Movie 21: Robin Hood

robin hood poster

(This review ended up being less about the story of the movie but more about the things I learned in my research and how I feel about individual scenes.  I hope it works for you guys)

Robin Hood is a movie as soon as I heard it was on blu-ray I went out and bought it. I really do love it.  That said, I do have to look at films a little bit objectively or what’s the point in even reviewing them?  It can’t be all based on nostalgia even if that is a factor.

So, let’s talk about it.

Production-

robin and little johnThere isn’t a ton of production info on a lot of these movies from the 70s.  Honestly I poured through the internet trying to find out the thought process behind the writing, art, songs, etc in Robin Hood but found very little.  However, I was able to piece some interesting tidbits together, and really enjoyed rewatching it again.

First thing to know is Robin Hood is the first movie to be made without any involvement from Walt Disney.  (Walt had signed off on the Aristocats before his passing).

Released in 1973 Disney had moved its focus away from its animated division in the late 60s and all of their capital and energy was going into Walt Disney World in Florida.  We are used to it now but at the time Epcot was a herculean task and another example of Walt Disney dreaming big!

But the budgets on the animated films suffered for a long time.  We didn’t see Disney invest real money into a picture until 1985 with the Black Cauldron, which was also their biggest flop (kind of excited to see that one!).

Robin Hood didn’t always start out as a comedy.   Lead writer and storyboard artist Ken Anderson (who is given writing credit on the feature even though he hated it) was commissioned by Disney to come up with a story based on Reynard the fox, a fearless creature known throughout France.  He gave his drawings to Disney animators and I read multiple places he ‘wept when he saw that his “character concepts  had been processed into stereotypes for the animation in Robin Hood”

raynold fox

It is the first Disney movie to have all anthropomorphic creatures.  The Rooster says at the beginning it is ‘the animal kingdom’s version’ of the story.  Not sure why they did it this way but there were shows and stories featuring all anthropomorphic creatures for kids successful at the time. On the anthropomorphic note doing this research I came across a group called the furry fandom which have an unhealthy love for anthropomorphic creatures.  Let’s just say I have nightmares!😉

They also give us a really long intro with the character name, type of animal, and the celebrity voice which is new to Disney.  Before Jungle Book Disney had not used celebrity voices, but had relied on talented voice overs actors like Verna Felton and Sterling Holloway. Even now when celebrity voices are very common I still don’t recall them having a character introduction like in Robin Hood.

Recycling Animation-

Something surprising I learned in my research is Disney has admitted to recycling animation (I didn’t know you could do that) from other films to make Robin Hood.  I’m not sure I really care but it is kind of disappointing.

This recycling or ‘limited animation’ is defined as- “Limited animation is a process of making animated cartoons that does not redraw entire frames but variably reuses common parts between frames

It is for this reason that Disney as a company kind of hates Robin Hood and many other films from this era, despite them being very popular.  I’ve always thought it was interesting how little attention they get in the park and I think this recycled material explains why..  .

Humor in Robin Hood-friends

The thing I liked as a child and still like today about Robin Hood is its humorous script.  There is a ton of funny dialogue like when Prince John tells the guards to ‘seize the fat one’ or when Little John says ‘who’s driving this flying umbrella?’ This scene at the tournament is full of classic physical comedy.  We even get a pie in the face.  Some may think that is cliche but to kids watching they haven’t seen those bits before and they are put together so well.   It still makes me laugh:

There is also humor with Robin Hood and Little John dressing in drag to steal from Prince John.  Again the scene uses classic comedy tropes including some sexy music but it works. I repeat it still makes me laugh:

One Disney site I found said Prince John’s humor had been based on The Smother’s Brothers, which makes sense.  They were a very funny comedy sketch team that produced popular comedic albums and had The Smother’s Brothers Comedy Hour from 1967-1969 but it was deemed as too edgy and taken off the air.

Listen to this bit and see if it reminds you of Robin Hood.

As I was watching it today I kept thinking about a Muppets sketch from the 70s I had seen a few days ago.  It felt very similar in tone and cadence to Robin Hood and it made me wonder if the two were connected in some way?  I did some research and found out Sesame Street started in 1969.  Real work on Robin didn’t start till well after that date.  I could be wrong on the Muppet connection but it just feels like a similar form of comedy.   The Muppets are very bawdy in their humor, they have all different animals behaving like humans and they have sincere moments like Rainbow Connection. I think Disney saw the success of Muppets and decided to apply it to Robin Hood.

