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

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Moonraker (1979)
Depending upon your disposition, and quite possibly age, Moonraker is either the Bond film that finally jumped the shark or the one that is most gloriously redolent of Roger Moore’s knowing take on the character. Many Bond aficionados will no doubt utter its name with thinly disguised contempt, just as they will extol with gravity how Timothy Dalton represented a masterful return to the core values of the series. If you regard For Your Eyes Only as a refreshing return to basics after the excesses of the previous two entries, and particularly the space opera grandstanding of this one, it’s probably fair to say you don’t much like Roger Moore’s take on Bond.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991)
(SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

My dear, sweet brother Numsie!

The Golden Child (1986)
Post-Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy could have filmed himself washing the dishes and it would have been a huge hit. Which might not have been a bad idea, since he chose to make this misconceived stinker.

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.