Following the end of what is affectionately known as the ˜Golden Era,’ Disney found themselves in something of a creative slump. Not helped by the passing of patriarch Walt Disney, the output during the 70s and most of the 80s reads like a whose who of mediocre animated films; Oliver & Company, The Aristocats and The Black Cauldron all proved to be commercially and critically underwhelming. But nestled in these ˜Dark Ages’ is a gem that is constantly overlooked in favour of it’s flashier peers. This is Robin Hood.
The story of Robin Hood, the titular bandit who robs from the rich to give to the poor has been adapted to film and television more than any other story in history. There’s a romanticism to the story of an outlaw standing up for the people in the face of overwhelming cruelty and persecution from a corrupt King. So when Disney took on the the challenge of putting their own spin on the story, they kept it safe and opted to use anthropomorphised animals.
In the town of Nottingham Robin Hood (a fox) and his best friend Little John (a bear) are always on the look out for an opportunity to steal from the phony King of England Prince John (a lion). Spurned on by his love for Maid Marion (also a fox) Robin finds himself in a series of escalating encounters that result in the Prince sending his enforcer the Sherriff of Nottingham (a wolf) to squeeze all the money they can from the people.
The first thing to mention about Robin Hood is that the animation is somehow simpler than earlier films from the Mouse House. There’s a simplicity to it, which may be the effect of cost”cutting measures, but which also give the film a unique look and feel. But as with all Disney films the success relies more on the characters and soundtracks than it does their well-worn plots.
Strangely the story of Robin, John and Marion is actually a little bland, with only a few classic lines from the bear spicing up an otherwise workmanlike script. It is then, in the duo of Prince John (Peter Ustinov) and Sir Hiss (Terry Thomas) that the real entertainment is to be had. They’re like an old married couple with the sycophantic Hiss always being one step ahead of his master but never in a position to act upon his knowledge, while the gullible John provides the best moments, sucking his thumb and pulling his earlobe whenever his mother is mentioned. Their repartee set the film ahead of its immediate predecessors and successors. There’s also a surprisingly poignant social message about community and looking out for one another that modern Disney films often overlook in favour of an individuals personal journey.
Effectively set in a Medieval Wild West, complete with country and western-singing rooster and a deep south Sheriff, Robin Hood is a delightful Americanised take on a British folk classic. Quite why it’s overlooked in favour of the other ˜Classics’ remains a mystery, but it’s a favourite for all ages. It’s probably the best Robin Hood film going and you’ll be hollaring ‘Oo-de-lally’ for days after watching.