Ranking Disney: #31 – Robin Hood (1973)
Oh… Robin Hood.
This is a film that I suspect most people would rank a lot lower than I am. And I’m cool with that. The thing with a lot of these Disney movies — it comes down to how much you love the source material. Like Tarzan or Hercules or Pocahontas – these really famous stories — if you don’t like the source material, no matter how good and entertaining the film is, you’re just not gonna be fully there. I happen to love the Robin Hood story, and one of my favorite movies is The Adventures of Robin Hood. And this, to me, is a Disney version of that. So, even though the film has that 70s Disney feel to it — I love it.
I can’t defend this film against people who want to attack it. (Though, really, why would you attack it? There’s nothing wrong with it unless you’re putting it up against other Disney movies.) You want to call it slow, you want to say there’s not much here, story-wise, you want to say they reuse characters and animation — fine. But to me, it comes down to story. And I love this story. So that’s why I have it above all the other films ranked below it on my list.
The film begins with a storybook opening, explaining the basic concept of Robin Hood – King Richard going off to fight in the Crusades and his brother Prince John usurping the throne, and Robin Hood being the people’s only hope. Then, on one of the pages, we see a rooster, Alan-a-Dale, a minstrel, who tells us:
“You know, there’s been a heap of legends and tall tales about Robin Hood. All different too. Well, we folks of the animal kingdom have our own version. It’s the story of what really happened in Sherwood Forest…”
And this introduces us to our animal cast of characters. The few things that jump out immediately to me there (you can see the list down below) are – Andy Devine, YES! And then – Little John is so clearly modeled off of Baloo (down to the person voicing him), and Sir Hiss also seems somewhat based on Kaa.
Anyway, the story begins with “Robin Hood and Little John walking through the forest…” and “Oo De Lally.” They’re hanging around the forest, meanwhile the Sheriff of Nottingham tries to ambush them with his men, but they get away.
They then go and ambush Prince John, who is out collecting taxes from the poor. Prince John is robbing the poor “to feed the rich,” while Robin Hood is out to “rob (or as he says, “borrow”) from the rich to give to the poor. We also find out here that Prince John has Sir Hiss hypnotize Richard to send him out on the crusade (another Kaa comparison).
Robin Hood and Little John masquerade as fortune tellers, and Prince John, who is amused by the prospect. They steal his rings as well as the tax money, and even the wheels off his carriage and robe off his back, and he throws a tantrum and puts a bounty out on Robin.
We then see the Sheriff of Nottingham arrive in town and intimidate some of the townspeople out of tax money. He shakes down a dog blacksmith with a broken foot, and then a family of rabbits. That’s how you know he’s evil, he takes money from a child on his birthday. Then Robin Hood shows up, pretending to be a blind poor person, and the Sheriff takes his money too. Robin then gives the birthday boy rabbit a bow and arrow, and then his hat.
The boy, Skippy, goes out to try out his bow and arrow, and accidentally shoots it into the grounds of Maid Marian’s castle. She invites him and his friends in. They ask if she and Robin Hood are sweethearts. She says that was years ago. They start asking all these questions, “Did you kiss?” “Are you gonna have any kids?” – just what this lady needs right now, a reminder of a failed relationship. And since it was several years ago, you have to assume she’s just about reaching that age when her biological clock is starting to tick, so I’m sure she loves hearing about having kids and all. It’s like when your parents are like, “When are you gonna get married? When are you gonna get married?”
And then we find out Marian still loves Robin, and that Robin still loves Marian. Robin is worried that he has nothing to offer her, being an outlaw and her being a high class lady. Then Friar Tuck shows up and tells them about an archery tournament that’s going to be held the next day that Marian will be attending. Naturally Robin decides to go, since she’ll be giving a kiss to the winner.
Naturally, the tournament is a trap. But Robin don’t care. He shows up, dressed as a stork, and naturally wins the tournament by splitting his opponent’s arrow. And the trap is sprung, Robin is captured, and Prince John sentences him to “sudden, instant, and even immediate death.” The worst kind. Maid Marian says that she loves him, and he says he loves her, and he shouts “Long live King Richard,” which actually makes Prince John throw a tantrum about he is really the king, and he even shouts “Off with his head!” This movie is full of references to other Disney movies.
Robin is then saved by Little John, who holds a knife to Prince John’s back, and they escape. During the escape, Robin proposes to Marian (as they swing onto the roof of a tent and fight off some guards, to boot), who accepts. And they make plans for the future as Robin fends off the guards, and then they escape into Sherwood Forest.
