The story of Robin Hood is one most people know, actually putting it on the same level as the fairy tales adapted by the classic Disney movies. It’s just something that everyone’s familiar with in some fashion, be it through Errol Flynn or even Kevin Costner (for one or two of you out there). Given that “The AristoCats” was actually an original story, the follow up was back to the basics, relying instead on the recognition of a classic legend.
Much as with the previous films, there’s an emphasis on comedy and lightheartedness, this time putting a folksy spin on it with the music of Roger Miller (who’s also Alan-a-Dale, the rooster narrator). Thankfully, unlike in “The AristoCats”, the comedy works to much better effect here. A big part of this is due to the villains, greedy Prince John (Peter Ustinov) and his sniveling sycophantic snake, Sir Hiss (Terry Thomas). Prince John is a buffoon and often cries for his mother at the drop of a hat. He’s in no way a physical threat for the heroes, often outwitted and outmatched by the most childish of tactics. In this regard he might seem similar to the inept butler of the previous film, but there’s one significant difference. Prince John has power. He rules over the poor animals of Nottingham with an iron fist, wrenching away all their money for his tax collection. He throws them in prison when they can’t pay and yearns for the death of his enemy. Funny as he is, all this makes him a genuine threat to the heroes, for there’s nothing more dangerous than a greedy violent moron in a position of absolute power.
The story takes the form of a familiar folktale being told to the audience by a minstrel rooster. He even plays an active role in the story at times, breaking the fourth wall in fun ways. The characters are all charmingly designed, even if some of them seem familiar. Really familiar. In fact, thus far “Robin Hood” is the biggest offender of Disney’s cel recycling, in some instances reusing character animations from “The Jungle Book”, “The AristoCats”, and even “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. There are scenes in this where you wonder how much, if any, of the animation used was originally drawn for this movie.
It’s almost distracting, especially if you’re familiar with the Disney library. The character of Little John is quite simply Baloo the Bear from “The Jungle Book”. It’s not even a case where he looks like him, it is him. They colored him brown and gave him a shirt and hat. If that wasn’t enough, he’s still being voiced by Phil Harris who, as great as he is, probably didn’t know the difference between the two characters.
The story is very light, in both content and form. The characters all look good, but there’s never much depth to any of them. Even Robin Hood (Brian Bedford) goes for long periods off screen, relying on the fact that you probably know who he is and everything important about him already. The movie divides its time amongst the townsfolk, populating Nottignham and Sherwood Forest with cute anthropomorphic characters, though Prince John probably has the most screentime and the most laughs (his bickering with Hiss is often very funny). It’s also interesting to note that one of the character animators here was Don Bluth, who would later go on to do many animated films of his own (some quite good, others…not).
Aside from the animation tricks, there’s not a whole lot to say about “Robin Hood”. It holds its own with fun songs, likeable characters, and often hits with the laughs. It’s no doubt a decent family movie but it lacks a certain resonance of the classic Disney films.