Disney’s animated interpretation of Robin Hood is a fascinating one, with a strange backstory. Shortly after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs succeeded, Walt considered adapting the tales of Reynard the Fox, the main character in a literary cycle of Dutch, English, French and German fables. The main character, a trickster fox who deceives other animals for his own personal gain. Eventually Walt decided that Reynard wasn’t the greatest protagonist for a company that established a family friendly image, but pre-production already created a design.
They also thought of creating a couple shorts about Reynard within Treasure Island, but nixed that idea since Treasure Island would otherwise be Disney’s first ever fully live action film. They also considered making a film with Reynard as the main villain, but favoured The Sword in the Stone’s production for the time being. Eventually they decided to combine the Reynard character model with Robin Hood, keeping his trickster ways but having him use his skills for the good of the poor. From there, Disney Studios decided to turn every character in Robin Hood into different kinds of animals. Both Little John and the Sherriff of Nottingham became bears. Prince John became a lion. Most of the guards were either rats, rhinos or vultures. You get the idea.
When Robin Hood first released in 1973, critics praised it for being one of the few movies around at the time that both kids and adults could enjoy. They praised the conventional yet good art style. It was mildly successful, earning $9.5 million on a $5 million budget. Decades later, critical reception is a lot more mixed, with a 54% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. They describe it as cute and colourful, but not as energetic or dramatic as many of Disney’s earlier releases.
Before I get into this any further, I’ve never seen this movie until now. In fact, the only Robin Hood movie I’ve ever seen in full is Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men In Tights. It is however a movie that a very good friend of mine likes a lot, so I looked forward to finally seeing it as soon as I started this blog series.
Most people know the basic story of Robin Hood by now, and Disney’s adaptation stick pretty close to it. Prince John is taxing Nottingham to death, and Robin Hood fights back by stealing from the rich and giving to the poor who can’t survive the excessive taxation. Like The Aristocats before Robin Hood, a lot of the action relies more on slapstick comedy than it does actual tension, but there are a couple tense scenes here and there. I’m sure a lot of kids will enjoy it, but I found the comedy a bit over the top at times. Prince John reminded me a bit too much of his Men In Tights counterpart for my tastes. His relationship with his snake advisor is amusing though – they almost feel like a married couple arguing a lot, but they still clearly care about each other.
The dramatic side of the story works better than the action and comedy. There are several scenes that focus on how badly people are struggling with over taxation, and you feel their pain. Just like the comedy it exaggerates how evil the villains are, but that’s not a problem. When I think about it though, it makes Prince John even more of an idiot. If he taxes the village so badly that nobody can survive living in Nottingham, and they die of starvation, John won’t be able to tax anyone to get money anymore. Throwing people who can’t afford taxes in jail doesn’t help either, because now you’re spending tax money to keep them fed.
I’m sure there’s an allegory to financially inept politicians who waste taxpayer money on vanity projects in there somewhere. Don’t give me political comments on this though – I don’t want political talk of any kind on this blog. This blog is supposed to be about entertainment.
I thought this movie was fine, but I’m not in a rush to watch it again. I found the music somewhere between catchy and mildly boring. I can see why kids would enjoy it, and why someone would like it for nostalgic reasons. It’s definitely a better movie than The Aristocats in that it’s at least about something. The animation is good, with colorful environments and a nice variety of outfits, but I wasn’t overly impressed with it. After a bit of slapstick comedy, the climax does get intense near the end. It feels like Robin is in very real danger for a couple minutes, surrounded by enemies at every turn and even being chased up a tower by fire. I would recommend this movie for kids and perhaps those who enjoyed it as a kid, but not really for anyone else.
Next up is The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, the last movie that Walt Disney was directly involved with. After that, Disney Studios’ Dark Age begins, with The Rescuers and The Fox and the Hound. It’s the era where Disney almost went completely bankrupt. Thankfully there weren’t too many releases during the Dark Age, and some of them are still alright, but I’m not looking forward to The Black Cauldron, what might just be the company’s biggest financial failure in the history of their animation department.