|''Boy are we in debt', intones Allan-a-Dale (a rooster, voiced by US singer Roger Miller), unwittingly providing the battle cry for a generation of millenials.'|
Disney's 1973 anthropomorphic retelling of Robin Hood has made it into the news recently, by virtue of having been cited by Zootropolis directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore on a number of occasions (here to do with design) as a key text in the creation of their new family-friendly hit.
Howard and Moore have a point in their pursuit of 'classic' Disney anthropomorphism. Recently it feels as though the studio have focused more on their princesses and princes stories and, though there have been examples of them retaining their past focus, there is an argument that some of the animal-led charm of properties like Robin Hood, The Jungle Book and The AristoCats has both been lost and is ripe for a reevaluation.
On the other hand, nostalgia can play funny games with your definition of 'quality'. I watched the VHS of Robin Hood on repeat in my youth and to hear it remarked on again as something of a lost Disney tentpole made all kinds of sense.
But, then again, the film has always been something of a Disney lightning rod. Plentiful offerings from the studio at the time re-used animation from other films, but somehow Robin Hood's use seemed the most egregious. The feeling that you were watching something not quite new enough was amplified when Little John, a large fun-loving bear, warmed up his vocal chords to reveal another Phil Harris performance. Harris, who is superlative, had also seen his distinctive tones put to use as Baloo some six years prior. Yes, the narrative had lots of trademark madcap fun, but Robin (Brian Bedford) himself is largely a wistful, lovelorn presence, swept along like a dream whilst other characters experience the sharp end of Prince John's (Peter Ustinov) taxes.
That the Robin Hood story at all was chosen as a tale Disney wanted to tell, however, is something worthy of note. Yes, Disney tell moral tales, and tell them well, still to this day, but it's difficult to imagine them picking a story now with taxes at heart (this isn't a retelling of Robin Hood where John is reduced to merely being blanket 'evil'), particularly after George Lucas' misguided early noughties foray into trade federations. 'Boy are we in debt', intones Allan-a-Dale (a rooster, voiced by US singer Roger Miller), unwittingly providing the battle cry for a generation of millenials. Miller's songs, which pepper the film, are like Robin himself; melancholy, with the sparkle of surpressed mischief.
For all its subtext though, its lovely hand-drawn animation, and the warm character art, there is a sparkle lacking here, which has more to do with the fact that Robin Hood has largely been marginalised from the Disney canon than anything else. The rampage through King John's fayre, setup to trap Robin, is the only key piece of action before the conclusion and too often the director, Wolfgang Reitherman, lets the film drift into Robin's laidback sensibilities, rather than Saturday morning silliness. It's lovely, but it's not compelling for long enough to justify a full on reevaluation.