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…

Even after a stake was driven through its heart, there’s still interest.

Prediction 2019 Oscars
Shockingly, as in I’m usually much further behind, I’ve missed out on only one of this year’s Best Picture nominees– Vice isn’t yet my vice, it seems – in what is being suggested, with some justification, as a difficult year to call. That might make for must-see appeal, if anyone actually cared about the movies jostling for pole position. If it were between Black Panther and Bohemian Rhapsody (if they were even sufficiently up to snuff to deserve a nod in the first place), there might be a strange fascination, but Joe Public don’t care about Roma, underlined by it being on Netflix and stillconspicuously avoided by subscribers (if it were otherwise, they’d be crowing about viewing figures; it’s no Bird Box, that’s for sure).

Life is like a box of timelines. You feel me?

Russian Doll Season One
(SPOILERS) It feels like loading the dice to proclaim something necessarily better because it’s female-driven, but that’s the tack The Hollywood Reporter took with its effusive review of Russian Doll, suggesting “although Nadia goes on a similar journey of self-discovery to Bill Murray’s hackneyed reporter in Groundhog Day, the fact that the show was created, written by and stars women means that it offers up a different, less exploitative and far more thoughtful angle” (than the predominately male-centric entries in the sub-genre). Which rather sounds like Rosie Knight changing the facts to fit her argument. And ironic, given star Natasha Lyonne has gone out of her way to stress the show’s inclusive message. Russian Dollis good, but the suggestion that “unlike its predecessors (it) provides a thoughtfulness, authenticity and honesty which makes it inevitable end (sic) all the more powerful” is cobblers.

We’re looking for a bug no one’s seen before. Some kind of smart bug.

Starship Troopers (1997)
(SPOILERS) Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi trio of Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers are frequently claimed to be unrivalled in their genre, but it’s really only the first of them that entirely attains that rarefied level. Discussion and praise of Starship Troopers is generally prefaced by noting that great swathes of people – including critics and cast members – were too stupid to realise it was a satire. This is a bit of a Fight Club one, certainly for anyone from the UK (Verhoeven commented “The English got it though. I remember coming out of Heathrow and seeing the posters, which were great. They were just stupid lines about war from the movie. I thought, ‘Finally someone knows how to promote this.’”) who needed no kind of steer to recognise what the director was doing. And what he does, he does splendidly, even if, at times, I’m not sure he entirely sustains a 129-minute movie, since, while both camp and OTT, Starship Troopers is simultaneously required t…

Mountains are old, but they're still green.

Roma (2018)
(SPOILERS) Roma is a critics' darling and a shoe-in for Best Foreign Film Oscar, with the potential to take the big prize to boot, but it left me profoundly indifferent, its elusive majesty remaining determinedly out of reach. Perhaps that's down to generally spurning autobiographical nostalgia fests – complete with 65mm widescreen black and white, so it's quite clear to viewers that the director’s childhood reverie equates to the classics of old – or maybe the elliptical characterisation just didn't grab me, but Alfonso Cuarón's latest amounts to little more than a sliver of substance beneath all that style.

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…

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Now we're all wanted by the CIA. Awesome.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
(SPOILERS) There’s a groundswell of opinion that Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is the best in near 20-year movie franchise. I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, but only because this latest instalment and its two predecessors have maintained such a consistently high standard it’s difficult to pick between them. III featured a superior villain and an emotional through line with real stakes. Ghost Protocol dazzled with its giddily constructed set pieces and pacing. Christopher McQuarrie’s fifth entry has the virtue of a very solid script, one that expertly navigates the kind of twists and intrigue one expects from a spy franchise. It also shows off his talent as a director; McQuarrie’s not one for stylistic flourish, but he makes up for this with diligence and precision. Best of all, he may have delivered the series’ best character in Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust (admittedly, in a quintet that makes a virtue of pared down motivation and absen…

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.