When I saw this clip my opinion was even more confirmed.  From season 1 or 2 of Sesame Street:

I am spending so much time talking about the writing because I think that is what is special about Robin Hood.  The animation clearly has problems but even if it is recycled, the humor still works.

The Music-

The music is pretty good.   Following the lead of the Aristocats and Jungle Book, they used recognizable singers including Phil Harris and country singer Roger Miller who wrote the songs and serves as narrator.  (A folksy feeling soundtrack may also be a nod to the Smothers Brothers who played guitar and sang in their act).

The introductory song is my personal favorite and I pretty much have it memorized.  It’s not a song that will change your life but I kind of like it.

The Love song is pretty 70’s corny so it isn’t my favorite.  I do like Phony King of England song even if it is recycled animation. (What about you guys?  Does knowing that make you like it less or do you not care?)

Characters-

Another thing I like about Robin Hood is you get introduced to a lot of characters. In 83 minutes (long for Disney those days) we have little vignettes with the sheriff, Prince John and Hiss, Clucky and Maid Marian, and the rabbits and friends, etc.

cast

I don’t know if there is a more morose moment in Disney than the ‘Not in Nottingham’ number because it affects so many people. I remember as a child being less interested in the last third of the movie and I still kind of agree with that assessment.  The scenes with Nutsy are fun but the jailbreak we don’t really get any action that is better or different from the tournament scenes earlier so it is less engrossing.

That’s a pretty sad song but I like it.   The score is nice by frequent Disney collaborator George Bruns.  They use music for a lot of the sound effect cues so instead of a bonk on the head noise, it is a noise worked into the score.

There is also no attempt in the movie to give accents to any characters but Prince John and Hiss (who is totally a rip off from Kaa down to the hypnotizing eyes but he has a lot of great lines).  Everyone sounds like they are from Chicago but it is less distracting than in the Aristocats because it wasn’t supposed to be London.

I love Hiss’s dialogue like “What cheek! Creepy? Buster? Long one? Who does that dopey duke think he is? or “Sire, you have an absolute skill for encouraging contributions from the poor”

Prince John is also funny with lines like “Yes, my reluctant reptile, and when our elusive hero tries to rescue the corpulent cleric” and “You cowardly cobra! Procrastinating python! Agravating asp! Ooh, you eel in snake’s clothing!”  That’s pretty high vocabulary for a kids movie and it totally works. It still makes me laugh.

prince john and hiss2Clucky is one of my favorite characters.   In one scene she fights off a bunch of rhinos football style and it is very funny. football cluckyThere is also a lot of sadness with Robin Hood with taxes, and people going to prison and one particularly cruel scene where the Sheriff steals the last farthing the church mice have given to the poor.

Movie Review/Conclusion-

So what do you do with a movie like this?  Is it an artistic masterpiece? No.  Do I get why Disney is embarrassed by it? Kind of but not really.  It’s not like in recycling they were stealing from other animation studios artwork.  I get why it may not be your greatest achievement but if it makes people smile than that’s an accomplishment however crudely it is accomplished.

Maybe part of it is Disney had been the first so they didn’t have to recylcle ideas or formulas from any one else.  They were then what Pixar was in the 2000s.  Everything at the beginning had been so great, like Pixar, that when they are less ambitious it feels like a failure even if lots of people like the end product.

I guess when it comes down to it making kids laugh isn’t all that easy, and I think Robin Hood does a good job with that.  I like the vocal performances.  I like the action scenes.  I like that the characters use big words and challenge kids a little bit with ideas of social justice and taxation.

So even acknowledging its flaws I still love Robin Hood and think it is one of the most rewatchable Disney movies.  The artpiece films are amazing but a good laugh goes a long way!

Overall Grade- B+  (I’d give it an A but I do think that last act drags a little)

What do you guys think about Robin Hood?

34 thoughts on “Movie 21: Robin Hood

  1. Once again, excellent review. I totally agree with you on Prince John’s vocabulary! The recycled Aristocats and Snow White dance scene still works for me.
    Despite, Disney reusing old animation I love Robin Hood and is one that I can watch time and time again.

