Seriously. I’m beginning to think Disney is the only reason I know a lot of classic stories. Forget school. Everyone needs to just watch all the Disney movies, then they will at least be familiar with classic stories enough to be interested to read them. Peter Pan, the Jungle Book, King Arthur, Sleeping Beauty, Alice in Wonderland, and now Robin Hood (and of course many countless others as we go forward!).
This is how I was introduced to that do-gooder criminal, and I don’t regret one minute of it. Later in life I would watch Prince of Thieves (geez was that different!) then Men in Tights (again… different!), but because of Disney, Robin Hood for me will always be a fox. This may or may not be a good thing, now that I think about it…
The story of Robin Hood is based on english folklore dating back to the early 15th century. Through the tellings of this story through the ages, we got the additions of the characters we now know and love, as well as the idea that Robin Hood was a man who supported King Richard, and was forced to rob from the rich to give to the poor when Richard went off to fight in the crusades and left his brother, Prince John, to rule.
Disney’s version thankfully follows the story and ideals as we know them, only with animals instead of people. Robin Hood and Maid Marian are foxes, while Prince John and King Richard are lions (this is brilliant given that King Richard was called Richard the Lionheart). Little John is essentially Baloo the bear in the worst recycling of Disney animation (and voice acting) EVER. Friar Tuck is a badger, and the Sheriff of Nottingham is a wolf.
The story if basically this: Robin Hood and Little John are robbing to give to the poor. They’re outfoxing the Sheriff of Nottingham and when they rob Prince John, he gets upset and decides to hold a archery competition with a kiss from Maid Marian as the prize. Knowing he won’t miss it, he sets up a trap for Robin Hood, but of course, he escapes. Taxes go up, the citizens of Nottingham can’t pay them, and they all end up in jail while Prince John basks in wealth. Robin Hood and Little John decide to break everyone out, steal the money back from Prince John, and at the end, King Richard comes back.
This story of Robin Hood can be complicated. There’s a lot in there about inequalities of class, taxes, and things that kids just won’t understand. As a kid, I never found this story hard to follow. I didn’t understand why, but I knew the sheriff wanted to take all the money from the people, and if they didn’t have it to pay him, he threw them in jail. I knew that Robin Hood was a criminal in the eyes of the sheriff, but at the same time was helping all those poor people so they wouldn’t go to jail. I got the gist of the movie as a young child. As I’m now older, obviously I understand more of the politics, and I have to say, this movie is actually very adult. It does an extremely good job balancing for kids and adults in terms of story and humor (oh my god there are dirty jokes in this movie!? I think I caught a few…)
I have always thoroughly enjoyed the character of Robin Hood. The Disney depiction is probably honestly my favorite. I don’t know why, the character just seems so down to earth. He’s not emotionally destroyed or annoyingly cocky like some other depictions have been. He is cocky, but he almost has a right to be. He’s good at what he does, hasn’t gotten caught yet, and why not flaunt it? He’s smart and cunning, but in a good way. He has his own issues, but puts them aside so that he can do what he believes is right. He wants nothing more than to have everyone be at peace and does anything he can to help, even if that makes him an outlaw. He laughs at his status, knowing that when King Richard returns, he won’t be viewed that way. He never gets flustered despite being captured and thrown into chains. The only time we see him afraid is at the end when it seems he really does have no way out. He’s strong willed in front of enemies, but almost can’t believe it afterwards. His one true love is Maid Marian, and he will do anything for her.
We have a bunch of other supporting characters that we all know from the stories. Little John is Robin’s friend and partner in crime. In this movie he’s smart and a bit more up to doing ridiculous things (as is Robin) than some other stories. He’s not afraid to threaten or be violent but at the same time you can tell just like Robin he’s doing it for the greater good, not because he’s a bad person. His character design as I mentioned is literally Baloo and while that’s good, I almost wish they could have done something a little more creative. Maid Marian is another fox and she’s kind and all, but she’s just kinda there to be Robin’s love interest (yes that’s really all I’m going to say about her). I really enjoy Friar Tuck’s depiction in this movie. He’s kind and tries to act in God’s will and stay calm. I love the part where he just loses it. It shows that not everyone can be calm all the time, and I think that’s a good thing to remember.
We also have a slew of very minor characters that are still memorable. We have the rabbit family with Skippy and his sister and his friend the turtle (Did the others have names? I only heard Skippy in the movie…). He’s probably a character that anchored a kid’s involvement in the story, and I think it was a good call. My by far favorite scene (although I have a lot in this movie) is when Skippy shoots an arrow into Prince John’s “backyard” and they have to go get it, interrupting Maid Marian and her Lady in Waiting Cluck. They proceed to do a whole role playing thing on Robin Hood (Skippy) saving Maid Marian from Prince John (Lady Cluck), complete with duel, death, and a kiss at the end. It’s a hilarious scene but also shows that even those that are in good standing don’t like Prince John.
