Disney By the Numbers: Robin Hood (1973)

One Man, One Woman, Eight Decades of Disney Animated Features watched in order, and the overly complex system they invented to grade them. These are our thoughts, rants, and observations.

This is Disney By The Numbers.

robinhood


 

With some of these Disney movies, I have to rewatch after our initial viewing so I can feel like I have a good handle on them. Films like The Aristocats or any of the package films; the ones I’ve seen, but only a handful of times.

Robin Hood on the other hand? Well, I could review Robin Hood in my sleep. Growing up, it was one of my absolute favorites. In my young mind it had everything you could ever want, action, comedy, foxes, sheriffs in medieval England that had southern drawls! What more could a young kid want?

So of course, going into the initial rewatch I worried, if only a little, that Robin Hood might not match my childhood memories. After all, my wife and I had exactly that experience with Peter Pan, expecting a fun, nostalgic trip, only to try and figure out if we could punch a cartoon through the screen.

pinocchiopan
It turns out, you can’t and if you do, you’re likely to lose a hand and gain a phobia of red headed teens and televisions that tick and tock.

 

Um… where was I? Oh, right, we’re talking about the process of rating and reviewing Robin Hood. The thing of it is that with the previous review, The Aristocats, I had to work to not be too hard on it. With Robin Hood? I had the opposite problem. I had to build walls, to separate myself from my nostalgia and keep my objectivity safe and secure.

robinhoodcastle
Yep, no one’s getting to my nostalgia!

How did I accomplish this? Well by the numbers of course!

Storytelling

  • Theme 1
  • Tightness of Script 1
  • Dialogue 2
  • Use of Comedy 3
  • Use of Drama 2

When I reviewed The Aristocats, I criticized the script as having pacing issues. I disliked how little urgency and tension the movie presented us. Well, here’s the thing… Robin Hood… Does much the same thing. I’d almost go so far as to say there are parts of the movie that feel lazy, and I don’t mean that as an insult.

There are two reasons why the slowly unwinding story of Robin Hood works. The first , simply put, is that the characters shine. Robin, Little John,  Lady Cluck, Maid Marian, Friar Tuck, even Prince John all endear themselves the audience effortlessly. So when the plot just decides we’re going to simply hang out with them while they make dinner or play badminton, and talk about love, well… we’re into it because they’re just so darn charming and fun!

What I’m trying to say is that this:

robinhoodfriends1

… is essentially just this:

robinhood2
The One Where They All Went Oo-Da-Lally!

And when your friends just sort of want to hang out and waste time, that’s not so bad.

The other key ingredient here is danger. Whenever the plot finally does kick into gear, the characters actually feel like they’re in a bit of peril. Oh sure, it’s Robin Hood, so we know he’ll likely get out of it, but there are the brief moments when we worry. This particularly shines true in the final action set piece of the film.  It starts with a tense heist and then grows and grows in a fiery climax where Robin is harried from all sides by the Sheriff of Nottingham, a mad Prince John and a fiery castle that takes him up, and up and further from escape until it seems there’s no way he’s going to get out of it.

That’s the kind of action and drama that kids and adults can invest themselves in. When faced with that, so what if it took a bit of time to get there?

Total: 9

Music

  • Lyrics 4
  • Score 4
  • Number of Songs 2
  • Notoriety of Songs 3

Another high point of Robin Hood, when compared to its contemporaries, is the music. The sound in Disney’s Bronze Age tends towards more modern (for then) sounding music, punctuated with a jazzy tone for the fast numbers and a lolling, soft 70s tone for the slower songs (typically performed by an off screen singer rather than the characters), with many of them having even a somewhat melancholy note.

You can see that in “Everybody Wants To Be A Cat” in Aristocats or “The Journey” from the Rescuers, or “Tomorrow Is Another Day” from The Rescuers, or “Someone’s Waiting For You” also from The Rescuers. So it turns out that, musically, The Rescuers may be the most 70’s thing Disney ever did.

winniethepooh
Though this weird ‘Banana Splits’ inspired Winnie the Pooh character about to eat these kids is a close contender.

Now Robin Hood doesn’t entirely escape this musical era. It has “Love” which fits perfectly comfortably with any of those Rescuers songs or most the songs in the Fox And The Hound. However, it’s in the other numbers where Robin Hood really shines, it eschews the more jazzy tone of its predecessors and contemporaries and has more of a folksy, country style, from the fast upbeat songs like “The Phoney King Of England” to the slow songs like “Not In Nottingham”

Thematically it makes no sense at all. We’re talking about one of the most famous british legends of all time, yet we’re sounding more like a country ho-down. But then again, the Sherriff of Nottingham is a wolf and apparently hails from south of the Mason-Dixon line of England, so we’re not exactly working with a genuine reflection of reality.

