Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 26, 2017)
Ask fans of Disney animation and there's a really strong chance that 1973's Robin Hood will end up getting the lowest ratings. There's a good reason for that: Robin Hood remains one of the studio’s worst efforts.
The umpteenth telling of the legend, in Disney’s version, Prince John (voiced by Peter Ustinov) rules Nottingham with an iron fist. Along with his band of “Merry Men”, rebellious Robin Hood (Brian Bedford) strikes against this reign, with an eye toward the support of the locals.
Everything about this film screams its mediocrity. Whatever my synopsis may imply, the movie lacks an actual plot, as instead, Robin Hood connects a conglomeration of mildly related sequences.
As I discovered during Alice In Wonderland, that kind of film can work, but the material has to be good enough to stand on its own, which is not the case with Hood. Virtually all of the mini-sequences seem bland and uninspired.
Although the Robin Hood legend features some strong personalities, you wouldn't know that from the generic characters we find here. Our main leads, Robin and his lady love Maid Marian (Monica Evans) feel completely flat and lifeless. Nothing about either of them stands out in any way, so I could not have cared less about their fates.
However, fairly dull protagonists are not unusual for Disney animation, as going all the way back to 1937’s Snow White, we find many uninteresting leads. At least Robin becomes an active participant in his life, unlike some of the passive personalities we've seen in the past.
Robin's still dull, though, and as is often the case, the usual roster of wacky sidekicks comes along for the ride to make the film livelier. Few of these characters work.
As Little John, we find Phil Harris in his third straight Disney animated release. As Baloo in The Jungle Book, he played a bear version of himself.
For The Aristocats, he branched out a little and went for a cat who also became our leading man. O'Malley retained much of Baloo's swagger and looseness, however, so the similarities greatly exceeded the differences.
At least O'Malley offered a minor stretch for Harris, which isn't the case for Little John. We again find Harris in big, fat bear form, and the character comes across as a blatant reprise of Baloo. The part isn't as good, however, and Little John adds no spark to the proceedings.
Almost none of the remaining supporting characters makes an impact either. In fact, Prince John turns into the only interesting character.
Ustinov does a nice job with the role, and although it's a one-dimensional part – Prince John never appears as anything but a greedy, malicious, sniveling coward - Ustinov at least adds life and makes him much more entertaining than anything else in the movie.
Perhaps this was just a transference of my enjoyment of the character, but Prince John also seems better animated than the other roles. This doesn't mean John displays terrific art, though - it's more of an indictment of the relatively weak quality of the rest of the film.
Hood displays some of the sloppiest Disney art on record. Stray lines flit about the screen, and the general presentation appears crude.
It even looks as though some of the animation simply duplicates efforts from other films. The scene in which Maid Marian dances in the forest seems suspiciously similar to a portion of Snow White.
Speaking of Maid Marian, does anyone else fail to understand how she – a fox - can be related to Prince John - a lion? Yeah, I know it's a fantasy, but some internal consistency would be nice.
Actually, this connects to the most daring aspect of Robin Hood: it was the first Disney film to feature no human characters. Granted, Bambi came close since we never saw the men, but their affect on the story was immense.
Obviously, a lot of other Disney offerings focussed on animals, but humans remained part of the mix. Another "all-critter" flick wouldn't appear until 1994's Lion King.
But that ends the similarities between Hood and the entertaining 1994 hit. Robin Hood is such a cheap, lifeless affair that even the credit sequences appear generic.
At the start, we get a quick and tacky introduction to the participants, as we see an animated image of each character with his/her name and species beneath it. For example, we might view "Robin Hood - A Fox". The typeface used for these introductions is so bland that you'll initially think you've activated the subtitle function.
Disney spared every expense for Robin Hood. I didn't hate this film, as my affection for Disney animation remains strong enough that even their worst efforts still give me some pleasure. However, I found it difficult to resist fast-forwarding through this movie, and that ain't good.