    I’m looking forward to reading you Black Cauldron review…very interested to see what your opinion is!🙂

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      1. I actually think among the average moviegoer it’s one of the more popular Disney movies. Animation nuts know all about the recycled animation and all the cheap tricks Disney used so for some it loses points. I thought about it a long time and I dont really care about that. My only flaw with the movie is I think the 3rd act starts to lose me and it gets so solemn and repetitive.

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  2. I agree with you guys. I think it is great! I love the artistic masterpieces but I don’t know how often I am in the mood for that kind of experience. I almost am always in the mood to watch Robin Hood!

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  3. I think this movie is the proof that at the end of the day, animation, score aso. are important, but not the heart of a movie. A good plot and good voice acting is what is truly what makes or breaks a movie. Just look at Pocahontas. Visually stunning, great score, but doesn’t come even close to Robin Hood in my book because the story and the characters are not really there.

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    1. My dad actually watches movies in German and I got this for him because I read the voice actor of prince John also did the German version. Had you heard that?

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    1. Thanks! It’s a ton of fun. The last act to me doesn’t work as well but the writing is crisp and funny. Good vocal performances. Very entertaining

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      1. Agreed! I thought it was it was interesting how even the Lawn Gnome pointed out in his review for this film that you notice a lot of recycled material particularly during the musical number “The Phony King Of England.” Yet be gave it a 4 out of 4 stars anyway. Yaaaaay!

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      2. If I was making a list of the movies I want to rewatch the most this would be high on the list. Whereas movies like Fantasia and Pinocchio are awesome but not what I want to watch often.

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      3. Agreed! For the record, I didn’t mind that they had recycled material particularly for the number “Phony King of England.” Anyway, awesome review once again.

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      4. Thank you for all the support. You know I’ve given it a lot of thought and I’ve decided I don’t care about the recycled art. If it was someone else’s art than I would but it’s theirs and so if it helps them make a quality movie than so be it. It certainly loses points if I was rating artistic value of the films but if I’m just going on entertainment level it doesn’t matter. I love Robin Hood. When it came out on blu-ray I got it first thing! I do think the 3rd act is a little repetitive and long but other than that it’s great!

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  4. I really liked this one too. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realised Peter Ustinov was doing one of the voices; I’m a big Ustinov fan, but I had no idea it was his voice I’d been hearing in these films from when I was a kid! Well done, by the way, for committing to such an exhaustive undertaking as reviewing all 54 Disney movies. Are you going to compile your definitive top 10 at some point?

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      1. Glad I found your blog. It looks very eclectic and interesting. My other one is more varied as to topics. This one is just movies, mainly animation.

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  5. Like ‘Sword in the Stone’ and ‘The Jungle Book’, this is another movie I watched and re-watched an absurd number of times! It’s still as fun and lighthearted as I remember, and the villainous duo are hilarious! Though if I were to be critical, I’d say that Marian is really underused, and completely vanishes from the third act. You probably know about that deleted ending sequence in which she patched up Robin’s wounds and stands up to Prince John, but then again the deus-ex-machina element of King Richard saving them both was a bit of a cop-out. I’m not sure why there’s been a swath of negativity towards it lately, theres a difference between a movie having flaws and simply being bad, and this isn’t one of them! While not one of my favorites, it stands firmly in the good category.

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    1. We are on same page on this one. I enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun but Marian is underused and the 3rd act drags and is unnecessarily grim.
      I think it is one of those one’s the public loves but the online hard core fans are tough on because of reused animation and things like that. Casual fans dont care about that. I gave it a B because despite its flaws it is very entertaining with a witty script. There are certainly films that look better like Pocahontas that I think is far worse.

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      1. One thing I forgot to mention that kinda lowers the film’s quality for me: I’m not too crazy about the little children subplots, mostly because it’s very cutesy and a bit filler-ish. I get why they’re there, as kid-appeal characters, but as I get older I’m less and less into them.

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      2. Yeah it is a movie that definitely meanders and the subplots can drag. It is best when it is Prince Charles and Hiss

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  6. Walt had died during production of The Jungle Book, & he had approved the starting of The AristoCats (though that wasn’t actually started till after his death). So I believe this film was the 1st released by the studio without a trace of involvement from Walt, although it did borrow heavily, animation-wise, from previous films, esp. in the Phony King of England scene.

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