Jab’s Reviews: Robin Hood

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ROBIN HOOD (1973):

Written by: Larry Clemmons, Ken Anderson, Vance Gerry, Frank Thomas, Eric Cleworth, Julius Svendsen & David Michener

Robin Hood came out at a time when Disney’s fortunes were a bit on the wane, and so some cost-cutting was required. After deciding to take the classic tale and make all the characters animals (a brilliant move- it instantly separated the work from the COUNTLESS Robin Hood adaptations out there, preventing it from falling to the problems that later affected The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tarzan, or other movies based off of very familiar stories), they started tracing some of their old work.

Baloo from The Jungle Book was colored brown and made into Little John, and certain sequences from that and The Aristocats were transferred over with Little John and Lady Kluck dancing in their stead. Even Maid Marian took hints from Snow White!

The movie is somewhat typical of Robin Hood tales. Robin & Little John are already allies (not having their famous meeting over the bridge), Friar Tuck is a friend, and they’re all opposing the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham and the tax-hungry Prince John, desperately holding power while his brother Richard the Lionhearted is away at The Crusades. Little John acts exactly like Baloo, Robin is a clever trickster and survivalist, and John is a completely nancy-boy.

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Robin himself is the hero of the picture, and a more cheery and bright fellow than a lot of adaptations (especially the recent ones, which all paint him as this grim, obsessive figure). He’s quick-witted, sly, sneaky and prone to crazy plans that somehow turn out well.

He’s quite the Master of Disguise and a good bluffer, though in this version he’s hardly going up against some elite minds. PL 8 seems to suit him- he’s quick and accurate, and not ready for the Justice League or nothin’, but he’s accurate as HELL with that Bow & Arrow, even though they’re made out of bent sticks and pointy rocks. Heck, one time he hit an arrow-through-the-other’s-arrow bullseye by HITTING AN ARROW WITH A DIFFERENT ARROW IN MID-FLIGHT! The dude has mad skillz.

Odd for a Disney character, but Robin doesn’t do a whole lot of singing & dancing. This is one of the few Disney movies/musicals that DOESN’T feature the main characters doing a lot of singing. Alan A’Dale sings a few ditties, and Little John gets into one, but Robin himself doesn’t even do an “I Want” song or any of that.

About the Performer: Brian Bedford is much more well-known for his theatrical career than any voice acting. He’s been nominated for seven Tony Awards for his work with Shakespeare’s plays, the second-most of any actor.

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Little John is quite funny in this movie, being a lot more funny than the sly Robin, because he’s such a loutish funny guy (years later I would discover this is sort of what hippies were like in this era). I love that scene where Prince John is about to have Robin executed, and L.J. just sticks a knife in his back and chokes him while threatening him “let go of my BUDDY or I’ll–“, and P.J. goes “Release my BUDDY or I’ll-GLK!!”.

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Little John’s a big guy and about as friendly as most versions of him, and he’s almost as good a fighter as Robin is overall, being a real powerhouse. And let’s not forget his singing skills: the guy whips out The Phony King of England off the top of his head.

 

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Holy shit! Lady Kluck’s Voice Actress, Carol Shelley, created the role of Madame Morrible in Wicked! Now THAT’s a pedigree!

Oh, and she won a Tony Award for The Elephant Man. And was in both stage and screen versions of The Odd Couple as one of the Pigeon sisters- the other played her sister when the two played geese in The Aristocats, as well… and played Maid Marian. So the two are actually a long-standing Casting Gag at the Disney studios.

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“GET OUTTA MY CHURCH!!!!”

Friar Tuck is always an extra addition to the Robin Hood Mythos- The Merry Men practically turn into a Super-Team, and most films and works have to deal with the whole “Gathering of the Party” stuff (thankfully, they don’t all meet in a tavern). Tuck (pretty much always portly) defends the poor, and thus takes Robin’s side in the matter. He’s a solid fighter, nearly getting the upper hand on The Sheriff when he comes to steal the Church’s last farthing, but not as elite as Robin & Little John.

