In our ongoing look back at Disney’s animated features, we come to 1973 and Robin Hood, a very American take on the classic English folk tales of the outlaw who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. I’ve written before about how the earliest Robin Hood stories have him living during the reign of a king named Edward, the character later became so closely tied to John’s regency while his brother Richard was fighting in the Crusades that it’s no wonder Disney used this as the setting for their animated version. Also significant is that the movie featured anthropomorphic animals rather than humans, and not already existing animals either. (I wonder whether Mickey Mouse as Robin would have worked.) Apparently Disney had considered doing an animated feature based on the Reynard the Fox stories, but since Walt didn’t think Reynard was an appropriate hero, they instead transferred the idea of a trickster fox opposed to a leonine king to their Robin Hood feature.
As far as the characters go, Robin and Maid Marian are both foxes, but the latter mentions that King Richard is her uncle, which raises questions. Most of the Merry Men don’t appear here, but we do have Little John, Friar Tuck, and Alan-a-Dale.
Little John is a bear who has the same voice and animation style as Baloo from The Jungle Book, while the Friar is a badger and the minstrel a rooster voiced by Roger Miller of “King of the Road” fame. Prince John is a lion without a mane who acts incredibly childish, often throwing tantrums and sucking his thumb.
I guess this is supposed to highlight how he’s a younger brother, and Wikipedia claims that Peter Ustinov is parodying his own performance as Emperor Nero in an earlier film. He’s generally accompanied by Sir Hiss, a snake who claims to have hypnotized Richard into participating in the Crusades. So much for his being called by God. Come to think of it, it was the snake that tempted mankind in the first place, wasn’t it? Probably not intentional on Disney’s part, but worth thinking about. Also notable is how Little John, Friar Tuck, the Sheriff of Nottingham, and Lady Kluck are all drawn to be fat.
I have to say that this isn’t one of my favorites as far as these features are concerned. The main problem is that, well, oo-de-lally, oo-de-lally, golly, it’s slow-paced. The movie runs low on a steam a few times and just keeps going. Robin more or less defeats Prince John a few times, but it’s only when Richard returns that things are finally over. I understand there exists an alternate ending in which Richard actually intervenes to stop John from killing Robin rather than showing up offstage, but I haven’t seen it. It seems to me that it would fill in a gap between the burning castle and the happy ending, but I guess the movie was long enough as it was. I also have to take particular note of the scene where Sir Hiss flies with the help of a balloon, because what in Disneyland was up with that? I remember liking the comic action sequences when I was a kid, but even then I thought it had largely fizzled out by the time everyone was in jail. Oh, well. You can’t win ‘em all.