Skip to main content

Oh, he’s so handsome, just like his reward posters.

Robin Hood
(1973)

Wolfgang Reitherman is responsible for my favourite Disney animation, The Jungle Book, the last picture Walt Disney was involved with before he died and which, despite being relatively unadorned in comparison with the lushness of the studio’s animations of previous decades, is blessed with superb design work, wonderfully catchy songs (without equal in the Disney canon) and a marvellous voice cast. While Robin Hood, released five years later, can boast another strong vocal complement, and the occasional decent showing in terms of character design (stand up Robin and Prince John), it’s sadly an inferior beast, too often brought down by the tatty, underfunded nature of Disney animations at that point, which it has no choice but to wear on its sleeve.


As a youngster Robin Hood ranked as one of my favourites, probably thanks more to the Nestlé chocolate bars adorned with its characters than its actual content. Reitherman would go on to the better-received The Rescuers (itself indebted to 101 Dalmations for its main villain), which even spawned a sequel, and his work as a director, spanning Dalmations, The Sword in the Stone, and The Aristocats is, depending on where you are coming from, either a vibrant, hipper and more colourful Disney, eschewing the reverence inflicted on the previous couple of decades of fairy tale adaptations, or a tail-off from their golden age. I’m definitely in the former camp, as the period is the closest, barring perhaps The Emperor’s New Groove, Disney has strayed towards the more anarchic Warner Bros attitude.


Originally an adaption of the escapades of French fox Reynard was entertained, until he was decided as a touch too problematic, and Ken Anderson provided design work for Robin Hood that reportedly brought him to tears when he saw what Reitherman had done with it. Certainly, some of the elements here lack a certain something. The Sheriff of Nottingham was to have been a goat, but ends up a rather bland wolf. I wouldn't have known Friar Tuck was a badger without being told. Perhaps this is because he was originally envisaged as a pig, but the idea was kyboshed for fear of causing religious offence. Little John, like Baloo voiced by Phil Harris, isn’t the bear of his Jungle Book forbear, despite several memorable scenes, and Sir Hiss, although lent the marvellously memorable tones and gap tooth of Terry-Thomas, is a rather lacklustre piece of design, again diminished by how well his Jungle Book counterpart Kaa turned out.


Robin, voiced by Brian Bedford, is agreeable and dashing in a very modern-mannered manner, announces off the bat he and John aren’t bad thieves (“We never rob. We just borrow a bit from those who can afford it”), and appears to run a two-man outfit (budget cuts extending to the inhabitants of Sherwood Forest, it seems) while Maid Marion (Monica Evans) is something of a fox. 


But Robin Hood only catches fire when Prince John and Sir Hiss are centre stage. John, a lion, sublimely brought to life by Peter Ustinov, has a yen for taxes (“Taxes! Beautiful lovely taxes!”) and the apt phrase (“Forgive me a cruel chuckle”). And also a curiously endearing capacity for thumb sucking whenever his mother is mentioned). 


As The Jungle Book indebtedness thing goes, Sir Hiss even indulges in a spot of hypnotism. He also has some relishable lines (“A mere slip of the forked tongue, your majesty”) and at one point turns himself into an aircraft, enveloped by a balloon, his tail acting as a propeller.


Highlights include the fortune-telling heist of the King’s money train (for which Robin and John don drag) and the archery tournament, which vibes heavily on The Jungle Book, what with characters in disguise (Robin as a stork, John as gentry) and fraternising with the enemy (John’s Sir Reginald, Duke of Chutney, proves an instant hit with the King, at Sir Hiss’ expense). In between, the picture is curiously formless; one might charitably call it freewheeling, but listless would be more apt.


The tunes, while they have their ardent defenders (as does the picture itself, from a contingent who also grew up on its idiosyncratic charms), and have experienced a significant afterlife, don’t do a whole lot for me (The Phony King of England is catchy, while Roger Miller as minstrel rooster Alan-a-Dale is well-employed in his time-filler introduction, which reuses animation to be seen later). Apparently, the casting of actors best known for westerns (Patt Buttram, Andy Devine, Ken Curtis and George Lindsey) was down to an earlier consideration that Robin Hood would take place in the Old West. Which means it would have got in there with a revisionist take long before Sir Ridder’s Robin Hood (which also re-wrote its reinvention into a more traditional form).


Following on from such behind the scenes changes, if the climax feels rather abrupt that would be down to the excision of the original ending for being too dark. Officially. This was more likely down to budget constraints, since the picture had already fallen prey to animators tracing out sequences from The Jungle Book, The Aristocats and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves for a dance number (although, in the interest of balance, reusing animation from earlier Disneys was common to Reitherman’s pictures). Robin Hood also used various alumni from earlier Reitherman outings. Alas, an all-animal line-up (no humans feature) doesn't prevent cutesiness from infesting the frame, in the form of soppy wee ickle bunnies.


Because of its readily identifiable similarities with The Jungle Book, I’m always inclined to see Robin Hood as deserving to sit in its company. Alas, while the voice cast includes some of the most formidable presences Disney has utilised, and the picture as a whole is part of a looser, freer and easier, stylistic era, it never amounts to more than the lightest of frolics, with little in the way of purpose or trajectory. Perhaps, if the Disney execs had held the animation division in any regard at the time, it might have ended up a much-celebrated classic.




Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

I fear I’ve snapped his Gregory.

