Robin Hood (1973 film)
Original theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Wolfgang Reitherman|
|Produced by||Wolfgang Reitherman|
|Based on||The legend of Robin Hood|
|Narrated by||Roger Miller|
|Music by||George Bruns|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Distribution|
|Box office||$32 million|
Robin Hood is a 1973 American animated romantic musical comedy film produced by Walt Disney Productions and released by Buena Vista Distribution. Produced and directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, it is the 21st Disney animated feature film. The story follows the adventures of Robin Hood (Brian Bedford), Little John (Phil Harris), and the inhabitants of Nottingham as they fight against the excessive taxation of Prince John (Peter Ustinov), and Robin Hood wins the hand of Maid Marian (Monica Evans).
Candy Candido, Barbara Luddy, J. Pat O'Malley, and John Fiedler were in the cast of the film after their voice roles in previous Disney films like Lady and the Tramp (1955), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), Sleeping Beauty (1959), The Jungle Book (1967), and the 1968 featurette, Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day.
The idea to adapt Robin Hood into an animated feature dated back to Walt Disney's interest in the tale of Reynard the Fox during his first full-length feature production, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). The idea was repeatedly shelved until writer and production designer Ken Anderson incorporated ideas from it in a pitch of the legend of Robin Hood using anthropomorphic animals rather than people during Disney's previous production of The Aristocats (1970).
Robin Hood was released on November 8, 1973 to box office success. It was initially received positively by film critics who praised the voice cast, animation, and humor, but its critical reception became gradually mixed since its release. The film has nonetheless become a cult classic.
The film is narrated by the rooster Alan-a-Dale, who explains that Robin Hood and Little John live in Sherwood Forest, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor townsfolk of Nottingham. The Sheriff of Nottingham and his posse often try to catch the two but fail every time. Meanwhile, Prince John and his assistant Sir Hiss, arrive in Nottingham. Sir Hiss hypnotized Prince John's brother King Richard to go off on the Crusades, allowing Prince John to take the throne. Unfortunately, the prince is greedy and immature, even sucking his thumb whenever his mother is mentioned. Robin and Little John rob Prince John by disguising themselves as fortune tellers, prompting the prince to put a bounty on their heads and makes the Sheriff his personal tax collector.
The Sheriff taxes Friar Tuck and a family of rabbits. However, Robin gives back some money to the rabbits, giving his hat and archery kit to the young rabbit Skippy for his birthday. Skippy and his friends test out the archery kit, but Skippy fires an arrow into the grounds of Maid Marian's castle. The children sneak inside, meeting Maid Marian and her attendant Lady Kluck. Maid Marian reveals she and Robin were childhood sweethearts but they have not seen one another for years. Friar Tuck visits Robin and Little John, explaining that Prince John is hosting an archery tournament, and the winner will receive a kiss from Maid Marian. Robin agrees to participate in the tournament disguised as a stork whilst Little John disguises himself as the Duke of Chutney to get near Prince John. Sir Hiss discovers Robin's identity but is trapped in a barrel of ale by Friar Tuck and Alan-a-Dale. Robin wins the tournament, but Prince John exposes him and has him arrested for execution despite Maid Marian's pleas.
Little John threatens Prince John leading to a fight between Robin, Little John, Maid Marian, Lady Kluck and Prince John's soldiers. In the forest, Robin and Maid Marian fall in love again as the townsfolk mock Prince John, describing him as the "Phony King of England". Enraged by the insult, Prince John triples the taxes, imprisoning most of the townsfolk who cannot pay their taxes. The Sheriff visits Friar Tuck's church to steal from the poor box, enraging Friar Tuck who is arrested too. Prince John plans to hang Friar Tuck to lure in Robin and kill him. Robin and Little John sneak in, with Little John managing to free all of the prisoners whilst Robin steals Prince John's taxes, but Sir Hiss awakens to find Robin fleeing.
Chaos follows as Robin and the others try to escape to Sherwood Forest. The Sheriff corners Robin after he is forced to return to rescue a straggler, setting fire to Prince John's castle and causing Robin to leap from a tower into the moat below. Little John and Skippy watch as the moat is pelted with arrows and Robin is apparently shot and drowned, only for him to emerge unharmed after using a reed as a breathing tube. Prince John despairs and is driven into a blind rage when Sir Hiss points out his mother's castle is on fire. Later, King Richard returns to England, placing his brother and his cohorts under arrest and allows Robin and Maid Marian to be married and leave Nottingham with Little John and Skippy in tow.
- Brian Bedford as Robin Hood, a gifted archer who is seen doing good for the townspeople. He is portrayed as a fox.
- Monica Evans as Maid Marian, a vixen and the primary love interest of Robin Hood.
- Phil Harris as Little John, Robin Hood's best friend, who is very gluttonous and though not small at all still called "Little John". Portrayed as a bear, he is a recreation of The Jungle Book's Baloo, as both characters are voiced by Phil Harris and were animated by the same Disney animators.
- Roger Miller as Alan-a-Dale, a rooster who serves as the narrator of the film.
