I think I’ve become desensitized to the poor quality of animation that Disney has produced in the 1960’s and 1970’s. That’s not to say there aren’t a few moments to be admired here and there, but overall these last five Disney Animated films have been duds in the realm of respectable animation. They’re basically a level above Saturday morning cartoons but fathoms below the cinematic masterpieces of Disney’s past.
A high point in the last two decades of Disney animated features have been the songs, resulting in a nice collection of fun and memorable scenes but not much else. Though the Disney films of the 60’s and 70’s may be sentimental classics, none of them have packed the punch of true classics past. “Robin Hood” is no different.
Released in 1973, “Robin Hood” has plenty of production flaws preventing it’s status as “Masterpiece”, but those problems are paired with wonderful country/folk songs by Roger Miller and a cast of delightful, albeit stereotypical, characters making the film very difficult to dislike.
There is a constant back and forth between “Oh, this is great!” to “Oh, this is not good.”
Once again we are treated to the classic Disney “storybook opening” as the novel on which the film is based opens and takes us into the story. I love this technique if only for the fact that “old school” Disney was not afraid to say “Yes, we get our ideas from classic stories and novels.” This, in turn, has prompted me to track down several of these classic stories and read them for myself.
Right away we are introduced to the Disney version of Alan-a-Dale who takes on a role similar to his literary counterpart as minstrel and narrator of the “Robin Hood” story. Voiced by singer Roger Miller, Alan-a-Dale entertains us with three of the films five songs, Oo De Lally, Not in Nottingham and Whistle-Stop better known as The Hamsterdance. I wish I could create a million dollar empire with a couple of animated gifs and a sped up Disney song.
The vocal cast of “Robin Hood” is outstanding, each one lending character and style to their cartoon counterpart, resulting in many fantastic expressions and actions. It’s Anthropomorphism at its best. Each actor was a recognizable talent at the time. Known on stage and screen, or for their appearances in Previous Disney films. You’ll find yourself joyfully saying “Hey! I know that voice!” throughout the film. Another successful element was the use of several talents from the world of country music or western films/TV. Not a cast you would typically pick for a film set in medieval Europe but in this case it works very well.
Take a look:
I do enjoy that they show who is providing the voice for each character but I think that would be better suited for the end of the film. I'm also not a fan of using scenes from later in the movie, similar to the opening of “The Aristocats”. It’s not that it gives anything away, it just creates an amateur feeling of a bad TV movie. And adding to that "TV movie" vibe are the titles features in the opening credits. They look like television titles used by local news in the 1970’s. Granted “Robin Hood” was made in the 1970’s but my god, you have artists working for you and you use teleprompter titles?
The small budget allotted for animation resulted in the continued use of the Xerox process. Perhaps the sketchy lines produced by the technique were less evident in “Robin Hood” because all of the characters were covered in a layer of scruffy fur. The artists unclean lines were most noticeable on the character of Baloo, I mean, Little John (voiced by Phil Harris). I had a hard time watching when he was on screen so I just closed my eyes and pretended I was watching “The Jungle Book”, no problem.
The small budget also resulted in the immense use of recycled animation. Most of it was re-used from “Robin Hood” itself. I think all together the movie is 10% new animation, and when original and not recycled, the animation in “Robin Hood” can be really good.
Since at this point recycling (or re-using) animation in Disney films was an epidemic, here are a few examples of the technique. Keep in mind, this doesn’t show every occurrence and, as you can see by the end of the clip, recycling animation doesn’t end with the films in the 1970’s.
Legendary Animator Don Bluth (“The Secret of NIMH”, “An American Tail”) had worked on “The Aristocats” and with “Robin Hood” received a credit under Character Animation. At this point he was just beginning his career at Disney, which would soon become a turbulent relationship resulting in the creation of Walt Disney Productions first real animated competition. More on that in the following weeks.
Ken Anderson created the story and character concepts based on the famous British legend of “Robin Hood”. Larry Clemmons wrote the screenplay. The story is a pretty simple one and the characters equally so. You can easily predict what each character is going to do from one scene to the next.
Once again Wolfgang Reitherman took the helm as Director. I wasn’t fond of Reitherman’s directorial decisions, the way certain shots were framed or the direction in which the camera moved. Nothing compelling, nothing offensive, just point and shoot.
As mentioned before, there were great songs in “Robin Hood”, including the Academy Award nominated Love, but the score was another cookie cutter opus by George Bruns. The worst part being the “fight music” that takes place after the tournament, it’s full of "wakka chikka wakka chikka" making is sound like a bar fight in "Superfly" or "Shaft".
Despite it’s drawbacks, “Robin Hood” was a very successful film and, compared to Saturday Morning Cartoon fodder, an enjoyable one at that. A lot of action, silliness, very little depth and some fun (short) songs. It’s the “McDonalds” of Disney’s animated features. Don’t stare at it too long, just eat fast and enjoy.
Strong Points: Songs, voice talents, simple yet effective characters.
Weak Points: Heavy and obvious use of recycled animation.
My Rating: 3 out of 5 Hamster Dances.
Next Week: Tots toys tell terrific tales in “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh”!