“Robin Hood” is one hell of a good romp (or a lark, as Robin himself would say). It’s one of my favorites from Disney’s ‘dark age’, and one of the funniest films I’ve found so far in the Disney Canon. For the bulk of the film, “Robin Hood” sports a folksy, friendly, laidback and almost ludicrous tone, from our heroes swindling Prince John in drag to Klucky turning into a football star in the middle of a mad brawl, which makes for a very effective tonal shift when the comedy falls away and the movie takes a dark and grim turn in the last act. “Robin Hood’s” story can mostly be broken up into five sections; two interludes between three episodic, increasingly mad adventures Robin Hood and Little John have that come to a head in one of Disney’s longer climaxes – a fifteen minute setpiece where the duo have to pull off a jailbreak and a heist at the same time. Like many of the films from the xerox era (“The Jungle Book“, “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh“), “Robin Hood” lives and dies on the charm, humor and overall likability of it’s colorful cast, rather than the depth and intricacy of the animation like the golden and silver eras of Disney animation. In fact, the movie’s greatest pro is probably the strong sense of community it gets across. The supporting characters have as much of a presence in the film as Robin Hood and Little John do, perhaps even more. They’re all bonded in suffering, they all loathe their tyrant king, they support Robin Hood’s bravehearted rebellion, and by the end, there’s a sense that it’s not just Robin and Johnny fighting corruption anymore, so there’s a number of heartwarming moments in the film. The amount of time we spend with the lively, spirited bunch also leads to a real lump-in-throat, sobering sequence where we see just what Prince John’s cruelty has reduced them to, up to and including little kids in chains rotting away in prison.
If we’re gonna discuss our jovial leading man, we gotta talk about dem fox eyes, because you never really know what to expect when it comes to Robin’s expressions in this movie, and some of them are priceless (like the face he makes when he sees money, or his lovestruck face, or his ‘they’re going to hang Friar Tuck?!’ face). Disney’s take on Robin Hood is a flawed but honorable character; a charming, cheeky, swashbuckling, lovesick daredevil who pushes his luck til it finally runs out (seriously, you had to go back for that last bag, didn’t you Robin?). He also has some nice chemistry with his girl, Maid Marian, due to them already having a preexisting relationship rather than the film having to build one from the ground up. Robin serves as an inspiration to the people of Nottingham, because he’s one of the few people who’s always willing and able to stand up and do what’s right, even at the cost of his own life (though ironically, doing what’s right often involves a lot of pillaging and lawbreaking). Little John has a familiar voice actor, Phil Harris in his third consecutive role in a Disney film. Personality-wise, Robin Hood’s rowdy but sensible right-hand man is quite a way away from Harris’ first gig as hipster layabout Baloo, but the jazz star is as personable as always here, providing our hero with a nice foil (and a good guy dynamic I like even more than I do Baloo & Bagheera’s relationship). As Robin Hood’s best friend and partner in crime, Little John always has his back and is the more grounded of the two (relatively). Their dynamic is the classic one of two guys, one of whom claims to be exasperated by the crazy antics his wilder friend gets them into but truthfully he loves it. The scene at the end, where Little John thinks Robin drowned in the moat for a minute and starts to cry, is another of the film’s more affecting moments.
