Seen by Martin before? No
What did I expect? A fairly good Disney cartoon.
What did I get? The first animated feature that Disney greenlighted after Walt’s death in 1966, Robin Hood proved to be startling evidence of the soundness of his methods — even if the decade to follow would yield few high points for the company. It’s an immensely enjoyable product, every frame a testament to a great entertainment juggernaut in its maturity. It’s a challenge to convey just how unfussy, lively, and effective the rollicking hijinks of the movie are — and to imagine the enormous skill and professionalism behind the movie’s raucous fun. The animators of our present era would do well to study the deceptive ease of this charmer.
Nowadays, it seems, it’s almost de rigueur to foreground the effort; the studios flaunt the effects, thus placing the viewer almost in an attitude of guilty compliance. But, as with Fred Astaire or Wayne Gretzky, the superior strategy is to eliminate any trace of the toil involved. Robin Hood‘s amiable adventures are, of course, set among the animal kingdom — thus Robin is a fox, Little John is a bear, hapless Prince John a preening lion, and so on. Nottingham is generously populated, with plenty of furry heroes and pachyderm henchmen. The animators and voice actors absolutely nail the younger characters, with their soft lisps, malapropisms, false bravado, petty anxieties. Tagalong, the youngest rabbit, is preposterously cute; eventually it emerges that the movie is as much about Skippy, a slightly older rabbit who adorably yearns to be the next generation’s swashbuckling do-er of right, as anyone else.
Brian Bedford’s Robin, a fine cartoonic approximation of Errol Flynn, is suitably dashing, a devil-may-care adventurer who’s in it as much for the fun as for the justice. What he would do in a world lacking an unjust ruler isn’t entirely clear; he was built for this. Among other things, Robin’s a ham who loves to dress up — he dons several elaborate costumes. The low-flung inter-species cameraderie among Robin, Little John, Friar Tuck, and the rest of the downtrodden villagers is infectious. On the other side, Peter Ustinov clearly has fun with the juicy role of the avaricious upper-class nincompoop Prince John our heroes endlessly gull, twit, and rob; likewise Terry-Thomas as the dimwitted serpentine toady Sir Hiss.
In some haphazard assertion of U.S. demographic supremacy (or, more likely, of the supremacy of entertainment over cultural boundaries), Disney blithely sprinkles American accents all over Sherwood Forest. The rooster-narrator Alan-a-Dale is voiced by Roger Miller, a down-home singer from Oklahoma who croons the opening song “Oo-De-Lally” — he doesn’t have the “Nottingham twang.” (Friar Tuck, voiced by Arizonan Andy Devine, does in fact say “Notting-ham” just the way Eddie Izzard in Glorious lampoons the American accent — even if Izzard was likely referencing Kevin Costner.) Halfway through the movie, the Maid Marian’s lady-in-waiting, a large Scottish hen named Lady Kluck, scampers through a broad expanse in the manner of Gale Sayers evading tacklers in the broken field — the bit is scored to the U. of Wisconsin’s stirring fight song. In the very next scene, a good ole jug band hootenanny breaks out, as our plucky gang sings “The Phony King of England.” One wonders what the British audience made of all of that.
Robin Hood is so incredibly stirring and enjoyable, the incongruous American touches don’t distract much — they’re there because they’re fun. The animation is quick, airtight, fluid, utterly without undue effort. For me, it was a shock to see the powers of the glorious Disney animation department in its fullest bloom — although probably, most of these old Disney movies are like this. The overall effect is a complete absence of blocky resistance, nothing untoward or forced that might get in the way of the smooth, hopping, folksy story and characters the animators were seeking to vivify. It’s all action, adventure, derring-do, and a good time.
What here smacks of 1973? The straightforwardness of the telling.
IMDB score: 7.5
My score: 8
Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
Writer: Larry Clemmons
Starring: Roger Miller, Phil Harris, Andy Devine, Peter Ustinov, Terry-Thomas, Brian Bedford, Monica Evans, Carole Shelley, Pat Buttram, Ken Curtis, George Lindsey, John Fiedler, Barbara Luddy, Billy Whittaker, Dana Laurita, Dori Whittaker, Richie Sanders, Barbara Luddy, Candy Candido, J. Pat O’Malley
IMDB synopsis: Retelling of the Robin Hood legend with animals for the characters. Robin Hood is an outlaw who starts to form a gang in Sherwood Forest to fight the injustices of the Sheriff of Nottingham, who levies unpayable taxes upon the people.