Review: Robin Hood
3 out of 5 stars
For most kids these days, their introduction to Robin Hood is through this Disney animated classic. All subsequent Robin Hood movies are measured against this one, and no number of misguided revisions of the legend can diminish the charm of this cartoon.
Robin Hood was released in an overlooked period of Disney animation, long after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Dumbo, and long before The Little Mermaid and The Lion King. Robin Hood doesn't really live up to the earlier classics, nor is it as good as the more recent films. But as a minor Disney classic, it is still a charming movie.
Allan-a-Dale, a lute-strumming rooster, informs us that this is the legend as it is told in the Animal Kingdom, which is basically the same as the Human Kingdom's version, except with animals. It contains familiar Robin Hood legends, such as the archery tournament, although sometimes with a twist. For example, Robin Hood must rescue Friar Tuck from hanging rather than Will Stutely.
True to other Disney cartoons, the songs and animation are cute. You will have a hard time resisting the urge to smile hearing the opening song. Oscar winner Peter Ustinov (Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus) is especially good as the voice of Prince John.
However, while the film is relatively short (83 minutes), the story seems to drag after the one-hour mark because the movie doesn't follow the typical rhythm that has been culturally ingrained in our minds. After the archery tournament and ensuring madcap action sequence one hour into the movie, most of the conflicts up to that point have been resolved. The film comes up with a second conflict for the last 20-some minutes. The short movie had a hard time retaining my attention during the final act.
The movie also had some historical inaccuracies that were laughable for anyone familiar with medieval English history. In one song bashing Prince John, they said that he will not be remembered for the laws he passed, but rather for being the phony king of England. John is remembered today for passing (under duress) the Magna Carta, an early forerunner to the Constitution. Prince John is cursed throughout the film for imposing crushing taxes, considered by all to be unjust since only the true king, Richard the Lionheart (literally a lion in the cartoon), has the right to tax the people. The film conveniently fails to mention that Prince John had to raise taxes to pay for King Richard's crusade. King Richard eventually returns and arrests Prince John, so he can never harm the English people again. An epilogue pointing out that John would reign as the king of England for 17 years after Richard would have been warranted.
But expecting historical accuracy from a Disney film is like expecting gourmet food from McDonald's, so that isn't a major criticism. (One joke I heard around the time James Cameron's Titanic was released was that if Disney had made Titanic, not only would Leonardo DiCaprio have lived, but he would have prevented the ship from sinking.)
Robin Hood is nevertheless a satisfying introduction to the culturally significant legend that will appeal to Disney's intended audience.