"Every town, has its ups and downs," but none have gone through as long of a slump as Nottingham. Ever since King Richard left for the Crusades, his sniveling younger brother Prince John (voiced by Peter Ustinov) has usurped his crown.
The phony monarch begins his reign by increasing the taxes, sending a wolfish sheriff (voice of Pat Buttram) to collect from even the widowed, lame and blind. When the oppressed townsfolk voice their displeasure through a witty ditty, "Too late to be known as John the First, he's sure to be known as John the Worst," the angry tyrant tightens his grip, retorting; "Squeeze every last drop out of those insolent, musical peasants."
In retaliation, Robin Hood (voice of Brian Bedford) and his pal Little John (Phil Harris) begin their own tax rebate program. "Borrowing" a bit from those who can afford it, the pair of outlaws distributes the proceeds of their thievery to the poor.
Although lauded as heroes by the locals, Prince John is tired of being out foxed by these merry men. Staging an archery contest that promises a kiss from the lovely Maid Marian (voice of Monica Evens) as its reward, he baits a trap to catch the green bandits.
By placing this version of the famous tale in the animal kingdom, Disney is able to create clever characterizations of the inhabitants of Sherwood Forrest. Sir Hiss (voice of Terry Thomas), a forked tongued snake plays advisor to the lion Prince John. The badgered Friar Tuck (voice of Andy Devine), the plucky old hen Lady Kluck (voice of Carole Shelly), and a couple of bird-brained vultures who act as prison guards (voices of George Lindsey and Ken Curtis), are all examples of the scriptwriters' delightful employment of stereotypes. (Larry Clemmons, Ken Anderson, Vance Gerry, Frank Thomas, Eric Cleworth, Julius Svendsen and David Michener are all given credit for this script.)
As well, the story sports a playful use of language ("the corpulent cleric," "you eel in snakes clothing," and " I sentence you to sudden, instant, and even immediate death!"), which is most often dished up deliciously by acting veteran Peter Ustinov. While this keeps the adults chuckling, they may also rest assured other issues will not be a big concern for their children. Containing only brief moments of mild peril, the violent portrayals of swordplay, arrows, axes and pies, are usually slapstick in style. Sexual depictions are curtailed to a cross-dressing robber who stores gold coins in his cleavage, and alcohol use occurs just once when Sir Hiss, an avowed abstainer, is stuffed into a keg of ale to quiet his prattling.
Made in a simpler time, before marketing possibilities dictated every movie include a hit song and endless opportunities to license merchandise, Disney's Robin Hood is a classic capable of keeping this legendary message alive, through any ups and downs.
Discussion Ideas: Talk About the Movie...
Because Robin Hood is best known for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, Little John asks, “Are we the good guys or the bad guys?” What do you think? Are there ever times or circumstances that justify breaking the law?
How did the animators use common animal stereotypes to help us understand the traits of each of the characters in the story? (For example, Robin Hood is represented as “clever as a fox.”) How many of these can you spot?
Disney often used the same animated characters in more than one film. Look for a similar villainous snake, big-hearted bear, and a group of vultures in their 1967 movie, The Jungle Book. Foxes again take center stage in Disney’s The Fox and The Hound.
Home Video Notes
Home Video Notes: Disney’s Robin Hood: 40th Anniversary Edition
Release Date: 6 August 2013
Disney’s Robin Hood releases to home video (Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack ) in a 40th Anniversary Edition.