Robin Hood (1973)

Disney’s Robin Hood is one of the most enjoyable versions of the legend ever put to film. The 1973 motion picture is the 21st movie in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series. Robin Hood wasn’t given much of a budget to work with and, as such, some of the song and dance numbers are traced from other Disney pictures. Some characters, too, are mirror images, with Little John being the most obvious of examples as he is incredibly similar to Baloo from The Jungle Book. The same voice actor is even used.

Even with the apparent repetition and copying, Robin Hood is a pretty good little picture. It’s not a classic, but it’s a fun movie that gets a nice turn from Peter Ustinov as the slippery and ultimately weak Prince John. It’s a film I remember watching an awful lot as a kid and it carries an energy that many will find enjoyable, I think.

We’re introduced to the legend by a rooster minstrel voiced by country singer Roger Miller. He tells us about a Robin Hood (Brian Bedford) and Little John (Phil Harris). Robin is a fox and Little John is a bear. They are outlaws living in Sherwood Forest, of course, and they steal from the rich and give to the poor. Prince John (Ustinov) is the sitting ruling King of England. He and Sir Hiss (Terry-Thomas) are collecting gallons of taxes from the people to get rich while the real King of England is off on the Crusades.

Prince John puts a bounty on Robin Hood and uses the wolf Sheriff of Nottingham (Pat Buttram) to bring him in. Robin Hood has a few tricks up his foxy sleeves, however, and that makes his capture a little more difficult. Maid Marian (Monica Evans) and her chicken companion Lady Kluck (Carole Shelley) try to find a way to help Robin while going behind Prince John’s back, but it isn’t easy.

Robin Hood is a colourful and easygoing motion picture that gets in and gets out in a hurry. It’s about 83 minutes long and it doesn’t waste much time, throwing in an archery contest and some other good stuff along the way to its finale. The end of the movie isn’t overly satisfying and it feels somewhat rushed, but it doesn’t take away from the light, airy energy of the flick and it’s easy to overlook the flaws thanks to the fun of watching it.

The breeziness of Robin Hood works in its favour, as so many other adaptations have bogged the material down. Interestingly, the Disney version is probably the only modern version to capture the glee of Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood from 1938. There’s a great swashbuckling feel to this, even if they don’t make the most of it, and it gives the movie joy.

The Disney DVD of Robin Hood includes an alternate ending that would have been a better fit on the actual picture. It includes the return of the King in a more meaningful circumstance and builds off the final “showdown” to a more distinctive level. It’s well worth a look if you can get your hands on the Most Wanted Edition of the DVD.

Comparing Robin Hood to Disney’s more modern works, like the terrible Brother Bear for instance, there’s really no question that this is superior. It showcases characters that are furry, cute and entertaining. The detail in the animation isn’t overly good, but it does well to raise the interesting social questions of the legend to a younger audience. Do we take what we need to get by, even when it’s illegal to do so? Is it right to “steal from the rich to give to the poor?” Are the rules the same if you’re an animal?

Kids and adults should get plenty out of this film. It’s colourful, bright and entertaining. It doesn’t have the weight of Disney’s classics, sure, but it’s still an entertaining diversion that could raise a few topical discussions if you let it. And be sure to check out the alternate ending when the fur’s finished flying.

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