Oo-de-lally! As post-Sleeping Beauty Disney animated features go, Robin Hood is a fine entry, better than The Sword in the Stone or The Fox and the Hound but not as good as The Jungle Book or The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
On the down side, it suffers from uninspired animation and a one-dimensional title character (fine Brian Bedford); on the up side, it benefits from strong supporting vocal talent (Phil Harris as a Baloo-like Little John, Peter Ustinov as Prince John, inimitable Andy Devine as Friar Tuck, Pat Buttram as the Sheriff of Nottingham), a catchy country-themed soundtrack courtesy of Roger Miller as Alan-a-Dale, and a fine swashbuckling plot.
Beyond this, the conceit of casting the story with animals adds a certain charm, and helps gloss over oddities such as the shortage of Merry Men and the ecclectic accents (British Bedford and Ustinov, Southerners Devine and Buttram, etc.).
In terms of the cartoon’s handling of the source material, the famous archery contest / trap episode is recognizably retold, while a throwaway gag alluding to Robin and Little John’s meeting atop a river-spanning log offers a moment of goofy humor. The "rob from the rich" half of Robin’s ethic is never shown in connection with anyone other than Prince John, whose authority the cartoon is at pains to make clear is bogus ("Prince John, that phony king of England" go the lyrics to one song, and there’s even a throwaway line about how John tricked Richard into leaving England "on those crazy Crusades"), and whose taxation policy is clearly shown as oppressive. The "give to the poor" half is also emphasized, as are the sufferings of the overtaxed populace, maintaining the legend’s moral orientation.
Worth noting is jovial, pugnacious Friar Tuck’s status as one of the few positive representatives of Christianity in a Disney animated feature. As a religious figure, he’s allowed to allude to the gospels ("Your last farthing? Aw, little sister, no one can give more than that!") and say things like "Thank God! My prayers have been answered!" as if he really means them. And when Prince John plots to hang Friar Tuck in order to lure Robin Hood out of hiding, even Sir Hiss is shocked: "Hang Friar Tuck? A man of the Church?"
The story is the classic Robin Hood tale, and it’s all here: the fateful shooting of the King’s deer; Robin’s ignominious duckings upon his first meetings with Little John (Alan Hale) and Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette); Robin’s penchant for entertaining wealthy victims in high Sherwood style before relieving them of their gold; the trap archery contest which a disguised Robin wins by splitting his opponent’s arrow; the return of Richard (Ian Hunter) from the Crusades disguised in monk’s attire.
Silent action king Douglas Fairbanks Sr. is the most exuberantly athletic of Robin Hoods, for sheer physicality perhaps outdoing even Errol Flynn’s definitive performance.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.