Maid Marion is Robin Hood’s mutual crush; a kindly, big-dreaming fox vixen and childhood friend of Robin who knows where her loyalties really lie in regards to her uncle’s reign. The strange thing about Maid Marion (and you don’t really notice it until the end) is that she disappears from the movie in the third act, just as she’s being fully integrated into the plot and getting in touch with her adventurous side. Apparently, in one early draft of the story, Marion went to go find King Richard and alert him of his brother’s treachery, hence the Richard Ex Machina in the movie’s final minutes. I like to think that was what she was still doing offscreen in the final cut. Maid Marion’s lady-in-waiting is Lady Kluck, a feisty, sisterly Scottish hen who I honestly love, because she’s kind of nuts and always willing to help her friends in a fight. I think I also kind of ship her and Little John now, which I did not expect to happen, but the chemistry is definitely there. Friar Tuck, naturally, is one of the more helpful characters in the village and one of Robin Hood’s biggest supporters. The passionate, hot-tempered, outspoken holy man does what he can to keep the village afloat, and in a surprising turn for a Robin Hood adaption (as far as I know it doesn’t happen that often) he damsels it up in the last act when Prince John and the Sheriff decide to kill him (which, thankfully, does not come to pass). Other minor characters include a witty, musically-inclined narrator and Skippy Bunny and his friends, nosy village scamps who have a few encounters with our vulpine lovers and look up to them. The weakest of the supporting cast, the kids don’t actually add much to this movie except for the cuteness factor and could be easily excised.
On the shady side of things, Pat Buttram lends the slick, detestable, wily Sheriff of Nottingham his best feature, dat southern accent (it adds a surprising amount to the brutish blackguard’s character. It’s also kind of hot). The burly, corrupt thug parades around Nottingham as the face of Prince John’s oppression, carrying out his dirty work and greedily taxing money from the poor (he evens steals from the blind, just in case you had any doubt that he’s a dick). He’s easily the toughest and most charismatic of the film’s three villains (though not the funniest, that would be P.J.) and during the film’s second half, we discover the Sheriff has a pretty high opinion of himself that can and often is used against him. Every time I watch this film, I love Prince John more and more as an antagonist. The interesting thing about the Prince as the main villain is that in hindsight he’s a more pathetic predecessor to the baddie from “The Lion King“, Scar. An envious, cowardly, power-hungry lion who wants to dispose of his dear brother so he can seize the throne. Peter Ustinov chews so much scenery as P.J. (you can tell he had a lot of fun voicing this abusive, unstable manchild) that he’s a thoroughly enjoyable villain, and as the movie progresses and his humiliation increases, we see him slip further and further into insanity, to the point where he becomes a genuinely frightening foe. Meanwhile. poor Sir Hiss is Prince John’s sycophantic head lackey, the only sane man of the bunch that no one ever listens to (and perhaps the outcome of this movie would have been very different for our heroes if anyone had); instead he often, hilariously, winds up being the film’s punching bag and mistreated by the prince (like a certain running gag involving the queen). I’m not sure if Kaa would approve of his spinelessness.
Times were tough for Disney when this film was produced, so the animation isn’t nearly as polished as previous efforts from the silver era. The outlines on the characters are noticeably sharp, and like all films from this period animation is reused in places; particularly “The Phony King of England”, which borrows from “Snow White And The Seven Dwarves”, “The Jungle Book” and “The Aristocats”, but also with other things like the way characters move sometimes. Other than that, the animation is really good for it’s day. The character movements are quite fluid – delightfully frenzied at times – and the backgrounds are perfectly atmospheric. Prince John’s stronghold is both regal and imposing, Nottingham is desolate and downtrodden, and Sherwood Forest is a safe haven straight out of a fairy tale. In fact, the rustic look of this film almost suits it, much like “Oliver and Company’s” rough, grungy aesthetic. Nowadays, I think this movie is the reason why I’m rarely ever bothered by anachronisms in Disney movies. I’m pretty sure “Robin Hood” takes place in a universe where animals not only rule the earth, but medieval Nottingham is located in the deep south; partly because of all the southern accents and partly because of that twangy country music soundtrack. Blending two distinct cultures the way “Robin Hood” does feels like it really shouldn’t work, but in actuality it turned out to be a pretty shrewd decision, especially in regards to the soundtrack. “Whistle Stop” puts the movie’s walk cycles and run cycles to good use, giving the audience a taste of what’s to come; “Love” is spellbinding and wistful; “The Phony King of England” livens up the film while Frank Miller’s crooning in “Not In Nottingham” takes it to it’s a lowest point,;and “Ooo-De-Lally” is something of an earworm, coined from Robin’s catchphrase. George Bruns’ underrated score also gives the film a playful liveliness befitting a movie that doesn’t take itself entirely seriously (my favorite cue is the fanfare leitmotif for Prince John’s army).
