Ranking the Disney Canon – 47: Robin Hood

“You know, there’s been a heap of legends and tall tales about Robin Hood. All different too. Well, we folks of the animal kingdom have our own version.”  – Alan-a-Dale

After two straight looks at modern Disney films, we take a step back to 1973 with Robin Hood, one of the first films given the go ahead to production without Walt’s guidance. Even the film before it, The Aristocats, was approved by Walt before his untimely death. Robin Hood was the studio’s first presentation without its creator.

The story is a take on the classic story of Robin Hood, using animals as the characters instead of humans. Our narrator, Alan-a-Dale, tells us the story “as it really happened,” and we follow the adventures of Robin Hood and his partner, Littler John as they rob from the rich and give to the poor. They steal from Prince John (much to the annoyance of Sir Hiss, an acquaintance), outwit the Sheriff of Nottingham, participate in an archery contest, and eventually plan the rescue of the local preacher Friar Tuck, who is scheduled to be hanged. All the while, Robin Hood courts the lovely Maid Marian, and desires her hand in marriage.

STRENGTHS

Robin Hood himself is one of the classic and most fun characters to come out of the period between Walt’s Death and the beginning of the Renaissance. His multiple aliases and disguises are memorable moments for the character, and contribute to some of the best and funniest moments of the film. He doesn’t disappoint as the title character, and he is charming enough to keep the audience interested. His care and dare personality comes across strongly, and is the biggest positive the film has. A big amount of credit should go out to the voice actor of Robin Hood, Brian Bedford, who perfectly captures what Robin Hood should be, while keeping a little bit of Robin within each altered voice.

This film also has some wonderful bits of comedy scattered throughout. The interactions between The Sheriff of Nottingham and the two vulture guards, Nutsy and Trigger, are wonderful. The archery contest is another strong, comedic scene, in both Robin Hood’s acting and Sir Hiss’s failed attempts to expose him. There is a certain amount of charm in these scenes that just makes the film fun in these particular moments.

Prince John and Sir Hiss make a enjoyable main villain duo, with the Sheriff of Nottingham on the fringe of their group, since he doesn’t have much interaction with them. Prince John has a decent mix of comedic folly with actual villainous acts, which makes him viable and not a complete joke.

Finally, while I wish it were a bit more dramatic, the raid on the castle to free Friar Tuck and the rest of the town is overall fun and exciting. Not the best of its kind in the Disney canon, mind you, but it certainly has its moments. The forcing of Robin Hood to return to the castle when he is in the clear by having him save a little child is nothing short of brilliantly done.

And props to Disney for putting in a fraction of the USC (and Wisconsin, but that doesn’t matter really) fight song into the film!

WEAKNESSES

This film doesn’t know what it wants to be. Yes, I said that about Chicken Little as well, but at least this film only goes between two tones. Robin Hood is set in its traditional time period, and features many British voice actors in major roles, such as Robin Hood and Prince John. At the same time, there are many characters voiced by people with Southern accents, like The Sheriff of Nottingham and Friar Tuck. The soundtrack was even written by country legend Roger Miller, and the songs that he wrote have a very country feel to it. It is such a weird mixture that never really meshes well. One never takes control over the other. They both sort of stand on equal ground, which ends up failing more than it works.

Little John doesn’t fit into either of these categories, being voiced by American Phil Harris, and he really seems out of place. The conversation between Little John and Prince John when Little John is in disguise (Too Many Johns!) is extremely awkward, especially since Little John talks in more modern lingo.

(The following isn’t really a criticism, but I feel I need to mention it: This is, in fact, one of the cheapest Disney films ever made, and it reuses a lot of animation from previous Disney films. This isn’t really noticeable to the common public, so I don’t really think it’s a bad thing. However, it is a little striking to see Little John and Sir Hiss look so similar to Baloo and Kaa, their Jungle Book counterparts. Little John and Baloo even have the same voice actor!)

The soundtrack is also weird, in that Roger Miller only wrote the songs that are sung by his character, Alan-a-Dale. That means that two of the film’s songs, “Love” (which was nominated for an Academy Award) and “The Phony King of England” were not written by Miller, and have a completely different style. “The Phony King of England” does gain a bit of a country swing to it, but it still feels like a different style when compared to Miller’s country. Even the score is different in style, having a little bit of a Rock edge to it at times. This lack of a consistent soundtrack certainly doesn’t help in establishing a tone, and can be disorienting.

Another problem that the film has is the lack of structure. Robin Hood lacks a true beginning. The film starts us off with Robin Hood and Little John being attacked by the Sheriff and his crew, and jumps right into the robbing of Prince John. To my eye, there is no clear inciting incident, no reason for this story to be happening. (and if you call the robbing of Prince John the inciting incident, it has a very weak inciting incident.)

The overall structure of events makes the film feel more like a series of vignettes about the life of Robin Hood rather than one, continually rising story. Using vignettes isn’t a bad thing, as we will see much much later in the countdown with Alice in Wonderland, but Robin Hood is clear that it wants to be a traditional, three act structure film. It fails to do so because the actions don’t connect well. The robbing of Prince John doesn’t connect with the next scene of the Sheriff of Nottingham in town. That scene doesn’t connect to the next scene with a group of kids sneaking into Maid Marian’s yard. This scene barely connects with the archery sequence. The Archery sequence doesn’t connect with the rest of the film. This makes it hard to keep interest, as events tend not to lead into other events well.

Finally, the romance between Maid Marian and Robin Hood is one of the weakest in Disney History. They literally share one and a half scenes together. They already know each other before the events of the film, and they’re both ready to marry each other without much question. Maid Marian isn’t even involved with the first half or the second half of the film really. Her major scene is the “Love” song sequence in the middle of the film. She is never put in danger or just out of the reach of Robin Hood. The final rescue doesn’t even involve her one bit! It’s just uninteresting and really forced.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

The Best scene in the film is most of the archery segment. Outside of the conversation between Little John and Prince John, the scene is full of good acting and high comedy.

The best song is “The Phony King of England.” It has a catchy tune, it has nice lyrics, it is very upbeat, and is a ton of fun to watch.

CLOSING COMMENTS

There are a lot of strong moments in Robin Hood, and I find it an enjoyable film overall. However, with all of its structural faults, awkward mix of styles, and weak character connections, it becomes one of the weakest films from Disney, especially considering the strength of the many of the films above it. I can’t really place Robin Hood anywhere else other than at 47.

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3 thoughts on “Ranking the Disney Canon – 47: Robin Hood

    • I knew someone would call me out on this.

      As I mentioned in the closing comments, I like the film. It’s a fun watch. However, when comparing it to the rest of the canon, it just isn’t as strong. Seriously, the bottom 3 films are the only films I truly consider bad (and I will defend the package films with all of my heart.) Robin Hood is fun, but it has its flaws. Sorry mate. It’s still a fun film.

  1. Robin Hood was definitely one of those animated features I grew up watching when I was a child and yet I can definitely understand why the movie would be so low on the list. A story based on a popular tale of old can never hold a strong fit without proper structure and at least the author of the “Harry Potter” books made certain that most of the actors were British when those films were made (At least for the most part). And honestly, I would’ve preferred to see Maid Marian have slightly more screen time whereas it seemed she would’ve had that potential to be more than just the typical damsel in distress. But still this film will always remain an enjoyable experience for anyone, for kids and their families, even those who grew up with this film and continues to do so. Could it still have been better? Perhaps it could’ve, but it is what it is and at least in some ways it works better than most films.

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