- Andy Devine as Friar Tuck, the town's local friar who protects the villagers of Nottingham. Portrayed as a badger, he is taken to be hanged at the end of the film in a plot of Prince John's to lure Robin Hood out of hiding, but is rescued in time.
- Peter Ustinov as Prince John and King Richard respectively, a greedy fraud and the true king of England. Both characters are lions. Prince John has the habit of sucking his thumb when someone mentions his mother. At the end of the film, King Richard returns from the Third Crusade and sentences his brother Prince John to work in the Royal Rock Pile.
- Terry-Thomas as Sir Hiss, Prince John's snake friend who is tricky and hypocritical. He is similar to The Jungle Book's Kaa.
- Carole Shelley as Lady Kluck, a chicken who is good friends with Maid Marian.
- Pat Buttram as The Sheriff of Nottingham, a greedy and shifty wolf.
- George Lindsey and Ken Curtis as Trigger and Nutsy, respectively, vultures.
- John Fiedler and Barbara Luddy as Friar Tuck's Sexton and his wife, respectively, church mice. Luddy also voiced Mother Rabbit, the mother of Skippy, Sis, and Tagalong.
- Billy Whitaker, Dana Laurita, Dori Whitaker, and Richie Sanders as Skippy, Sis, Tagalong, and Toby, respectively, the local children of Nottingham who idolize Robin Hood. Skippy, Sis, and Tagalong are rabbits while Toby is a turtle.
- Candy Candido as the Captain of the Guard, a crocodile who hosts the archery tournament.
- J. Pat O'Malley as Otto, a dog with a lame leg.
Around the time of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, Walt Disney became interested in adapting the twelfth-century legend of Reynard the Fox. However, the project languished due to Walt's concern that Reynard was an unsuitable choice for a hero. In a meeting held on February 12, 1938, Disney commented "I see swell possibilities in 'Reynard', but is it smart to make it? We have such a terrific kid audience ... parents and kids together. That's the trouble – too sophisticated. We'll take a nosedive doing it with animals." For Treasure Island (1950), Walt seriously considered three animated sections, each one of the Reynard tales, to be told by Long John Silver to Jim Hawkins as moral fables. Ultimately, the idea was nixed as Treasure Island would become the studio's first fully live-action film. Over the years, the studio decided to make Reynard the villain of a musical feature film named Chanticleer and Reynard (based on Edmond Rostand's Chanticleer), but the production was scrapped in the early 1960s in favor of The Sword in the Stone (1963).
While The Aristocats (1970) was in production, Ken Anderson began exploring possibilities for the next film. Studio executives favored a "classic" tale as the subject for the next film, in which Anderson suggested the tale of Robin Hood, which was received enthusiastically. He blended his ideas of Robin Hood by incorporating that the fox character could be slick but still use his skills to protect the community. Additionally, Anderson wanted to set the film in the Deep South desiring to recapture the spirit of Song of the South (1946). However, the executives were wary of the reputation of Song of the South, which was followed by Wolfgang Reitherman's decision to set the film in its traditional English location inspired by The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952). Veteran writer Larry Clemmons came on board the project by writing a script with dialogue that was later storyboarded by other writers.
As production went further along, Robin Allan wrote in his book Walt Disney and Europe that "Ken Anderson wept when he saw how his character concepts had been processed into stereotypes for the animation on Robin Hood." According to Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, one such casualty was the concept of making the Sheriff of Nottingham a goat as an artistic experiment to try different animals for a villain, only to be overruled by Reitherman who wanted to keep to the villainous stereotype of a wolf instead. Additionally, Anderson wanted to include the Merry Men into the film, which was again overridden by Reitherman because he wanted a "buddy picture" reminiscent of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), so Little John was the only Merry Man who remained in the film, while Friar Tuck was put as a friend of Robin's who lived in Nottingham, and Alan-a-Dale was turned into the narrator.
Because of the time spent on developing several settings and auditioning actors to voice Robin Hood, production fell behind schedule. In order to meet deadlines, the animators had no other choice but to recycle several dance sequences from previous Disney animated films, including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), The Jungle Book (1967), and The Aristocats (1970).
By October 1970, most of the voice actors were confirmed, with the exception of Tommy Steele cast in the title role. Steele himself was chosen because of his performance in The Happiest Millionaire (1967) while Peter Ustinov was cast because Walt Disney had enjoyed his presence on the set of Blackbeard's Ghost (1968) during one of his last visits to the studio before his death. However, Steele was unable to make his character sound more heroic, and his replacement came down to final two candidates which were Bernard Fox and Brian Bedford, with the latter being chosen. Meanwhile, Louis Prima was so angered at not being considered for a role that he personally paid the recording expenses for the subsequent album, Let's "Hear" it For Robin Hood, which he sold to Disneyland Records.
It was released on VHS, CED, Betamax, and Laserdisc on December 4, 1984 becoming the first installment of the Walt Disney Classics home video label. Disney had thought the idea of releasing any of its animated classics (known as the "untouchables") might threaten future theatrical reissue revenue. However, Robin Hood was viewed as the first choice since it was not held in such high esteem as some of the other titles, and was less likely to get another theatrical release as its 1982 reissue proved to be disappointing. The release went into moratorium in January 1987. It was later re-released on VHS as an installment of the Walt Disney Classics on July 12, 1991. The film was re-released on October 28, 1994 and July 13, 1999 on VHS as an installment of the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection lineup.