Total: 13

Animation

  • Fluidity of Animation 1
  • Use Of Color 2
  • House Style 2
  • Character Design 2
  • Breaks New Ground 0

So as you can see, thus far I’ve been completely objective and detached from my criticism for this movie. I’ve kept my nostalgia locked away safe and secure… wait…

robinhoodrobbed
Wait! My Nostalgia! Nobody told me Robin Hood would steal!

Well that’s it! No more mister nice reviewer guy! Now that my nostalgia’s gone let’s take a look at the animation! Because hoo-boy, I would have needed it to give this a high score. Because if we could give negative points, we would have had to in the animation category, particularly in the “breaks new ground” sub section.

While the animation is clearer and more distinct than that of The Aristocats, or even The Jungle Book, Robin Hood is lazy in its animation. And unlike before, this isn’t really compliment.

Robin Hood may have more recycled animation than any other Disney movie.

Recycling animation is nothing new to Disney, but Robin Hood takes it to an entirely different level. While musically, I really love “The Phoney King Of England” probably close to 70 to 80% of the animation in that sequence is Disney copying its own test answers. Particularly where Maid Marian and Little John are concerned.

I mean don’t get me wrong, Robin Hood is still a fantastic film, but it’s hard not to see things like this…

robinhoodrecycled

Or this

robinhoodrecycled2

or this

robinhoodrecycled1

… before you start to feel that these guys might just have been phoning in certain aspects of their job. But this film doesn’t just recycle animation from previous classics. No, it also has recycled footage from The Aristocats, the movie just before this one came out. And to it also recycles animation from… itself… a lot. In fact the opening credits is just footage that would later be shown in the movie.

I mean Robin Hood, I love you but, ya gotta at least try.

Total: 7

Love Story

  • Character Interaction 1.5
  • Importance To Overall Plot 2
  • Complexity 1.5
  • Pulls At Heartstrings 2
  • Overcomes Obstacles 1.5

They’re foxes, thus they’re canines, and as I established in previous reviews, Disney loves canine romance. But even measured against their human counterparts, Robin and Marian easily fit in amongst the great Disney romances. What’s fun about them to is that the film isn’t one sided in its portrayal of the couple’s mutual feelings. Early in the film, Marian talks to Lady Kluck about her feelings for Robin, and immediately after that Robin talks to Little John about Marian. It’s treated as complicated and something good. So yeah, a Disney movie encourages both boys and girls to open up and talk about their feelings

Their romance also isn’t simply there to be window dressing for the film. It isn’t a distraction. For the first half of the movie, it is the plot. Robin would have been content with just hanging out with Little John in the woods until he hears about the archery contest and its prize, a kiss from Maid Marian. All of the sudden he’s leaping into action, putting on disguises, and risking life and limb, just so he can have a shot at the girl he loves. Which is crazy but Robin is so gosh darn fun and charismatic that we’re not questioning his very questionable choices. Plus it ends with a chicken running a Hail Mary against a field of rhinos so… greatest thing ever?

robinhoodkluck
Wait… this is England, shouldn’t they be playing soccer?

The only reason these two aren’t rated higher is because after the archery competition, and the “Love”(that’s the title) song, Maid Marian all but vanishes from the film. It’s no longer the driving force of the plot. Now, this is partially due to the slightly episodic feel of the film, but it unfortunately has the effect of driving down the score for Robin and Marian since it doesn’t move the plot across the entire film.

Still, while it lasts, Robin and Marian provide one of the best romances in the Disney canon, and certainly better than most in the Pre-Reniassance days.

Total: 8.5

Hero

  • Sidekick 2
  • Charm 2
  • Goodness 2
  • Emotional Transformation 1
  • Comedy 2

One of the reasons that this film has such a top tier romance is because Robin himself is a top tier Disney hero. Heck, we can go further than that, Disney’s animated fox Robin Hood stands out as one of the best portrayals of the character on film. He’s fun, charming, clever, capable, and buckles all the swashes. This already puts him lightyears ahead of Taran Eggerton’s edgy Robin or Russell Crows boring “Robin Hood Begins”

robinhoodcrowe
I can’t be the only one that was disappointed in a Robin Hood origin movie didn’t explain how he became a fox.

And if we’re ranking the Robin Hoods, then we can also put Disney’s ahead of Kevin Costner because, while Costner might be an actual human being with independent thoughts and Disney’s is just a bunch of drawings on a page… Disney’s Robin Hood can actually deliver a realistic portrayal of emotion, humor, and life… all while maintaining a British accent.

robinhoodshots
shots fired!

There’s one more aspect about Robin that we need to discuss. And that’s his general appeal. Now this isn’t something I’m directly familiar with, but I have it on good authority that for many young girls, he tended to be one of their first crushes. I’d chalk it up to his general heroism and the fine voice acting by Brian Bedford. So there’s that.