Let’s talk about our “villain” for a moment. I put that in quotes because quite honestly, he’s not that scary. He’s in a class of disney villains that are both meant to be threatening but also funny. Prince John is stupid. He falls for everything, he’s naive, and he acts like a child. A running joke is that when something hurts him he sucks his thumb and begs for his mommy. At the same time he has all this power and all these people who are threatening that can do nothing but listen to him. That’s what makes him scary. He’s obsessed with power and money, and it’s what rules him. Sir Hiss, his snake advisor, is the real brains. Nothing gets past him, but Prince John never listens. He catches on to all of Robin and Little John’s schemes, and tries to warn Prince John. Instead, he gets shoved into baskets and thrown out of viewing boxes. If Hiss had power, he would be the scary one.
To me, the real villain in this movie that shows absolutely no remorse is the Sheriff of Nottingham. And honestly, that’s how it should be in the Robin Hood movies and stories. He’s more tangible. He’s the one who is physically coming around and collecting taxes and arresting people. At the same time, he’s gullible and falls for Robin’s disguises too. But he does seem to have more power and therefore is a pretty legitimate threat.
There is one more character I want to talk about, and that’s the rooster that acts as the minstrel and narrator for the movie. The reason I want to talk about him is because I find it kinda nice and refreshing that Disney took this whole atmosphere and went with it. It could have been easy to just have it look medieval and keep it rooted in the here and now (that’s honestly something the studio does a LOT now…), but they didn’t. The movie opens like a lot of the classics – with a story book. It starts with the rooster telling us he’s the minstrel, and what that means. He sings the first song, narrating the animation. He creeps up later and sings another song when all is lostIt’s a nice, welcome change, and I enjoy it.
Switching gears from characters, I want to mention the animation in this movie. It’s like a lot of the others, but this movie is typically regarded as one of the most noticeable in terms of reusing animation. One, there’s little john, who is seriously just Baloo the bear. We have a whole dancing scene which is reused animation from – again – the Jungle book. It would be one thing if this was done with a few movies between the two, but watching Jungle Book, then watching Robin Hood, it actually is kinda distracting. Yes, I do realize there was a movie between the two. And yes, I know that technically the Jungle Book and Robin Hood are 6 years apart. At the time, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. It would have been noticeable or distracting. But now, with DVDs, it is. It’s like deja-vu, and not really in a good way. I know I can’t gripe a lot about this, but it is one of the things I dislike about this movie. At the same time, I know money was tight around this time, and they had to do what they had to to survive.
The other thing that is lacking in this movie is the songs. This is sort of the beginning of a time period with Disney when songs started to disappear from their movies. Things always fluctuate (geez, we just went though another period where Disney had no songs in movies…) and it’s almost like this was their last hurrah with characters singing silly songs. I do enjoy “The Phony King of England,” and from a story telling perspective, the two that the Minstrel Rooster sing are good. But that’s it. There’s no song that really stands out. For me, songs make Disney movies, and it’s sad that this movie doesn’t have any stand outs. (it does have a stand out boring song though – that stupid love song…. omg, I want to fall asleep).
I do have to make a few random shout outs though: The song “The whistle theme,” from the beginning (it’s instrumental) is the same music used in that oh so horribly popular techno song/thingy from 1999’s The Hamsterdance Song. I believe I was the first person of all my friends to point that out. Yeah. That’s sad. If you have no idea what i’m talking about, go to youtube. I’m not going to post it on here, because… yeah.
#2: This is one of only a handful of Disney movies that does not feature humans at all. It’s also the first. (edit: I LIE!!! Bambi was the first. I wrote this when I was tired. that’s my excuse internet people. Yell all you want!)
#3: Although I’m not in the generation that saw this movie as a kid, I still find this hilarious (partially because I like all of these movies):
Robin Hood is NOT one of Disney’s best movies. At the same time, I know a lot of people who enjoy this movie and lots who simply adore it. Having people like a movie and having it be a good, perfect movie are two completely different things. I thoroughly enjoy this movie. The characters are good, the story is good, it’s got adventure and hijinks, and it’s a great take on such a good story. If you haven’t seen it, see it. You won’t be disappointed.
I give Robin Hood (1973) a 4 out of 5.
Up Next: The Rescuers (1977)* I don’t own Winnie the Pooh, otherwise I’d do that one. Haven’t seen it in years!
* in reality, my next movies might be a really quick review of all (5 or 6… My husband and I are still trying to decide whether to ditch episode 1) the Star Wars movies. May the 4th is Sunday, after all….