My continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries have also been included below.
Robin Hood (1973)
The Plot: In medieval England, a bandit fox steals from the rich and gives to the poor, while battling the sinister machinations of King John (a lion) and the Sheriff of Nottingham (a wolf).
The Songs: "Whistle-Stop," "Oo De Lally," "Love," "The Phony King Of England," "Not In Nottingham"
A Little History: The idea for an all-animal Robin Hood actually originated back in 1937, as Walt Disney became infatuated with the exploits of Reynard the Fox, a hero from European folklore who used cunning and courage to outsmart his enemies. Reynard, however, proved too unsympathetic for family entertainment, so the concept was scrapped until the late 1950s/early 1960s, when artist Ken Anderson took a new interest in the character. Anderson was able to combine Reynard's trickster personality with the legendary archer of Sherwood, and handed his designs over to writer Larry Clemmons for story treatment. Director Wolfgang Reitherman saw the project as a Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid-type buddy picture between Robin and Little John, as seen through the eyes of forest animals. Budget cuts forced Reitherman to recycle extensive bits of animation and character designs from previous Disney classics. Because of this, Little John is simply Baloo the Bear colored brown; Sir Hiss resembles a shorter version of Kaa, also from The Jungle Book; King John sports a robe and crown worn by a similar character in Bedknobs And Broomsticks (1971); and several characters' dance moves are copied from Snow White, Jungle Book and The AristoCats. (As King John, Peter Ustinov apes his own performance as Emperor Nero from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's Quo Vadis, released in 1951.) Robin Hood opened in U.S. theaters on November 8, 1973, and grossed approximately $9.5 million – another successful venture for the studio, post-Walt.
How It Broke New Ground: The first animated Disney feature without human characters. (The entire cast is comprised of various animal species; man is never actually seen in Bambi but his presence is definitely felt.)
How It Holds Up Today: "Woolie" Reitherman's knack for raiding Disney's animation vaults sinks to new lows with this one: Aside from those instances mentioned above, he also recycles himself to an alarming degree, often within the same 10-20 minutes (for example, the Sheriff of Nottingham's gait as he approaches the audience is re-used at least three times during the film, and he even repeats the line "There's something funny going on around here" in the exact same pitch and raising of his eyebrows). And George Bruns' music score has a distinctively kitchy 70's flavor, which dates the movie terribly. Still, despite the typically Disney-fied approach, I think the movie captures the spirit of all the Robin Hood stories I read as a kid, and I like how the characters are a clever personification/sly variation on the traits we associate with their species: our hero (of course) is as sly as a fox, the foppish King John is the exact opposite of regal and "lion-hearted," Sir Hiss makes a splendidly slithery sidekick, etc. You can't help but wonder, though, what the studio might have accomplished had it tackled the same story at the height of its
powers; as it is, we get a perfectly passable entertainment rather than
an out-and-out classic. (Sidenote: Disney's 21st animated feature earns a
special place on this blog, as actor Peter Ustinov also provides FTWW with
its too-precious title.)
Hold tight, Disney fans – there's more to come. Need to play catch up? Click on the following for: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun And Fancy Free, Melody Time, The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad, Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady And The Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred And One Dalmatians, The Sword In The Stone, The Jungle Book, and The AristoCats. Please comment!