“Robin Hood” isn’t as much of a show-stopper as some of the bigger classics in the canon, but this cult classic from the 70’s is an excellent pick when you’re in the mood for something fun, and also most likely the best movie Disney produced during their twenty year dark age period.
* I think we were all shocked the day we realized “Whistle Stop” spawned “The Hamster Dance”.
* “Rob? That’s a naughty word. We never rob, we just borrow a bit from those who can afford it”.
* “Don’t overdo it, Hiss. There… this crown gives me a feeling of power. POWER! Forgive me a cruel chuckle. Power“.
* “Your name will go down, down in history” “YES! I KNEW IT! I KNEW IT!”
* “I’ve been robbed” “Of course you’ve been robbed!”.
* You fools, you just trampled the prince! Do you want to have your heads lopped off?
* The evil and ruthless (but still kind of hot) sheriff is also a big bad wolf. Disney, stereotyping animals? Never!
* “Now, now save your sermon, preacher. It ain’t Sunday after all”.
* “How do I look?” “Not much like Mr. Robin Hood” Ouch, that’s why you didn’t get to use the bow first nameless bunny.
* “He snitched on us”.
* I love the way that scene progresses between Marian and the kids. One minute, they’re all scared stiff of the Lady Marian and worried about being caught trespassing, the next they’re flapping their gums about how they’re friends with an outlaw, asking her very personal questions about her love life (“Did he ever kiss you?”) and whether or not she and Robin are ever gonna have kids. Things escalated so quickly.
* “Marry her? You don’t just walk up to a girl, hand her a bouquet and say ‘hey remember me, we were kids together, do you wanna get get married?’ It just isn’t done that way” It is in a Disney princess movie.
* “My trap is baited and set, and then revenge. REVENGE!”
* “Oh no, forgive me but I lose more jewels that way”.
* It took decades, but Disney has finally given “Robin Hood” a proper soundtrack release with “The Legacy Collection”. Hallelujah! Now, how about “The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh”?
* “Oh, by the way, I hear you’ve been having some trouble catching old Robin Hood” (oooohhhh) “He’s scared of me, that’s what it is! You see he didn’t how show up here today! I can spot him through his phony disguises”.
* “Not so hard, you mean thing!” Hate sex.
* “Help, Robin, help!”.
* “KILL HIM!!! STOP THE GIRL!!!”.
* “Yep, I’m in here too”. That sucks, man.
* “Things can’t get any worse.” Why Friar, why?
* “GET OUT OF MY CHURCH!” Kick his ass, Friar!
* “Wait a minute, is the safety still on old Betsy?” “You bet it is, Sheriff” “That’s what I’m afraid of. You go first”.
* “Quiet Friar, we’re busting you out of here” “Thank God, my prayers have been answered” The Friar might be a man of God, but he’s not ready to die just yet.
* “Praise the Lord, and pass the tax rebate!”
* How did they leave the bunny girl behind?!
* Why is the bunny mom okay with her kid running off with Robin Hood and Maid Marian on their honeymoon?
- Nostalgia Critic; Animatedkid; The Animation Commendation (1); The Animation Commendation (2); Jess’s Somewhat Grown-Up Type Blog; Katejohns619; AuthorQuest; Silver Petticoat; Mutant Reviewers; A Year Of A Million Dreams; Geeks Of Doom; The Cynic’s Survival Guide To Disney Animated Classics; A113 Animation; High Tea Dreams; Reviews Of Films; A Year With Walt; Animated Film Reviews; Animated Heroes; Film Musical Central; Chungking Jungle; Things That Don’t Suck; MentalFloss; The Mouse For Less; Jaysen Headley Writes; The Disney Project; Filmwerk; All The Disney Movies; Disney In Your Day; The Disney Odyssey.
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