RELEASE DATE: Thursday 8th November 1973
Even though Walt had been gone almost a decade, his legacy lived on through the animation department, who continued to produce semi-regular animated family films. For their 1973 production they chose to focus on the legend of Robin Hood, but changed all of the characters into animals. The opening credits introduce each character in the story and explain what animal they are.
Robin Hood opens by taking its place alongside other Disney greats with an opening book...
We begin with Robin (a fox) and his friend Little John (a bear, voiced by fellow bear Baloo's actor Phil Harris) walking through the forest and contemplating whether or not they're "good guys or bad guys."
It's interesting that the film starts here, somewhere in the middle of the grander story. The characters all know each other and they've got history behind them. Robin and John are already thieving to help the poor when we join up with them. Before long a royal coach passes by, carrying His Royal Highness Prince John (a lion) who is minding the kingdom while his brother King Richard is away at the Crusades. Prince John is joined by his steward, Sir Hiss.
Robin and Little John decide that they're up for a challenge, and plot to rob Prince John right under his nose by donning a bit of drag.
Their plot works. They escape with a stash of gold while the prince is left in the mud. "I've got a dirty thumb."
Meanwhile, the Sheriff of Nottingham (a wolf) is ruthlessly collecting taxes from the poor people. Old Friar Tuck (a badger) helps Otto (a dog) hide his money, but the wily Sheriff finds and collects it anyway.
As the Sheriff arrives at the Rabbits' house, he takes young Skippy's birthday present as a tax. Skippy is heartbroken until Robin Hood appears to give him a hat and bow instead.
Skippy and his friends race off to try the bow, but he accidently shoots it into Prince John's garden where Maid Marian (a vixen) and her Lady-In-Waiting Lady Kluck (a hen) are playing badminton.
Maid Marian and Robin Hood were once sweethearts, but haven't seen each other in years. The fact that Robin is a wanted criminal doesn't improve their chances of getting together either. They both still live in hope though...
Prince John announces an archery tournament, hoping to lure Robin Hood into a trap. The winner gets a golden arrow and a kiss from Maid Marian. Robin instantly falls for the bait, but he and Little John make sure they are well disguised first.
The tournament is a success, with Robin unsurprisingly winning the contest. He is captured and sentenced to immediate death!
Lucky for Robin, he has some clever and powerful friends. During the madcap battle that takes place, Lady Kluck joyfully joins the outlaws and goes on a hilarious rampage. (This was my favourite scene as a child!)
Maid Marian goes into the forest with Robin for a romantic walk, and afterwards they catch up with the "merry men" and have a big song-and-dance party. This scene is notable in particular for its reuse of old Disney animation. Have a look at these examples:
Prince John, now in a rage at the peasants' hubris, triples the taxes. Anyone who can't pay has to go to jail. Nottingham becomes a very dark and sad place.
When the Sheriff takes money out of the church's poor-box, Friar Tuck loses his cool and attacks the Sheriff, an act which lands him on death row.
Knowing that Friar Tuck's hours are numbered, Robin and Little John plan to implement a jailbreak that very night.
Robin decides to make their trip to the castle worthwhile, so while Little John is freeing the prisoners, he heads up to Prince John's chamber and begins to steal all of the gold back. This operation all works until Sir Hiss wakes up and Robin barely escapes with his life.
Soon after, King Richard returns from the Crusades and everything is put right again. Robin and Marian are married and Prince John is put to work in the quarries. And they all live happily ever after!
IRVYNE: Robin Hood has a really laid-back, relaxed feeling to it, which is set up at the very beginning by the narrator. It's a very "comfortable" movie, and the way it tells its story is almost matter-of-factly.
I like how they've taken a classic story and made it light, funny and accessible. This is how I learned the Robin Hood story as a child, and every other version I've seen since has been compared back to this. It's wonderfully voiced, even though the accents range from English to Scottish to Deep South American! Each character is nicely fleshed out though, and we get to see what makes them happy and what makes them angry. I love that Friar Tuck, who is supposedly a calm and jolly man of God, gets so enraged at the sheriff's greed that he full-on attacks him!
There's also a great little cast of support characters. The bunny and turtle kids give a good viewpoint for the younger viewers, and Lady Kluck is a hilarious crowd favourite that I actually wish was in more of the movie.
