In 1973, the Disney animators were to sidestep the studio’s tradition of looking forward with an unusual ‘remake’; Robin Hood. Aside from the memorable Errol Flynn epic produced at Warner Bros. in 1938, and countless scores of less than ambitious interpretations put forth on celluloid in the interim, Walt had himself made a live action version of the famed tale in 1952: The Story of Robin Hood and His Merry Men.
In his prime, Disney would never have courted the idea of revisiting a concept he had already done to his own satisfaction. Too, there were those amongst the critical set who felt that many of the studio’s subsequent animated movies were becoming dependent on vocal characterizations increasingly supplied by ‘stars’ rather than unknowns – a concept first utilized in the last animated feature Walt supervised; The Jungle Book (1967).
To be certain, Robin Hood is a film driven by vocal performances. British actor Brian Bedford supplies the convincing voice of Robin; Phil Harris (Little John); Peter Ustinov (Prince John); Andy Devine (Friar Tuck) and so on. Yet, even in their animated styling – and particularly when viewed side by side with The Jungle Book – there is an alarming amount of copycatting going on throughout.
Little John the bear is actually Baloo (also voiced by Harris) from the aforementioned Jungle Book, merely wearing a green smock and cap to superficially conceal such direct comparison. In movement and tone, Sir Hiss (voiced by Terry-Thomas) is a verbatim reincarnation of Kaa (Sterling Holloway). Alas, there is a deliberate, all pervading sense of bastardized homage to the exercise that borders on guiltless ennui – all this has been done before.
The film’s narrative is largely episodic and strung together by a loose voice over from the minstrel/rooster, Alan-A-Dale (Roger Miller). We see Robin and Little John – masquerading as female fortune tellers - tricking the naïve and ineffectual Prince John out of his tax money. The focus then shifts to Nottingham, where its manipulative Sheriff (Pat Buttram) pinches the poor for their last farthing.
Robin, disguised as a blind peasant, brings much needed funds and hope to the town’s bedraggled inhabitance, eventually meeting the Prince’s young charge, Maid Marian (Monica Evans) and her Lady in waiting – Kluck (Carole Shelley). Together with John, Robin enters an archer’s match –easily winning first prize, but alas exposing himself to Prince John’s henchmen. After a spirited battle, Robin and his band escape with Marian and Kluck in tow to celebrate their freedom in Sherwood Forest.
In the final analysis, Robin Hood is delightfully spry in its execution. It moves effortlessly from one vignette to the next, paying little attention to continuity while remaining relatively faithful to the fabled hero’s origins and the ’38 Flynn swashbuckler. Director Wolfgang Reitherman and screenwriter Ken Anderson deliver a winning and witty combination of sight gags and dialogue. Still, from a purist’s perspective, this Robin Hood does tend to teeter dangerously close to self-parody rather than exist as its own timeless capsule of high adventure.
Owing to its place as ‘lesser than’ some of the studio’s other animated contributions, Disney DVD’s ‘Most Wanted Edition’ is an economized single disc offering with remnants borrowed from other 2-disc Platinum Series. We get fun and games, trailers, an alternative ending and stills – but NO making of documentary or featurette.
The filmic elements have been slightly cleaned up from their previous assembly on a bare bones single release. However, color fidelity from one cell of animation to the next continues to appear inconsistently rendered. Occasionally, the shimmering of color is more obvious than slightly distracting. A slight hint of edge enhancement is also detected for an overall visual element that is not as smooth as one would have hoped for. The audio has been remixed to 5.1 Dolby Digital with obvious sonic limitations inherent from the original recording.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)