Another aspect to Robin’s appeal is that he’s Disney’s first real action hero.

makeminemusicmickey
Okay, first action hero to lead his own feature

 

Keep in mind this is long before the days of your Flynn Riders, Aladdin’s, Herculeses and Ralphs. Up to this point most of the Disney leading males were either kids, street smart dogs, or fairly non-existent princes. The two Charming Princes? Barely in their movies, Peter Pan? A monster in child’s clothes and ginger. The only only one that comes close to matching Robin Hood in daring do and dare devilry is Prince Philip and he was mostly a tool in the Faries decades long quarrel for dominance against Maleficent.

Robin though? He possesses all their traits, plus wit, humor and an active drive to achieve something good beyond getting the girl. In fact, when it comes to later characters, I’d say Robin set the tone for them. Aladdin and Flynn are both thieves with hearts of gold and Ralph is also on the wrong side of the law. So just like Snow White set the tone for all princessess, decades later, Robin set the tone for the Disney leading men.

Total: 9

Villain

  • Evilness 0.5
  • Comedy 2
  • Sophistication 2
  • Henchmen 1
  • Poses A Threat 1

On paper, Prince John is just an out right terrible villain.

Is he evil? Sure, he’s greedy and wants to hang a priest just to lure his enemy into a trap… but it’s not like he ordered his servants to carve out a young girls heart or literally commits Fratricide/Regicide to gain power. So  not only can we find much more diabolical villains in the Disney canon, we can find worse lions than him in Disney canon.

Does Prince John pose a threat?

14c434f
Heart of a lion this one.

So he’s not really intimidating, nor is he as evil as the best Disney villains. But he’s a lion and probably Disney’s most scheming villain is also a lion so maybe he’s clever…. Well, considering that his biggest  scheme winds up with his house on fire and him just getting thrown in jail off screen… it’s safe to say he falls far below he falls beneath the level Scar set for feline villainy.

All that said, Prince John is actually one of the best Disney villains.

A huge part of this is that for all his villainous short comings, he’s incredibly entertaining. He’s one of those Disney Villains that revels in his vice (greed). And yeah, he’s a coward, but his cowardice is a hoot to watch. Sure, we’ll never take him seriously like we would Ursula or Frollo, but we’ll laugh at him along with Robin Hood and his friends… and Prince John’s friends.

But there’s one more thing. While Prince John may be a goofy coward… he actually has something of an edge to him. One that only peeks out from time to time in certain parts of the film. He’ll be the butt of the joke and then, a little smidge of madness creeps out and suddenly this joke of a bad guy seems a bit dangerous.

robinhoodprincejohn
This is not the face of a well adjusted adult.

And the thing of it is, Robin was probably lucky that King Richard returned and deposed Prince John. Because eventually John would have set a trap that might have worked. Because Robin may have been smarter, faster, and more skilled in every way, but he’d never be crazier than Prince John.

Total: 6.5

Supporting Characters

  • Comedy 2.5
  • Inventiveness 2.5
  • Clear Help Or Hindrance 2.5
  • Strength of Relationship with Main Character 2.5

But don’t think we’re done praising this film just yet. Because, yes, Robin Hood‘s story and animation game is weak, but it makes up for it in music and characters and we’ve only talked about two of them so far!

Let’s kick this off with Maid Marian. So you remember everything I said about Robin being young girls first brush with a crush? Well whatever Disney did to their foxes in this film, they did to both of them. Maid Marian also managed to make a young kid feel things he didn’t understand and then feel all sorts of confused because she was a cartoon… and an anthropomorphic fox at that.

awaken
This may or may not be actual footage of me reacting to Maid Marian…

Ignoring that, what’s interesting about Marian is that traditionally, she serves as Robin’s Lois Lane. She’s there to be rescued by Robin Hood. But… that doesn’t really happen in this film. Marian isn’t a captive of Prince John. She lives on her own and has her own servants. When Robin shows up to participate in the Archery contest, it has nothing to do with rescuing her, he’s just there to win a kiss from her.

Of course because Robin is a hopeless romantic he gets captured, and escapes, with Marian along side him… helping him do it. She’s throwing pies at guards and cracking jokes along with him. She’s not presented as a warrior but she is presented as fun in her own right and capable. Pretty cool considering she predates the more action-y Disney female characters by a good twenty years.

But Marian doesn’t need to be an action girl because Lady Kluck is a one woman army! I’m not sure who’s decision it was to make Marian’s lady in waiting a scottish chicken with a firecracker for a personality, but the world is richer for it. Sure, Marian is helping Robin out during the fight by throwing pies at guards… meanwhile Kluck is delivering karate chops, smashing guards with her elbows, and assaulting Prince John, all the while cackling like some kind of chicken that escaped the coop!

robinhoodladykluck
Woah there, Klucky! Save some for Robin!