Robin Hood is one of the "cheapest" looking Disney animated movies in the entire library. Not only were they still using the Xerox technique of transferring drawings directly on to cels, but this movie is absolutely filled with cost-cutting reused animation sequences, sometimes from different films entirely! The entire opening credits sequence is made up of footage found elsewhere in the movie, and if you look for particular shots, you can see them repeated a number of times.
On the plus side, the characters are wonderfully animated, and have a lot of personality in their animal expressions.
Country singer Roger Miller (who also voices narrator "Alan-A-Dale") wrote a number of songs for Robin Hood including the opening "Whistle Stop," "Oo-Dee-Lally" and "Not In Nottingham." They have a particularly country-America feel to them, which you would think would seem out-of-place in such an English tale. The songs work very nicely though, especially "Not In Nottingham," which gives such a sad, hopeless and depressing feel to the scene it was written for.
"The Phony King of England" has lyrics written by famed songwriter Johnny Mercer, but it is based on a traditional folk tune.
Lastly, "Love" which is the film's love theme (really??) was nominated for an Academy Award that year. Written by Disney regulars Floyd Huddleston and George Bruns, it is a nice piece, but I must admit, that scene was the one I always used to fast-forward as a child...
Overall, the soundtrack is nice, and apart from the American-ness of it all, it fits the movie really quite nicely.
Robin Hood is not a perfect movie. It's not up there with the catalogue of Disney's greatest. But you know what? It's a lot of fun! The characters are great, and the simple story is told really well. This is one of the best movies for young kids to appreciate, because it's nice and simple, very colourful, full of exciting scenes and best of all - very funny.
RAPUNZEL: I'd only ever seen Robin Hood once before, and I didn't like it. But I actually really enjoyed it that time!
IRVYNE: Yay! You've just got to watch it in the right company!
MALEFICENT: It's a good movie.
PASCAL: I love it!
RAPUNZEL: The characters are really funny!
ANNA: With all the animals, it looked a lot like the Island of Naboombu from Bedknobs and Broomsticks. My favourites are the little rabbits because they're so cute, especially the little baby one.
PASCAL: I love little Toby the turtle!
MALEFICENT: It's interesting that Robin Hood doesn't have his "merry men" in this version of the story; it's just Robin and Little John.
HAKU: The countryside is really sparsely populated. It's just the villagers, the people in jail, the royalty and the outlaws!
IRVYNE: That's a small group to have such a range of different accents!
MALEFICENT: I like that they've all got different accents!
WENDY: I hate it.
PASCAL: It didn't bother me. I didn't even notice!
MALEFICENT: It's like real life! There's always lots of different accents in real life!
IRVYNE: Not in 12th-century England there wasn't!
HAKU: If you're going to complain about the difference in accents, you might as well complain about them all being different species of animal!
IRVYNE: Or point out that Maid Marian, who is a FOX, is apparently the niece of Richard and John, who are LIONS... She must be adopted.
WENDY: Well I love Scottish Lady Kluck. I think she's my favourite character.
SHENZI: My favourite is Sir Hiss. He's very tolerant of Prince John.
IRVYNE: Disney often loves to celebrate their great villains, but how often have you seen Prince John brought up? He is one of Disney's greatest villains in my mind. He's selfish, irrational and an absolute coward. And so funny! I love his sarcastic laugh! "A-HA!... A-HA!"
SHENZI: He's a cowardly lion! "Mummmmmyyyy!"
MALEFICENT: "I've got a dirty thumb." Best line in the whole movie!
PASCAL: We noticed that Prince John's rings come and go from his fingers in every scene that they're in!
IRVYNE: I think we can blame rushed animators for that one!
WENDY: Hmmmmm. And excellent animation recycling, Disney. No one will ever notice!... ... ...
PASCAL: You know what? I'd never had noticed it. And I probably never would have noticed it, until Irvyne brought it up.
IRVYNE: Now you'll never be able to un-see it! Bwahahaha!
PASCAL: Good on them, I say. Well done. That's a clever way to cut costs really.
IRVYNE: Well we're living in a very different age where we're used to having Disney on-tap. In 1973, no one even had a V.C.R... The only way to see these movies was at the cinema. So you can't tell me that Average Joe of 1973 would have ANY idea that some of that animation was borrowed from other films.
SHENZI: The songs don't really stand out.
MALEFICENT: They're good, they're just not that memorable.
WENDY: The love song was sooooo 70s!
HAKU: I almost expected them to break out into "Hair!"
IRVYNE: Not the greatest Disney classic, but good clean fun. We all enjoyed it and got lots of laughs!