My Misspent Youth In Films...
Directed by: Wolfgang Reitherman, David hand
Starring: Brian Bedford, Phil Harris, Roger Miller
Released: November 11, 1973
What I Thought Then
In my memory, this was probably the peak of early Disney, before their 80's collapse with The Black Cauldron and 90's renaissance that began with The Little Mermaid. I remember thrilling at the action sequences, especially the escape after the archery tournament. And then, as a somewhat older child, I got to relive the opening song as it gained new life with The Hamster Dance.
What I Think Now
This one's a very mixed bag. As with basically everything else on this list so far--and really, everything in Disney's pre-90's animated back catalog--it's a movie that lacks momentum. It's a set of amusing sequences that don't flow into each other. We never really get any insight into Robin's background or why he goes to such efforts to "rob from the rich" apart from the fact that he seems to be good at it and the peasants love him for doing so. Whatever's driving him is absent from the narrative. In one scene, he seems to be doing it for fun. Then he's doing it out of pity for the poor. Then--out of nowhere, mind you--the only thing on his mind is his love for Marian.
This lack of cohesion extends to the whole thing. Why is Prince John taking up residence in Nottingham, for instance? How does Robin's hideout in Sherwood Forest have a secret entrance behind a waterfall while still being an open dell in a forest? That's not how forests work! Robin, Marian, and Prince John have soft English accents, while Allan-a-Dale (the rooster), Friar Tuck, and the Sheriff of Nottingham have different flavors of American Southern accents. I'm nitpicking a bit--this not the kind of thing you notice on a first viewing because the studio had been making animated movies for decades at that point and had a pretty sure hand at it. And when those sequences are good, they're really good. The music and character design are generally pretty great--you almost don't mind that Little John is just a palette-swapped Baloo from The Jungle Book (with the same voice actor, no less). The big set-piece is the archery tournament and the subsequent escape in which Lady Kluck does a Scottish riff on American football. And it's just a delight.
Then there's the stuff that's aged poorly. In the first ten minutes, Robin Hood tricks Prince John by disguising himself as a "fortune teller" in a bandana and hoop earrings. They never use the word "gypsy" but the stereotypes are there. Meanwhile, Prince John and Sir Hiss are both feminized in what seems to my adult eye to be a pretty clear coding for gay. Note that John--though an adult male--lacks the mane that you would expect on a lion, and that's present on the more masculine King Richard, when he shows up at the end. This also seems to be the part of Disney's past where they were starting to do some corner-cutting. Shots are repeated throughout the film--almost the entire opening credit sequence is made up of shots repurposed from elsewhere in the movie but set against a different background. The sound of Sir Hiss using his tail as a propeller is obviously an actor making a sound effect with their mouth. And if you've ever seen one of those supercuts of times when Disney reused their animation references, Robin Hood is generally the chief offender.
While it has some fun moments, overall I didn't care for it. But my wife still likes it, so it gets a recommendation from her at least. At 84 minutes, it's at least a very consumable not-great film.