Aladdin

Aladdin

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Disney's Robin Hood

Robin Hood is a favorite of mine. That being said, I know it's not exactly the best Disney movie. I can say that it's better than most of the Disney movies that came out in the 2000's. I can't wait to get to those ones. This is truly the first Disney movie that did not have Walt Disney a part of the production. Because of that, there was a certain urgency to this movie. If it failed, then people would surmise that Disney studios would never be good again. If it did well, then things perhaps could go on without Walt. We all know today that Disney is still alive and well, so perhaps this is a little bit anti-climatic, but it is interesting to know that Disney was on the brink of shutting down it's animation department several times because of financial reasons. Unfortunately, Disney was now strapped for cash and needed to cut a few corners so save some dough.

How did they do that? They basically reused animation from older movies and from other scenes in Robin Hood. They borrow a lot from The Jungle Book and The Aristocats, but also delve into Snow White. I'm not going to lay out all the scenes myself but let this video show you.
video

That one shows many other deja vu moments in Disney films. There are two other videos I found interesting that can be found here and there. As you can see, Disney basically kept a lot of the same movements and put new animated characters on it. This is something that you would have to be completely crazy to notice on a casual watch. Luckily for us there are a lot of crazy people out there!

The animation isn't the only way that they basically reused ideas. Little John is Baloo the bear. He's even voiced by the same person. I realized this when I was very little. I had no idea why Baloo had turned into a brown bear and was now running around with a fox dressed like Peter Pan. That's another thing. The costume for Robin and Peter is basically the same. Apparently this has led to some confusion between the characters, but who gets a boy and a fox mixed up? Crazy people, that's who. Another character that is a recycled version of another is Sir Hiss. It's Kaa from the Jungle Book, plain and simple. They have different voices, but they're both snakes and both have the hypnotic eye thing. This movie is like the greatest hits of the 60's and 70's of Disney animation.

If you don't like cross-dressing, then this movie isn't for you. Little John and Robin decide to pull a Mr. Rochester and dress up like a lady gypsies to fool someone. While Robin seems to have pulled the whole thing off, voice and look, I can't say the same for Little John. He doesn't even try to use a female voice! He even gets one of the guard rhinos to take a fancy to him!

One of the things I like most about this movie is the songs. I think I still like the beginning of this movie more than any other Disney movie just because of the opening animation along with the song "Whistle Stop." The name may not sound familiar, but you may know it from the movie, or when it was sped up and used for the Hamster Dance. Famous country honky-tonk singer Roger Miller provides the regular and singing voice for Alan-a-Dale the rooster and sings both "Whistle Stop" and the next song that I enjoy a lot, "Oo De Lally." "Love" is a nice romantic song to accompany Robin and Marian's relationship. "Love" even ended up being nominated for best song at the Oscars, but lost to Barbara Streisand. A funny addition to the story is the football theme "Oh, Wisconsin" played when Lady Kluck beats up Prince John's goon's football style. No one can say that this movie isn't a lot of fun to watch.

The characters are the best part of the movie. Robin is the clever and suave hero. Little John is the more responsible Baloo, but still lots of fun. The long suffering Sir Hiss is one of my favorite characters to watch, especially when he's having his back and forths with Prince John. Speaking of Prince John, he's basically the best character in the whole movie. Peter Ustinov, who voiced the character, was famous for playing over-the-top villains, and Prince John is no different. His spoiled and weak-willed portrayal of Prince John is basically the same character he played before as Roman Emperor Nero in Quo Vadis. Prince John gets all emotional when he hears about his mother's preference for his brother and sucks his thumb. The whole "Mother always did like Richard more than me" bit was an homage to a Smothers Brothers routine in which Tom would bemoan the maternal preference of his brother, Dick. Prince John is a campy, over-the-top character that is just menacing enough to take serious as a villain.

