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STUDIO: Walt Disney Video
RUNNING TIME: 83 Minutes
• Alternate ending
• "Archery Trivia Challenge"
• "Rescue Maid Marian"
• Art gallery
• "Ye Olden Days"
Just the merry ol’ men, never meanin’ no harm…
Brian Bedford (Grand Prix), Phil Harris (The Jungle Book – Baloo), Peter Ustinov (Spartacus), Terry Thomas (The Abominable Dr. Phibes), Monica Evans (The Odd Couple), Andy Devine (StageCoach), Pat Buttram (The Fox and the Hound)
Robin often found whoring more lucrative than robbing.
Well, it’s Robin Hood. OK, in medieval England the unscrupulous Prince John (Ustinov) assumes the throne while his noble brother King Richard is off slaying heathen in the Holy Land. Now where’s that Disney movie? John takes advantage of his position to levy monstrous taxes on the people, er, woodland creatures, collected by heartless cads like the rotund Sheriff of Nottingham (Buttram). Fortunately for the impoverished folks of Nottingham they are protected by daring thieves Robin Hood (Bedford) and Little John (Harris), both very keen on redistribution of wealth. However the elusive Robin has a weakness for the lovely Maid Marian (Evans), and the prince hopes to use her to ensnare him.
Over the years Disney has generally done a good job of picking properties for animated adaptations that are beloved and yet lack a definitive screen version. Beauty and the Beast is a prime example of a story that was transformed into pure magic by a bit of Disney razzle-dazzle.
"That blasted hairy midget is on every channel!"
However in 1973 the studio made the more dubious selection of Robin Hood, a story defined for decades by the much beloved and nearly perfect 1938 Errol Flynn film. Disney at the time was mired in the dark post-Walt period’s creative and financial slump, which persisted until Michael Eisner and Roger Rabbit arrived in the late 80s. It had been six tough years since The Jungle Book, the last bona fide hit, and the studio was probably hoping to cash in again on the name value of a similarly famed literary work.
If Robin Hood had been made in the 90s it would doubtless have been given an extensive makeover with a plethora of lavish musical numbers and jaw dropping effects sequences. Resources and talent being rather more limited at the time, Disney opted for a fairly straight and thus redundant adaptation, with two significant alterations. First the characters were transformed into cute animals, allowing for a greater degree of levity, gentler violence, and more merchandise sales.
I’m waiting in my cold cell when the bell begins to chime…
Second, the film is graced with what is most probably the worst Disney soundtrack ever, a vile and extremely forgettable concoction of folk and country that might have been composed by the Deliverance kid working from rejected Andy Griffith scores. Thankfully Robin Hood is not a full-blown musical, for the few limp playground ditties manage to suck energy from the screen rather than add any. The score also undercuts the action with embarrassing 70s sounds like wakka-chikka guitar that would have had the majestic ’38 score’s composer Erich Korngold in tears.
The usual Disney magic is sadly lacking, and there is a general air of cheapness that I normally associate more with Hanna Barbera than Disney. The animation is respectable but rather plain, especially the backgrounds. The opening credits are nothing but a highlight reel of clips from the film, and several pieces of animation are repeated within the film as well.
"WARRIORS OF NARNIA… Christ, we’re screwed."
One of the precious few laughs is provided by King Richard’s Monty Pythonish line to the prince, "I leave England in your care and return to find the people oppressed!" To the film’s credit it makes an amusing addition to Robin Hood lore by proposing that Richard embarked on the Crusades not because he was full of religious fervor but because the prince’s pet snake Hiss hypnotized him. Perhaps it’s a nifty reference to the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
Ustinov’s inspired comic performance as the haughty yet goofy prince and his Abbott and Costello style relationship with his meek advisor Hiss provide the only real bright spots in the film. The prince’s stolen crown is constantly threatening to fall down over his eyes, and any mention of his mother causes him to revert to an infantile state and suck his thumb. The rest of the unremarkable cast sports a curious mix of English and hillbilly accents, with Harris and Buttram in particular sounding like they’d be more at home on Green Acres, where the latter actually starred.
A field day for Freud
I did appreciate the atypical grimness of the second act, which finds the cuddly townsfolk chained and starving in debtor’s prison while the sheriff readies the gallows for Friar Tuck. There’s a generous amount of griping about taxes, which may reflect frustration with the sobering economic reality of 70s stagflation.
If you’re a Disney completist Robin Hood is a harmless enough way to spend 83 minutes, but it’s not worth seeking out. Although if Aladdin‘s Alan Menken were to re-score the film my opinion would improve considerably. Until then I’m sticking with Flynn. If anyone figures out just what the heck Robin’s catchphrase "Oo-de-lally" means, well, good for you.
"Close your eyes Marion! Don’t look!"
Maybe the best thing about this release is the very attractive cover art, which suggests something far more glamorous than the contents can deliver. The new and yet washed out transfer however leaves much to be desired.
New to this edition is an alternate ending which, via some superb colored sketches, drags out the suspense a little more by having King Richard appear in the nick of time to save a wounded Robin. This puts Richard’s role a little more in line with the classic story, but perhaps takes the spotlight away from Robin for too long.
"Holy…! What part of ‘G’ don’t you understand?!"
The two children’s games, "Archery Trivia Challenge" and "Rescue Maid Marian," hold very little entertainment value but admirably require an ounce of thought, even tossing in a few trick questions. The first is a timed quiz and the second a Where’s Waldo style scavenger hunt.
Also new is a collection of cool concept art, including the initial human character designs and some neat postcards created to promote the film’s Christmas release.
Saving the best for last, the disc concludes with the delightful 1933 black and white Mickey Mouse short "Ye Olden Days." Despite its age, it’s both better animated and funnier than Robin Hood. In this loosely Robin-related story Goofy, here billed as "Dippy Dawg," uncharacteristically plays the villain, a sleazy prince out to get his paws on the princess Minnie. The noble minstrel Mickey intervenes, and a highly comical brawl breaks out. While Mickey gleefully spears Goofy in the posterior, elsewhere their horses conduct a spirited boxing match. Too bad this sort of anarchic fun is so rare at Disney today.
I think that pretty much covers it.