In January 2000, Walt Disney Home Video launched the Gold Classic Collection, with Robin Hood re-issued on VHS and DVD on July 4, 2000. The DVD contained the film in its 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and was accompanied with special features including a trivia game and the cartoon short "Ye Olden Days". The remastered "Most Wanted Edition" DVD ("Special Edition" in the UK) was released in 2006 in a 16:9 matted transfer to represent its original theatrical screen ratio. It also featured a deleted scene/alternate ending of Prince John attempting to kill a wounded Robin Hood. On August 6, 2013, the film was released as the 40th Anniversary Edition on a Blu-ray combo pack.
Judith Crist, reviewing the film in the New York magazine, said it was "nicely tongue-in-cheek without insult to the intelligence of either child or adult." She also stated that it "has class – in the fine cast that gives both voice and personality to the characters, in the bright and brisk dialogue, in its overall concept." Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that it "should ... be a good deal of fun for toddlers whose minds have not yet shriveled into orthodoxy" and he called the visual style "charmingly conventional". Dave Billington of The Montreal Gazette wrote "As a film, Robin Hood marks a come-back of sorts for the Disney people. Ever since the old maestro died, the cartoon features have shown distressing signs of a drop in quality, both in art work and in voice characterization. But the blending of appealing cartoon animals with perfect voices for the part makes Robin Hood an excellent evening out for the whole family." Also writing in the New York magazine, Ruth Gilbert called it "a sweet, funny, slam-bang, good-hearted Walt Disney feature cartoon with a fine cast" and wrote it was "a feast for the eyes for kiddies and Disney nostalgics."
Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the Disney "hallmarks are there as they ever were: the incomparably rich, full animation, the humanized animal characters perky, individual and enchanting, and the wild, inventive slapstick action." Awarding the film four stars out of five, Ian Nathan, in a retrospective review for Empire, praised the vocal performances of Peter Ustinov and Terry-Thomas acknowledging "while this is hardly the most dazzling of animated features, it has that cut-corner feel that seem to hold sway in the '70s (mainly because Disney were cutting corners), the characters spark to life, and the story remains as rock steady as ever."
Among less favorable reviews, Jay Cocks of Time gave the film a mixed verdict writing "Even at its best, Robin Hood is only mildly diverting. There is not a single moment of the hilarity or deep, eerie fear that the Disney people used to be able to conjure up, or of the sort of visual invention that made the early features so memorable. Robin Hood's basic problem is that it is rather too pretty and good natured." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film one-and-a-half stars out of four, describing the film as "80 minutes of pratfalls and nincompoop dialog," and criticizing the animation quality as "Saturday morning TV cartoon stuff." John Baxter of The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote that "for the most part the film is as bland and one-dimensional as the product of less sophisticated studios; and except for Peter Ustinov's plummy Prince John, the voice characterisations are as insipid as the animation is unoriginal."
Decades since the film's release, the film has been heavily noted for the recycled scenes of animation and the sex appeal of the two main characters. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that the film received a 54% approval rating with an average rating of 5.4/10 based on 28 reviews. The website's consensus states that "One of the weaker Disney adaptations, Robin Hood is cute and colorful but lacks the majesty and excitement of the studio's earlier efforts."
Awards and honors
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
- 2008: AFI's 10 Top 10:
- Nominated Animation Film
|Studio album by |
|Genre||Classical, Soundtrack, Classic pop|
- "Whistle-Stop" written and sung by Roger Miller
- "Oo-De-Lally" written and sung by Roger Miller
- "Love" written by Floyd Huddleston and George Bruns and sung by Nancy Adams
- "The Phony King of England" written by Johnny Mercer and sung by Phil Harris
- "The Phony King of England Reprise" sung by Terry-Thomas and Pat Buttram
- "Not in Nottingham" written and sung by Roger Miller
- "Love"/"Oo-De-Lally Reprise" sung by Chorus
The music played in the background while Lady Kluck fights off Prince John's soldiers in an American football manner, following the archery tournament, is an arrangement of "Fight On" and "On, Wisconsin", the respective fight songs of the University of Southern California and the University of Wisconsin.
A record of the film was made at the time of its release in 1973, which included its songs, score, narration, and dialogue. Both "Oo-De-Lally" and "Love" appear on the CD collection, Classic Disney: 60 Years of Musical Magic. The full soundtrack of the film was released to the general public on August 4, 2017 as part of the Walt Disney Records: The Legacy Collection series on compact disc and digital, and was a timed exclusive to the 2017 D23 Expo.
The song "Love" is featured in the 2009 feature film Fantastic Mr. Fox. The song "Whistle-Stop" was sped up and used in the Hampster Dance, one of the earliest internet memes, and later used at normal speed in the Super Bowl XLVIII commercial for T-Mobile. The song "Oo De Lally" is featured in a 2015 commercial for Android which shows animals of different species playing together.
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