird. Seeing that alternate ending made me want to slap the people behind changing it, and slap them hard. Well, nothing can be done now. I really like all the double acts, but I think my favourite is King John and Hiss. The voice acting in Spanish is also quite good, making it real funny. I really don’t dislike the kids. But I agree they overstay their welcome and that nosy kid shouldn’t have gone on the honeymoon with them! But then again, Little John went too, so. Oh well. My favourite songs were Love and The Phony King of England. It is so perfect for modern day Mexican politicians!
    This is another one of those films my siblings and I quote a lot, the Mexican dubbing is full of good jokes to use at each other, I wish you could find clips on YouTube. If I find, I’ll share them with you, hopefully you’ll like it. Great review, as always! Looking forward to the next one 😊

    • Thanks Isabel! We’re glad that you enjoyed the review. It is likely that the next one will be out quite soon. A lot of it is already written. Yes definitely share the Mexican clips if you can find them. Would love to hear them.

  8. Pingback: Robin Hood (1973) | The Cool Kat's Reviews

  9. Redtop1995 says:

    Robin Hood has a special place in my heart, mostly because it was one of the first movies from the studio that I had on video. With that said, nostalgia has not blinded me. I can definitely see why the people at Disney thought it was terrible. I don’t think it’s a bad movie, far from it, but it’s definitely flawed.

    To me, it feels like two completely different movies. Acts 1 and 2 are lighthearted and silly with lots of sweet moments such as Robin giving Skippy a birthday present and Marian and Kluck playing with the kids. Then, in Act 3: BOOM!! It’s always raining, everyone’s in jail, Alan-a-Dale sings a song about how bleak it all is and Friar Tuck is arrested and sentenced to death by hanging.

    The movie has a manic-depressive vibe to me. It starts out with the wacky adventures of Robin Hood as he outwits the harmless crybaby Prince John. Then, it suddenly becomes dark and sombre. Prince John suddenly becomes menacing and ruthless but still retains his childishness when things don’t go his way.

    And then, it ends on the lighthearted and silly vibe as PJ takes it out on Hiss, Robin and Marian get married and everything’s alright again. Of course, we have the unused ending where Robin is wounded, PJ tries to kill him while he’s down and King Richard shows up to tell him off. They should have used that ending. It suited the jarring mood change that Act 3 adopted. It’s much better than the “Robin didn’t drown, na-na-na-na-na!” ending they went with.

    Robin Hood is a great film, but the inconsistent mood bogs it down. Disney balanced it out much better in the later films they did. At least, IMO.

  10. Paul Astell says:

    I feel like it’s a really unpopular opinion, but I honestly don’t like this film much at all. It does indeed have fantastic voice acting, which is probably its biggest plus, but almost nothing else about it is remotely impressive as far as I’m concerned. Everybody knows the animation is ripped off from all over the place, of course, but I don’t care for the plot either, or even for the soundtrack (which literally everyone else seems to love – I guess I’m just not a Roger Miller fan!). Perhaps it’s because I didn’t grow up with this one, so I don’t have any nostalgia for it. It is quite funny at times, I’ll give it that, but otherwise I find it a bit of a chore to watch.
    Much like The Sword in the Stone, this one feels like a frustrating waste of potential (as you said). This is one of the few Disney classics I’d actually like to see a live-action remake of, but done better.
    Still, this was another interesting review to read and I always enjoy looking at them before I review the same film – I’ll be referencing this article at the end of mine, as I learned quite a bit of extra info from it!
    Keep up the great work guys!

  11. Pingback: Film Review: Robin Hood (1973) – Feeling Animated

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