Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
Cast: Brian Bedford, Phil Harris, Monica Evans, Peter Ustinov, Terry Thomas, Andy Devine, Pat Buttram, Roger Miller, Carole Shelley
Plot: Plucky thief, Robin Hood (Bedford), steals from the rich and gives to poor, in order to topple the dictator regime of Prince John (Ustinov).
Robin Hood is a very mixed bag of a Disney film. On one hand, it perfectly ticks the boxes of a solid children’s film. It is nice to know that even after Walt Disney’s death (he managed to give the Aristocats’ script his blessing before his passing, making Robin Hood the first Disney totally devoid of Walt’s control), the Disney trademarks are still in place. Director Wolfgang Reitherman takes a piece of literature, in this case the iconic Robin Hood, and gives it a Disney twist. Here, the story hasn’t so much been totally reworked (the theme of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor is as prevalent as ever), but the character roster have gone from Merry Men to… merry animals. There is a sense that the creative team behind Disney have looked at their past successes and run with the anthropomorphic theme. However, whereas 101 Dalmatians focused on canines and Jungle Book kept their animals vaguely Jungle-based, Robin Hood sees the specific type of wildlife thrown out the window and whatever animals fit the bill end up being included. Where else would you see a fox take on a lion? On one hand, we have the foreign wild animals, such as rhinos, snakes and crocodiles making up the enemy battalion, but then we have them facing off against a chicken. It is baffling to try and figure out how each character was designated with their animal. However, as the film gets to the meat of its action, it becomes quite hard to care. All that matters is that we are having good, solid fun. Sir Hiss and Prince John make for good, bickering villains. There is an elegant cheekiness to both of the fox characters. And whenever Robin Hood is drifting through its story, there are more than enough memorable animal figures to keep us entertained. Children will love the quirkiness of each animal from the timid turtle kid or the young bunny with allusions of grandeur. For a long time, Robin Hood seems to just ride on the success it has going. The story of Robin Hood is already set in stone; all Reitherman had to do is decide which parts of the tale he wants to focus on and let the animation team do the work. It could be argued that this animated film is a few set-pieces strung together, giving the chance for all hell to break loose on-screen for a few moments. This is bound to please the youngsters, who can find themselves whisked away in the chaos of a chicken beating up some rhinos. It’s a gloriously colourful farce and easy viewing for young children.
But isn’t it just that little bit lazy? Robin Hood just strikes me of a film desperately trying to be a hit. Disney’s early back catalogue was full of ups and downs. Perhaps Disney’s death meant that the production company felt like they had to prove they could continue without him. Maybe the company felt they needed more financial security. But Robin Hood is a film tailor-made for the fans. There is the dreary message of paying your taxes, but unlike most early Disneys, it doesn’t really teach you anything, other than Prince John is a bit of a bully. The heavy drama comes from making its villain all the more villainous, so when Robin Hood saves the day, the audience feel even more triumphant. Therefore, it is a film mainly caught up in the fun. There are major aspects of Robin Hood, where they are riffing off what went well before. The most frustratingly obvious case of repeating the Disney glory days is the casual, joking sidekick to Robin Hood. It is a talking bear played by Phil Harris. If it wasn’t for the alternate colour scheme and the costumes, we would be looking directly at Baloo. As fun as Phil Harris’ tongue-in-cheek humour is, it’s something we’ve seen before. Speaking of things we’ve seen before, Robin Hood has a few dirty secrets that further paint it as the lazy man’s Disney. Short on funds, or perhaps tight on time, Robin Hood copies and pastes animation from other movies. In order to meet a deadline, a dance sequence has pinched movements from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Aristocats and The Jungle Book. The modern-day Disney studios are a tad ashamed of this entry, because it does shine a light on the lazier days of Disney. It’s hard to argue the fact. Robin Hood is a fun movie, yes, but it is also an easy win for the animation company.
Final Verdict: Disney beg, borrow and steal from their archives to create a fun movie. Does the end result justify the means?