Then we get the “Love” sequence, as Robin Hood and Marian have that nice walk through the forest, then they celebrate with the rest of the gang, singing about how Prince John is the “phony king of England.” (Little John’s dancing here is exactly the same as Baloo’s.)
The song goes viral, and Prince John is pissed off, so he raises taxes. Then Friar Tuck tells off the Sheriff one day and is arrested. But Prince John doesn’t care. He wants Robin Hood. He plans to use Friar Tuck as bait to catch Robin Hood. Robin Hood happens by in disguise and finds out about the plan. They plan a jailbreak that night.
They get all the townspeople who are locked up out of the jail, and Robin manages to steal back all of the money Prince John stole. Only he and Hiss wake up and there’s another chase. Robin gets everyone out and ends up trapped behind the castle walls by himself. He ends up on top of one of the towers, which is on fire, but ends up jumping out into the moat. It looks like he dies, but of course he doesn’t.
Then they pretty much fastforward through everything else. They say Richard returned and straightened everything out, and then we see Robin and Marian getting married.
Like I said — I love Robin Hood. So I can’t really say any more than that. I enjoy the hell out of this film. I’m a realist, though. It’s obviously not one of their best, and I might be cheating a little bit by putting it here, but even at worst, it’s a mid-30s film, so whatever. Some people love Holmes, some people love “Treasure Island” — it all comes down to personal tastes. And I love this one, warts and all.
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Official Disney Number: #21
Run Time: 83 minutes
Release Date: November 8, 1973
Budget: $15 million
Box Office: Wikipedia says $32 million. Let’s go with that. I’m not sure how much of that was first-run, but we can still assume it was a hit.
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- “Whistle-Stop,” performed by Roger Miller
- “Oo De Lally,” performed by Roger Miller
- “Not in Nottingham,” performed by Roger Miller
- “Love,” performed by Nancy Adams
- “The Pony King of England,” performed by Phil Harris
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- This film was nominated for Best Original Song, for “Love,” losing (rightfully so) to “The Way We Were.” (“Live and Let Die” was also nominated in that category.)
- There’s an alternate ending to the film where King Richard arrives just as Prince John is about to stab Robin Hood, but they felt that made Prince John too sinister.
- Originally, the studio wanted to make a movie about Reynard the Fox. But they thought he was too unsuitable a hero for Disney, so they just did “Robin Hood” instead.
- This film, above most others, reuses bits from older Disney films. “The Phony King of England” sequence was traced from bits of Snow White, The Jungle Book and The Aristocats.
- Also, during the chase sequence, you can hear college football fight songs being played.
- “Love” is also featured in Fantastic Mr. Fox, during the scene where Ash and Kristofferson are diving.
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1. Reflections in the water. They do this a lot. You should be used to it by now.
2. Three shots that are very similar to other Disney shots. I’m gonna do them one by one. They’re all the “princess” shots.
First — we’ve all seen this shot — off the top of my head, it reminds me of Beauty and the Beast and Snow White and God knows what else. Plus it has the trees framing around the edges — while it may not be exactly like other images, it’s very reminiscent of all those films. Honestly, if you see this and don’t have a feeling of this being a familiar image, you’ve never really watched Disney movies.
Now, this one — clearly your “princess” shot. Very Sleeping Beauty, very Cinderella. Honestly, take your pick — pretty much every Disney princess has this exact same shot. And the castle walls also remind me of Beauty and the Beast – with the roses and stuff. Look at the prologue images at the beginning of that movie and you’ll see what I’m talking about. (It also reminds me of “The Boy Next Door” from Meet Me in St. Louis, for those who have a weird memory of film visuals as I do.)
This one looks exactly like that back shot in Cinderella. That’s the one I keep coming back to with this shot. Because rarely do you see behind the princess in the window. This is the exact same shot as the one in Cinderella.
3. Ready — ready — Lowly Worm. Richard Scarry. You know you see it too.
4. Great visual gag.
5. This might be my favorite visual gag in the film — the reveal that our narrator is in prison too. I always go for cutaway humor like this. It almost always works. Even think of noir films, or whatever. I won’t say which film it is, but there’s a film where the main character narrates the whole story, and it’s about a robbery, and at the end, we reveal that he’s in handcuffs and is telling the story to the police. Play it as a twist, for comedy, whatever — it almost always works. This isn’t particularly played for anything, but I fucking love that — “Oh yeah, I’m talking to you from prison.” That’s hilarious to me.
6. Unless I’m wrong, this exact same shot is in The Sword in the Stone. Not to mention — how many times does Disney show a window in a castle like this? You know you’ve seen this a bunch from them.
7. Does stone catch fire like this often?