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About the Performer: Andy Devine is a Southerner whose distinctive wheezy voice and drawl actually helped out his career rather than hinder it, as it was perfect for a lot of cowboy roles, many of which he starred in alongside John Wayne (such as “Stagecoach” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”).

His biggest role was apparently as Jingles on some movies & a TV show about Wild Bill Hicock. In his late sixties by the time “Robin Hood” came out, he died only four years later.

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The Sheriff takes the most direct approach in most Robin Hood stories, being a recurring threat who actually interacts with Robin most often. He’s shown as greedy, cruel (seriously- he steals money from CHILDREN) and needlessly vicious, but he’s also pretty much the yes-man hatchet-wolf for Prince John (“… but I just do my JOB…”). It’s actually pretty hilarious how a guy in Crusades-era London has the voice of f*ckin’ corrupt Southern hick.

About the Performer: Pat Buttram, owner of the most unfortunate surname in history, was in countless Western flicks from the ’50s and ’60s, and did a lot of work for Disney around this era- he was in “The Aristocats” and “The Fox and the Hound” (as Chief).

His distinctive high-pitched Southern twang made him born to play old-timey untrustworthy/grouchy Western types.

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One of the few characters unique to the Disney adaptation, Sir Hiss was basically a variant of Kaa from The Jungle Book, right down to the same hypnotic powers. He’s not a capable fighter by any means (even PRINCE JOHN is able to effortlessly overpower him), but his Hypnosis is what sent King Richard off on the Crusades (ya gotta love THAT bit of revisionist history to explain things to the kiddies, no?), and he’s one of the few people in the Kingdom able to tell when Robin Hood is wearing one of his terrible disguises.

He occasionally tries to set Prince John right (“Hang Friar Tuck? A man of the church?”), but he’s really just a nasty little bastard, too.

About the Performer: Terry-Thomas (with a dash) has an ENORMOUS list of acting accomplishments for something I’ve never heard of, and was appearing in movies for years.

He played a lot of “Fussy Englishman” types, and was known for a pronounced gap between his front teeth (which, in a casting gag, appear on Sir Hiss as well). He died about ten years after “Robin Hood” came out.

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AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

MOMMMMYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!

*sucks thumb*

Prince John is actually a wonderfully unique villain for the Disney franchise. Where so many villains have tremendous raw presence, phenomenal songs and an aura of danger, Prince John is instead a giant, pathetic weakling. It’s even a recurring gag just HOW worthless he is. He grovels, snivels, whines and cries for respect and admiration, and constantly screws everything up, letting even the most idiotic of disguises past him. I mean, there’s been some Butt-Monkey Disney villains out there, but this guy just makes you feel DISGUSTED with him because he’s so authentically bad. It’s actually really hilarious watching him suck his thumb like a baby and cry for his mommy (Eleanore of Aquitane) because he’s such a putz.

 

It’s funny, because the actual Prince John (later King John- when Richard died, he got the throne for real) has a lot of debates thrown around him. Historians and Classicists are as bad as any other type of researcher when it comes to “NO! You’re all WRONG- it is *I* who understand the truth of the matter!”, and so there are constant revisions.

He was unpopular for much of his reign, and he was often seen as a crappy ruler, but over time people came to appreciate parts of his rule. But that doesn’t really matter in the public eye, especially once the Robin Hood fables were attached to him. Now, pretty much every Robin Hood story involves the Prince AND the Sheriff of Nottingham as villains. And really, more stories than just Robin Hood paint John as an effeminate, weak ruler.

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And funnily enough, the good ol’ “Villain Sucks Song” known as The Phony King of England may actually be based on a REAL SONG- The Bastard King of England, though unfortunately Disney’s version does not contain any references to the clap or “the royal tool” being used in exactly the same context we would use it in an insult song today. Yes, they wrote offensive limericks about cocks five-hundred years ago.

