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Robin Hood’ fails to state case for animation excellance

Erin McGinn | Tuesday, March 20, 2007

As the first Disney animated feature to enter production after Walt Disney’s 1966 death, “Robin Hood” illustrates perhaps better than any other film where the Disney studio faltered in the wake of its namesake’s passing.

Looking back at the company’s cartoon canon, it is rather remarkable to think that the loss of a single man could drain a legacy of magic from output collaborated on by hundreds of individuals. But the fact that “Robin Hood” is being released 33 years since it was first in theaters indicates that even if this 1973 feature can’t claim the massive followings of either Walt’s cherished classics or the late ’80s/early ’90s Renaissance musicals, it still is appreciated enough to justify a second DVD release – in its “Most Wanted Edition.”

“Robin Hood” wasn’t considered good enough by the studios to warrant one of the truly spectacular two-disc editions, and has instead been given only a single-disc upgrading. Although it is contained on just a singe disc, there are enough special features to distinguish its earlier DVD release. Most notably it comes with a deleted alternate ending, as well as a 1933 Mickey Mouse cartoon.

“Robin Hood” is an all-animal version of the much-adapted and well-known tale of a noble Englishman who robs from the rich to give to the poor. Robin Hood and Maid Marian are red foxes, Little John is a brown bear, Friar Tuck is a badger, Prince John is a lion, and so on. Though all the creatures are completely anthropomorphized, this production is still one of Disney’s few animated features that avoids human characters altogether.

The minstrel rooster Allan-a-dale (who makes this one of the rare narrated Disney animated features) introduces the cast of characters at the start in a melody known as “Whistle-Stop” (sped up, the tune gained exposure as the music behind The Hampster Dance). From here, the movie progresses in a very episodic fashion. Robin Hood and Little John (who is anything but little) are portrayed as a laid-back, well-meaning duo. Their opposition is supplied by unquestionably evil authority figures: the tyrant Prince John and his often tied-up henchman (the snake Sir Hiss), as well as the unforgettable Sheriff of Nottingham.

Robin Hood and Little John don assorted disguises to do their business as Sherwood Forest’s redistributors of wealth. The scheming is depicted in a broad and comedic manner and it represents one of several elements calculatedly thrown into the mix. Slapstick-fueled adventure derives from the central acts of acceptable robbery, as does some small-town drama. There is also a group of kid characters and a love story surrounding Maid Marian and Robin Hood. Individually, they all fall short of more inspired treatment seen in other Disney films. Together, the result is reasonably diverting, but mediocre and evidently disjointed.

One of the major highlights of the film is Peter Ustinov’s funny embodiment of the thumb-sucking comic villain Prince John. The character is not just goofy and quirky like your typical cartoon comedy’s villain; he’s genuinely funny enough to produce laughs in adults. While the antagonist’s mannerisms are meant almost purely to amuse, “P.J” emerges as the movie’s most defined character and he’s just malicious enough to root against.

Most of the other characterizations aren’t up to quite the same quality. Robin Hood is sufficiently charming, Maid Marian is a suitable love interest and Sir Hiss is an entertaining sidekick. Beyond that, the ensemble cast operates perfunctorily, with several characters being most identified by what other Disney character shares the same voice actor. Likable though he may be, Little John is essentially Baloo all over again, as Phil Harris’ character from “The Jungle Book,” who is even closely physically resembled here.

Although not one of Disney’s best, it is still most certainly considered a classic, and is enjoyable especially for fans that grew up loving the movie.