The second animated feature that Walt Disney Productions made after Walt Disney’s death, Robin Hood commenced the decline into mediocrity that defined the company’s feature-length cartoons until 1989’s The Little Mermaid. Lacking the narrative focus of its predecessors, and woefully short of memorable songs, Robin Hood is so enervated it’s hard to believe the same company was regularly issuing classics like The Jungle Book and 101 Dalmatians just a decade prior. To be fair, Robin Hood isn’t awful, because the animation is lovingly crafted and there’s plenty of brisk action and slapstick comedy, often presented in tandem. The problems, however, are many.
To begin with, the Robin Hood myth doesn’t really suit the Disney paradigm, because by the mid-’70s, endless cinematic treatments had defined the crusading archer of Sherwood Forest as a virile action hero—therefore, seeing him rendered as a cute little fox seems to diminish the character. Another issue is the completely random use of anthropomorphized animals for all of the characters.
Well-conceived Disney cartoons, like The Jungle Book, create internal logic by showcasing animals that might reasonably exist alongside each other in nature. Robin Hood juxtaposes jungle and woodland critters willy-nilly, so rhinoceros soldiers chase ursine merry men while a leonine prince sneers and cuddly rabbit serfs watch in horror. Similarly, some characters speak in appropriate British accents (since the setting is explicitly defined as England), while others chatter in cornpone American patois.
And then there’s the ineffectual storyline, which picks up years after the main action of the classic Robin Hood myth—when this picture begins, Robin and his lady love, Maid Marian, have been separated for years, and Robin courts her anew while mounting a fresh crusade against the evil Sheriff of Nottingham’s onerous taxation. Even more awkwardly, Robin Hood mostly eschews songs during the first 30 minutes of its brief running time, and then a slew of forgettable tunes get jammed into a directionless second act that feels like a cartoon concert.
On the bright side, Robin Hood features several entertaining vocal performances. Peter Ustinov and Terry-Thomas are both wonderful as villains, with Ustinov playing a lion (royal usurper Prince John) and Terry-Thomas essaying a snake (John’s put-upon advisor, Hiss). Phil Harris is also enjoyable as the lumbering Little John, a bear with a Southern accent. As for the music, let’s just say that when ’80s Disney exec Jeffrey Katzenberg started hiring Broadway composers for cartoons, the saccharine tunes in Robin Hood were just the sort of hokey tripe he was wise to retire.
Robin Hood: FUNKY