John’s stats reflect an interesting twist on many formulas- unlike video games and a lot of movies, the End Boss isn’t some elite bad-ass, Dark Lord or powerful sorcerer- he’s a wussy-covered wussy with a wussy filling. The only thing dangerous about him is the wealth and soldiers he can bring to bear, and he’s utterly helpless on his own. The only positive thing you can say about him is that he’s pretty good at laying traps, so much as “make something obvious that Robin will come for, and set your agents after him” is a good plan- he sets up the Archery Tournament (with Marian’s kiss as the prize) and plans to hang Friar Tuck, knowing both times that Robin will interfere.

About the Performer: Peter Ustinov was a highly-respected English actor, having won two Academy Awards and a trophy of just about every type. He played Hercule Poirot in numerous productions, wrote novels, did interviews, and was active in diplomacy- a true Renaissance Man.

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The movie, though, is truly fantastic, and one of Disney’s best of the time period. It holds up in terms of action, excitement, romance, likable characters, and features some of the most pathetic, pitiful villains you’ve ever seen.

A friend of mine said thusly:

“Robin Hood is probably my overall favorite Disney animated film of all time, though Big Hero 6 makes it more of a toss up (an if we discount Pixar films and Disney properties like Marvel and Star Wars). The film is just fun, a solid “in-medias-res” Robin Hood story where Robin Hood is already fighting evil and being a cunning outlaw. 

Funny enough, for a Robin Hood movie, he doesn’t actually use his bow all that often. There’s the archery contest where he fires about four times, but apart from that he fires his bow maybe two or three times. It’s just funny that the guy known for shooting a bow and arrow shoots the thing less than 10 times in a movie. But it is a Disney film and they can’t have him do too much shooting that wouldn’t be trick shots and the like.

Still, the dynamic between Rob and Little John is fun, the villains are all entertaining in cruel, stupid, pathetic bully sort of way, which of course makes Rob’s outwitting of them all the more entertaining. The banter between Robin and Maid Marian is cute and you believe them as a couple, and Friar Tuck showed some real balls taking on the Sheriff at one point.

But yeah, overall, a really fun flick that’s one of my favorite Disney films, period.”

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Reception & Cultural Impact:

The movie proved popular enough that Disney was able to avoid such cost-cutting measures for the immediate future, and it was really well-received- I’ve yet to meet a person who really hated this movie. The whole “The Cast Is Animals” thing later became somewhat notorious for setting off The Furry Fandom (which I know quite a lot about, having a close friend who fell into it in the early ’90s), which shifted from “Animal-People are Cool” to “I WANT TO BANG MAID MARIAN AND HAVE FURPILES!!!!!” quite dramatically a while ago, but it was really quite neat.

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A Drama Class I had in High School went into the theory that went behind the choices. Chickens were funny, so the Lady In Waiting character became one, Little John’s size and friendliness was best reflected with Baloo the Bear’s stature, Robin Hood was sly like a fox, Maid Marian was pretty and cute like a vixen, King Richard was OBVIOUSLY a Lion, and while Prince John was a sissy little mama’s boy and thus not really fitting for a Lion and needed to be one just because his brother was… they turned him into a weak, scrawny maneless lion, making him look even MORE pathetic.

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There’s some hilarious bits with how Baloo acts like a sly hipster and The Sherrif of Nottingham acts like a corrupt Western hick- IN ENGLAND no less! The Robin Hood myth is one of the most famous stories in Western Literature (there are STILL arguments going on over whether or not Robin REALLY EXISTED, much less the multiple choice history of how he died (it’s generally accepted that he wouldn’t have ever encountered John or Richard), and what he actually did (various people added their own myths to the legend, just like King Arthur and his fabled Knights), and this adaptation stands out from the whole lot.

Despite that, Disney really didn’t seem to like it at first. It was the first movie okayed AFTER Walt had died, and the company apparently didn’t care for it for years, and the critics savaged it, too. Yet everyone I knew watched it a billion times on VHS growing up.

Heck, the silly little whistling song later got fit into that absurd “HamsterDance” fad from the early days of the interweb!

 

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