Movie #22 in the Disney Animated Marathon tells a familiar tale with an interesting twist!
Story By: Larry Clemmons
Directed By: Wolfgang Reitherman
As I traverse the vast Disney animated library for this marathon one of my greatest joys has been discovering the films that escaped my eyes all these years for one reason or another. Despite my love of the mythos around Robin and Sherwood Forest I never got around to checking out the animated Robin Hood for whatever reason. As I approached this portion of the marathon I went into this initial viewing of Robin Hood with a fair deal of trepidation, probably due to my growing frustrations with Wolfgang Reitherman as a director. I’m happy to report that yet again my willingness to never forget my inner child and revel in the world of fantasy has paid off for me, and in spades.
Instead of going into eighty million words to express why I fell in love with Robin Hood so easily and effortlessly I’m going to present you with one scene that perfectly encapsulates the feeling that Robin Hood instilled in me. Skippy has wandered into Prince John’s castle and Maid Marian has been indulging him in his swashbuckling dreams. As is customary she awards her hero with a kiss, but the young lad is a smart lad and shrinks away from such icky, sissy stuff. Skippy’s friends and relatives are watching, and his sister, the aptly named Sis, emits a lovely laugh before falling to the ground, forming a giant smile on her face and letting out a contented sigh. It’s a simple scene, there’s not much to it beyond what you see on screen, but the moment when Sis lets out that sigh is a summation of how I felt for the entirety of Robin Hood. I literally sat, glued to the screen, emitting sigh after contented sigh while Reitherman and company made me happier and happier.
Speaking of good ole Wolfgang, Robin Hood is undoubtedly his masterpiece and his greatest contribution to the world of animation. Maybe one of his other works that I haven’t seen, there aren’t many left, will prove me wrong, but at the present time compared to all the rest of his work Robin Hood is in another stratosphere, let alone another league. His simple direction is still present, and so is his unfinished line art style that I have harped on in many of his other films. This time, however, the unfinished style works because it isn’t quite as unfinished and haphazardly done as has been the case in previous Reitherman helmed Disney features. There is a fair amount of detail in the characters and realistically it is the characters in Robin Hood that make the film as great as it is.
And how about those characters, I mean really? The story of Robin and his merry men is a well known one, and in that regard Robin Hood doesn’t bring anything new to the table. The idea to make all the characters animals and match the animal they are to the human personality they have is a bit of an ingenious twist. Once again, it’s a very simple thing and it’s done in a very simple fashion, but sometimes the simple things are the best and Robin Hood is a great example of this. The story is still well known, but the characters as animals adds another dimension to the story, a new riff if you will, and sometimes using an A chord instead of a B chord can make all the difference in the world, you know what I mean?
In the realm of different Robin Hood manages to shine, and by that I mean it’s willingness to be so many different movies in one. Robin Hood isn’t satisfied with being a swashbuckling adventure, or a 1960’s style caper or even a 1970’s style sports movie. Nope, Robin Hood wants to be all of those things and more, but most importantly it succeeds at being all of those things. This translucent quality is also present in the musical style found in Robin Hood. At times the music is very folksy, eliciting a Bob Dylan vibe, while at others the music takes on the sound of classic country, ala The Carter Family. The music even gets a little jazzy from time to time, and never once does the music settle for being just one style or genre, Robin Hood wears many different hats and it wears them well.
To say that I was surprised by Robin Hood would be an understatement, I wasn’t expecting much from this early 1970’s Disney feature. Instead I was rewarded with one heck of a viewing experience and one I can’t wait to undertake again. Robin Hood is the rare combination of funny, cute, daring and entertaining while at the same time providing an interesting story and food for thought theme wise. If, like me, you have less than enthusiastic feelings about the Wolfgang Reitherman era of Disney animation then I suggest you shuck whatever misgivings you may have to the side and give Robin Hood a gander. Trust me when I tell you that Robin Hood is an animated film well worth your time, and when have I steered you wrong before?