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Letterboxd Reviews

So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Disney Discussion - Robin Hood

Over the course of the year, we'll be spending our Wednesdays with Walt, having a discussion about each of Disney's animated films...

Movie #21 of The Disney Discussion
Robin Hood (1973)
Featuring the voice talents of Brian Bedford, Monica Evans, Peter Ustinov, Phil Harris, Terry-Thomas, Andy Devine, Carole Shelley, Pat Buttrum, and Roger Miller
Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman

Summary (in 150 words or less):
I think we all know this tale, but...there's this guy named Robin Hood (played as a fox in this version) who steals money from the rich to give to the poor.  This doesn't sit well with the rich Prince John (a tiger) who plots to capture Robin Hood and kill him.  Throw in a romance between Robin Hood and his childhood pal Maid Marian, a couple of humorous side characters, and some songs and Disney's version of Robin Hood is complete.

Facts and Figures
Robin Hood is the Walt Disney Company's twenty-first full-length animated feature and was released on November 8, 1973.

Robin Hood was quite the success for the Disney company -- in fact, it was one of the biggest financial successes to date up until that time.  However, it never garnered the enthusiasm and sustaining power of many of the company's other releases.  Still, on a budget of $1.5 million, the film has earned over $35 million at the box office from its multiple releases.

The song "Love" was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song, but it did not win.

Let the Discussion Begin...
Up until this point in the Disney canon, Robin Hood is perhaps the most well-known property that the Disney company brought to the screen.  We all know the story of Robin Hood and Disney's take on it -- making its characters animals -- doesn't really add anything new to the mix.  That said, the film is decent, although it lacks excitement and vigor -- something that Robin Hood tales should seemingly have.
When looking at the character landscape of Disney's Robin Hood, it's unfortunate that the title character and his love interest Maid Marian are the most bland.  While I appreciated Robin's wily and intelligent ways of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, when he and Maid Marian are given scenes together, much of their interaction falls flat.  There's nothing pushing the audience to strongly want these two characters together.  The romance aspect of the film doesn't quite succeed as well as it should.  Perhaps the filmmakers recognized this problem and added the awkwardly placed and treacly song "Love" in order to try and emphasize the romanticism, but the song feels too stuck in the Anne Murray-soft pop-70s era to resonate today.
The star of Robin Hood is the villainous Prince John voiced by Peter Ustinov.  While he never reaches the "look at me" attention-hogging (in a good way) proportions that characters like Ursula or Cruella DeVil achieve, Prince John succeeds because of his irrational temper.  Seemingly calm and normal, he'll flip on a dime becoming angry, irritated, and humorously irrational, only to resort back to sucking his thumb reminiscing about his dearly departed mother when things don't go his way.  I longed for the character to appear onscreen as he added much life into the somewhat dull proceedings.

All the other side characters were pleasant enough, but they certainly emphasize the lack of creativity the animation department was suffering following Walt's death.  Phil Harris -- who voiced The Jungle Book's Baloo and The Aristocats' Thomas O'Malley -- returns as Little John (Robin's right-hand man) and his character is no different than either of those two Harris previously brought to the screen.  Adding to the unimaginative nature of the piece, Prince John has a snake -- Sir Hiss -- as a confidante who hypnotizes people in order to get his way.  Reminiscent of a snake we know from The Jungle Book?
Not only did the animators essentially copy characters from previous films, but they also copied animation!  Rather famously because of a small budget through a process call xerography, during a dance sequence in Robin Hood Disney animators copied previous dance sequences from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Jungle Book, and The Aristocats and placed Robin Hood's characters into the design.  Quite honestly, I didn't notice the issue so for the typical filmgoer this isn't an egregious slap in the face.  However, add this to the fact that those aforementioned characters of Little John and Sir Hiss are seemingly carbon copies of well-known Disney performances and the film never feels like its "own" piece.  (It should be mentioned that the song that accompanies this dance sequence feels totally unnecessary.  The only songs that work in the film are sung by a "narrator-esque" rooster character and they are very few and far between.)

While I've seemingly trashed Robin Hood above, it should be noted that I enjoyed the film.  There are several set pieces that show that the animators' creativity hadn't diminished completely with Walt's passing -- the contest to win Maid Marian's hand and the prison break are two such moments.  With the success of these moments, it's a shame that the film can't bring some heart and soul to the table.

Random Thoughts
...while watching the film...
  • Weird opening credits sequence -- felt very "70s" with some ugly yellow fonts telling us character names, the type of animal they are, and the voice actor. That said, I enjoyed the whistling score/song called "Whistle-Stop" written by Roger Miller that accompanies the opening.
  • Another hypnotizing snake?  Really?

Final Analysis
(Does It Belong in the Revered Disney Pantheon and How Does It Stack Up to Past Films?)
Robin Hood isn't particularly bad, but it isn't particularly good either.  It does feel like a rehash of several prior films, but on the positive side, those prior films are good, so at least we're borrowing from solid pictures.  Much like The Aristocats, there's not a lot that's fantastic about Robin Hood, but it doesn't fail in any areas either (except the music department).  Admittedly, part of the moderate success may stem from the fact that I hadn't seen the film in well over two decades, but I still am more than able to recognize its faults.

Unfortunately, though, Robin Hood feels overly generic.  Yes, there are some nice moments, but there's nothing about this film that screams that it was crafted by the artisans at Disney.  And therein is the issue.  Because of that, I can't place it amongst the better films in the Disney Pantheon.

The RyMickey Rating: C+

Join us next Wednesday for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, the twenty-second film in The Disney Discussion.
***The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is streaming on Netflix.  Join in on the discussion!***

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