Twin Peaks 3.14: We are like the Dreamer.
(SPOILERS) In an episode as consistently dazzling as this, piling incident upon incident and joining the dots to the extent it does, you almost begin to wonder if Lynch is making too much sense. There’s a notable upping of the pace in We are like the Dreamer, such that Chad’s apprehension is almost incidental, and if the convergence at Jack Rabbit’s Tower didn’t bring the FBI in with it, their alignment with Dougie Coop can be only just around the corner.

And you people, you’re all astronauts... on some kind of star trek.

Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
(SPOILERS) Star Trek: First Contact (also known as plain First Contact, back when “Star Trek” in the title wasn’t necessarily a selling point to the great unwashed. Or should that be great washed?) is probably about as good as a ST:TNG movie could be, in as much as it actively rejects much of what made the TV series what it is: starchy, placid, smug, platitudinous exchanges about how evolved humanity has become in the 25th century. Yeah, there’s a fair bit of that here too, but it mainly recognises that what made the series good, when it was good, was dense, time travel plotting and Borg. Mostly Borg. Until Borg became, like any golden egg, overcooked. Oh, and there’s that other hallowed element of the seven seasons, the goddam holodeck, but the less said about that the better. Well, maybe a paragraph. First Contact is a solid movie, though, overcoming its inherent limitations to make it, by some distance, the best of the four big screen outings with Pic…

Now you're here, you must certainly stay.

The Avengers 4.1:The Town of No Return
The Avengers as most of us know it (but not in colour) arrives fully-fledged in The Town of No Return: glossier, more eccentric, more heightened, camper, more knowing and more playful. It marks the beginning of slumming it film directors coming on board (Roy Ward Baker) and sees Brian Clemens marking out the future template. And the Steed and Mrs Peel relationship is fully established from the off (albeit, this both was and wasn’t the first episode filmed). If the Steed and Cathy Gale chemistry relied on him being impertinently suggestive, Steed and Emma is very much a mutual thing.

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a nourish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

Don’t get tipsy. We can’t have you hiccoughing in the coffin.

The Avengers 4.2: The Murder Market
Tony Williamson’s first teleplay for the series picks up where Brian Clemens left off and then some, with murderous goings-on around marriage-making outfit Togetherness Inc (“Where there is always a happy ending”). Peter Graham Scott, in his first of four directing credits, sets out a winning stall where cartoonishness and stylisation are the order of the day. As is the essential absurdity of the English gentleman, with Steed’s impeccable credentials called on to illustrious effect not seen since The Charmers.

Cool. FaceTime without a phone.

Sense8 Season One
(SPOILERS) The Wachowskis do like their big ideas, but all too often their boldness and penchant for hyper-realism drowns out all subtlety. Their aspirations may rarely exceed their technical acumen, but regularly eclipse their narrative skills. And with J Michael Straczynski on board, whose Babylon 5 was marked out by ahead-of-its-time arc plotting but frequently abysmal dialogue, it’s no wonder Sense8 is as frequently clumsy in the telling as it is arresting in terms of spectacle.

I frequently had the feeling that Sense8 was playing into their less self-aware critical faculties, the ones that produced The Matrix Reloaded rave rather than the beautifully modulated Cloud Atlas. Sense8 looks more like the latter on paper: interconnecting lives and storylines meshing to imbue a greater meaning. The truth is, however, their series possesses the slenderest of central plotlines. It’s there for the siblings to hang a collection of cool ideas, set pieces, themes and fascina…

How dare you shush a shushing!

Home (2015)
(SPOILERS) Every so often, DreamWorks Animation offer a surprise, or they at least attempt to buck their usual formulaic approach. Mr. Peabody & Sherman surprised with how sharp and witty it was, fuelled by a plot that didn’t yield to dumbing down, and Rise of the Guardians, for all that its failings, at least tried something different. When such impulses lead to commercial disappointment, it only encourages the studio to play things ever safer, be that with more Madagascars or Croods. Somewhere in Home is the germ of a decent Douglas Adams knock-off, but it would rather settle on cheap morals, trite messages about friendship and acceptance and a succession of fluffy dance anthems: an exercise in thoroughly varnished vacuity.

Those dance anthems come (mostly) courtesy of songstress Rhianna, who also voices teenager Tip, and I’m sure Jeffrey Katzenberg fully appreciated what a box office boon it would be to have her on board. The effect is cumulatively nauseating though, l…

A man who doesn't love easily loves too much.

Twin Peaks 2.17: Wounds and Scars
The real problem with the last half of the second season, now it has the engine of Windom Earle running things, is that there isn’t really anything else that’s much cop. Last week, Audrey’s love interest was introduced: your friend Billy Zane (he’s a cool dude). This week, Coop’s arrives: Annie Blackburn. On top of that, the desperation that is the Miss Twin Peaks Contest makes itself known.

I probably don’t mind the Contest as much as some, however. It’s undoubtedly lame, but it at least projects the season towards some kind of climax. If nothing else, it resolutely highlights Lynch’s abiding fascination with pretty girls, as if that needed any further attention drawn to it.

Special Agent Cooper: You made it just right, Annie.
I also like Heather Graham’s Annie. Whatever the behind the scenes wrangles that led to the disintegration of the Coop-Audrey romance (and it will be rather unceremoniously deconstructed in later Coop comments), it’s certainly the …