Then there’s Little John. Take one look at his character design and you instantly realize that he’s just Baloo with clothes and a hair dye. He’s, again, voiced by Phil Harris, so of course he’s the same character he was in The Aristocats, and The Jungle Book. But in spite of this being the third time this character has appeared in as many Disney movies, I like Little John the best.

It all has to do with the situation and characters surrounding him. In both The Aristocats and The Jungle Book, each movie basically stops cold as soon as Baloo or Thomas O’Malley show up, and suddenly they take over their movies.  The Phil Harris character is the party animal who occasionally has to take things seriously. He’s surrounded by wet blankets or people younger than him that look up to him.

In Robin Hood, he’s surrounded by equals and is in life and death situations more frequently. This causes the character to be a tad more serious, gives him a slight edge when dealing with bad guys, and his antics stand out as more fun than distracting because the other characters aren’t exasperated or awed by him. Instead he’s just one of the guys. So third time was the charm, because as it turns out, Baloo/O’Malley/Little John are a reverse Jack Sparrow. By the third time around he’s retreated just a little bit into the background and it turns out we love him much more when the spotlight isn’t directly on him.

Honestly I could go on and on about the side characters. Sir Hiss is delightfully slimy and gives off a weird C-3P0 vibe, the Sheriff of Nottingham is wonderfully oily, Friar Tuck is a pistol and the list goes on and on.

Total: 10

Disney Magic and Legacy

  • Theme Park Presence 0.5
  • Timelessness 2
  • Impact On Culture 1
  • Scope of Audience 2
  • Disney Feels (Or Did It Make us Cry?) 2

Weirdly for being a Disney classic and generally well regarded, Robin Hood has a decidedly small footprint in the Disney parks. There are no attractions dedicated to this film at all and the characters are quite rare, usually trotted out during mass character meet and greets during the peak season to help with the massive crowds Disney often draws in. The Magic Kingdom also has a restaurant called The Friar’s Nook, but that’s barely a wink or a nod to the film.

Where this film’s real impact is felt is in the larger pop culture. Like many classics before it, Disney’s Robin Hood often serves as children’s first introduction to the story of Robin Hood.  It also makes it culpable for why a lot of us get disappointed with modern adaptations of the story. The Disney version seems effortless and modern adaptations on Robin Hood seem to forget that people don’t go to Robin Hood for deep messages of class struggle or rebellion against corrupt kings. They go to Robin Hood for swashbuckling adventure and good times!

Because of this, Robin Hood is timeless and can really be enjoyed by everyone. It has all the heart, wit, and charm that we expect out of Disney films plus it manages to include small, somber or tense moments that make children feel grown up for watching and let’s adults feel like there are real stakes in a kid’s film.

If all Disney films of this era were this much fun, few people would have even noticed Walt was gone. It’s a refreshing film in what will quickly become one of the most somber eras of Disney animation.

Also the song ‘Whistle Stop’ is the source of one of the internet’s first memes. So… it looks like not all of Robin Hood’s legacy is a positive one. Don’t remember ‘The Hampster Dance’? Go look it up because I, as a benevolent reviewer am not going to subject my readers to that abomination.

Total: 7.5


Grand Total: 70.5

This probably won’t come as a surprise, but I’m an aspiring writer. I’m not sure anyone who wasn’t would ever undertake something so crazy as to write out massive Disney reviews like this. So when I’m not spending my time overanalyzing cartoons, I like to listen to writing podcasts. I couldn’t count the number that I’ve listened to over the last couple years but I would wager it’s a metric butt-load.

What does this have do with Robin Hood?

One of the most common pieces of advice given in these podcasts, from the amateur writer to the professional is that the most important thing in fiction isn’t the plot, or the prose, or the setting. It’s the characters. People will forgive and forget a flimsy plot if they remember and love the characters.

Robin Hood may very well be an animated case study for this concept.

The plot is somewhat episodic and meandering, the animation is kind of cheap, the music is catchy but not quite as iconic as we’re used to. But the characters? Robin, Marian, Prince John, Little John, Lady Kluck, Hiss, Skippy, Turtle boy…

robinhoodyaydad.gif
Yay Dad! … I mean yay Turtle boy!

… We don’t remember the plot to Robin Hood nearly as much as we remember how much we loved these characters. Just like we don’t remember many of the plots to ‘Friends’ but we remember each of the characters… and that Ross is the worst one.

But quite frankly, there isn’t worse one in this film. And that’s rare, especially in Disney, especially in this era of Disney. And the lucky thing is… we still have one more great film to look at before things really start to go downhill. And you know what it has in common with this film? Almost nothing except for the fact that you’ll love the characters far more than you’ll ever remember a thing that they ever did. See you next when we bounce from Sherwood Forest to the 100 Acre Wood!

 

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