While the movie did have people from Britain doing voices, there were plenty that were from America, and made the setting in England seem a bit off with their voices. This is most evident with Alan-a-Dale the Rooster, who sounds like a country singer. One that is painfully obvious when you really think about it is The Sheriff of Nottingham. He clearly has a southern accent. I'm not sure why I didn't realize it when I watched it, but it's there clear as day. You can also hear the southern twang in Friar Tuck. Speaking of Friar Tuck, his character was actually supposed to be a pig. That was until the Disney animators realized that religious folk might take offense at a friar being a pig. He was changed to a badger, making him look like a more rotund version of Mr. Badger from The Wind in the Willows.

The funny thing is that this movie was started by thinking about a fox, and not Robin Hood. Initially, the studio wanted to do a movie about Reynard the Fox. Who's Reynard the fox you say? Well, I didn't know either, so I did a little research and found out. Reynard has many forms in European literature, but started out in Alscae-Lorraine folklore. His use was spread throughout to France, Germany, the Netherlands, and England, most putting him in fables where he is a peasant hero of sort, a monk, or a trickster figure. Sometimes all three. Walt didn't think that Reynard was a suitable choice for a hero, so he turned it down. We can assume the discussion happened in the 60's and wasn't dusted off and changed into Robin Hood until the early 70's. Ken Anderson, who was in charge of the story, made up some characters for a version of Robin Hood that had anthropomorphic animals instead of people, using ideas from the fables of Reynard. Unfortunately for him, his drawings and designs were not followed, and it is said that he wept when he saw how his character concepts had been processed into stereotypes for the animation on Robin Hood.




The story of Robin Hood is very long, so I'll spare you all the detailed history. The movie does a pretty good job of portraying the the story of Robin Hood, besides them being all animals. Besides this, and the disjointed plot at times, it is a pretty accurate portrayal of what Robin did. He stole from the rich to give to the poor. The Sheriff of Nottingham is more the villain in other works about Robin Hood, as in this version Prince John is the main villain. Robin Hood also had more people in his merry band, not just Little John. The tale of Robin Hood is only hinted at in it's earliest history. Later on there were ballads dedicated to this man who helped the poor. The story is different for each ballad though. Some considered him a yeoman, while later depictions had him as an aristocrat who was wrongly dispossessed of his lands by a unscrupulous sheriff. Robin's relationship with Maid Marian is well known throughout the folklore, along with his battle against the Sheriff of Nottingham and the unjust ways of Prince John. I'm sure that you've seen many version's of Robin Hood, whether it be the Kevin Costner version, the new Russell Crowe version, or the classic Robin Hood: Men in Tights directed by Mel Brooks.

The Disney version actually has an alternate ending. For those who don't want to watch the video, it's basically Robin being injured when he jumps off the burning castle, is rescued by Little John, and then cared for by Maid Marian. Prince John and Sir Hiss follow them to a church and prepares to kill him but is stopped by his brother, King Richard. Richard doesn't banish him but severely punishes him for basically ruining his kingdom. The King has Friar Tuck marry Robin and Maid Marian and everyone lives happily ever after....except Prince John and Sir Hiss.

The movie was released in 1973, earning $9.5 million on it's first run, a good amount for a movie made on a budget of $1.5 million. Disney's cost cutting had worked and they had a crowd pleasing movie. This didn't go for the critics though. They found the animation to be sub-par. The rough pencil style used in that era apparently didn't look that good to begin with, but at least Aristocats and The Jungle Book had done it well. When I watched the film last night, I have to admit that the animation isn't very good. It's not terrible, but definitely not up to par with other Disney animated films. Critics also complained about the disjointed plot and the uninteresting main characters, citing Prince John as the only character that had some depth to him. This didn't stop the average movie goer from seeing the movie however, and Disney had proved that it could go on without Walt.

Oh, and the part where the Sheriff of Nottingham steals Skippy the rabbit's birthday coin still makes me incredibly sad every time I watch it.


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