Sunday, April 28, 2013

Disney Canon: Robin Hood

The more immediate period after Walt Disney's death is sometimes known in Disney Animation History as the Dark Days (in reference, I guess, to the Dark Ages, which just like in Disney History, ended with the Renaissance). For the most part of the 1970s and 80s, the Disney Animation studio kept releasing animated movies, which for the most part were not received as well critically or commercially as the most successful animated products of Walt Disney's lifetime. Some of these movies did make money, but when the Disney Renaissance rolled around in the early 90s, the fact that these had been deeply dark decades for Disney was engraved in the popular consciousness. There is little discussion about these movies and they usually don't get the "Disney Diamond Blu Ray Collection" treatment when they are released in home video. Still, there are always revisionists and every Disney enthusiast tends to have a movie from this period that they think is very good. I think mine is Robin Hood.

This 1973 movie is, obviously, based on the english legend about the archer from Sherwood Forest who steals from the rich to give to the poor. There's never been one, right and established Robin Hood story, but a lot of versions that vary largely in the details. Disney recasts the characters as animals and comes up with a fairly simple plot. The movie basically consists of a number of episodes in which greedy Prince John (and the evil Sheriff of Nottingham) is humiliated by Robin. As the movie progresses Prince John grows more irritated with the Archer and tries to actively capture him, culminating in a grand finale in which Robin and Little John sneak into the castle and take John's fortune in a daring escape.

Robin Hood is an entertaining adventure and a surprisingly good film considering where it came from. One of the most well-known facts about Disney's Robin Hood is that it is a largely recycled film. A lot of the character design and animation sequences are outright lifted from earlier Disney films. Little John, for example, is identical to Baloo except that he has brown fur and a green shirt. Little John moves using the animation from the Lion King in Bedknobs and Broomsticks and his companion, Sir Hiss looks just like The Jungle Book's Kaa (so much so that he even gets Kaa's hypnotizing powers in what may be an otherwise good film's worst decision). By and large, the characters move like others did in previous Disney movies.

But before you go on dismissing this fact as a weakness on part of the movie, the fact that it was largely recycled meant that the movie didn't cost as much to animate as other works, something that allowed the film to make a pretty good profit in the box-office. This motivated Disney artists to keep on working in the Animation Department in a time when Walt's absence was starting to be felt more than ever. So, on some level, we must thank recycled animation for keeping the studio alive. But not only is it good that Robin Hood made money, like I said above, it's a largely unappreciated film. 

This is not to say Robin Hood is a work on the same league as the very best of the Disney Canon. This is not as brilliant a work as Pinocchio (then again, what films are?). But Robin Hood is very entertaining and rather delightful in its simplicity. It is basically a silly adventure for children, but it seems to lovingly and carefully tailored for its young audience that it ends up coming across as incredibly charming. This is also not childhood nostalgia talking. I do remember enjoying Robin Hood as a child, but I also watched Power Rangers every day. Revisiting the film actually opened my eyes at a movie that I had held on the margins of my Disney love just because of the notion that it was a minor work when it may very well be one of the most entertaining times I've had in this project of re-watching the Canon. 

It's incredibly hard for me to say what I liked so much about Robin Hood. The keyword seems to be simplicity. The comedic situations are familiar, but also played with delightful interactions between the characters. The songs are not the best in Disney history, but they have a folk-y, hand crafted quality that just charms me. This is the feeling of delight I had when watching Wes Anderon's Fantastic Mr. Fox (which seems to be influenced a little bit by this movie). There is no opulence or pretentiousness in display here, it's Robin Hood's modesty that charms me the most. And still, behind this very light and fun exterior, there is an emotional interior that speaks to me on a very effective level. Above all, Robin Hood is the story of a community sticking together through thick and thin, and putting the most optimistic face towards all tragedy.

Robin Hood is one of those Disney movies that are ideal for children. They will have a good time, laugh and not be scared. And if you're like me, you just might be charmed by the earthy optimism of the movie. This is a sweet and welcome entry in the Disney Canon.

Next Time: Talking about sweet, we'll go to the Hundred-Acre Woods for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

1 comment:

  1. Robin Hood isn't artistically special but the comedic writing is very well done. I love lines like 'Hiss, you eel in snakes clothing". For me it is a little long and some of the jailbreak stuff drags but it's still a lot of fun.