Once again, this review is a little late so my memory of this film is a little hazy but Robin Hood(1973) is part of the post-Walt Disney Disney animations, many of which are not classics in the way Walt, or the 1990s Disney movies are. I read an article praising this film, particularly for its characters, so I decided to check it out.
What It Does Well:
As predicted by the article I read, which almost surely informed my opinion, the characters of Robin Hood are its most enduring asset, so I’m going to focus on them. Our protagonist is the sly fox, Robin Hood, who is daring, clever, and filled with a sense of economic social justice. He is an icon for the people around him. One great thing done with his character is showing how the extremes of his personality, like his courageous nature, can also be negative things. When he disguises himself to take part in the archery competition, even though Prince John is actively looking for him, we the audience know its a bad idea. Even Little John, Robin Hood’s sidekick, knows it is a bad idea, but Robin Hood can’t be stopped. We see the dangers of excessive bravado when he is caught and almost killed. We again see these dangers when he has to steal ALL of Prince John’s money, not even able to spare a few bags under the lion’s arms, and again it almost costs Robin Hood his life.
Little John himself is a good character too. Instead of just being a “bumbling sidekick” to the clever Robin Hood, Little John is a smart and active character. His role acting as the Duke of Chutney adds a cool dimension to his character that isn’t usually present in a sidekick. While the rest of the film feels like it takes place in medieval times, Little John speaks modernly and his suit as the “Duke” is modern. He’s cool and he knows it, or at least he’s playing at it.
A lot of what the characterization does well is in how no character is dull. Every character has a few unique traits, which are often contrasted with one another. Friar Tuck for instance is a good meaning badger but has a temper. Maid Marion is a soft spoken fox but has a thirst for adventure. Sir Hiss is a cunning snake but has to constantly flatter Prince John to maintain his power. Prince John himself acts authoritatively, easily yelling commands, but is deeply insecure about his power.
These extra dimensions are what bring this characters to life and make them memorable. Many children’s movies have simple characters that have little to no nuance, but Robin Hood is not one of them. Overall these characters are the strongest aspect of the film. Other aspects of the film that I enjoyed were its humor, specifically in its verbal jokes, and the overall tone which was very playful.
What It Doesn’t Do Well:
There are a few things about this film that don’t work very well. First of all, it often feels as if this film is just a string of animated set pieces that the writer thought entertain the audience. It starts with a robbery, jumps to an archery competition, and then a prison break. Ideally a movie should not function as a series of “and thens” but rather “therefores.” While this is technically true of Robin Hood, as they make up reasons to get from one set piece to another, those logical threads are thin at best. It is a little sad to see such memorable characters forced into situations based on off screen decrees by Prince John rather than seeing them develop over time together.
Another thing that is painfully bad about this movie is its animation. I know it is an older film and cannot be held to the standards of animation today, but the animation here does not even hold up to films decades younger like Cinderella, Snow White, or The Lady and the Tramp. Part of this is that after Walt Disney passed away, Disney Animations stopped devoting as much resources to the animation itself. The problem is, if you take away from the animation it can affect the entire tone and energy of a film.
Many of the sequences within Robin Hood that are supposed to be exciting are filled with dull and glib colors and static, scarcely filled backgrounds. These scenes, which are supposed to be exciting, are mostly a bore to watch now. Compared, for instance, to the original Fantasia which still has memorable animation and lush scenery, Robin Hood does not look like a movie thirty-three years older. In fact, much of the animation in the film is borrowed from The Aristocats, which goes to show how little the producers wanted to finance this film and make it great.
Overall, Robin Hood is a memorable film with memorable characters, but it is not timeless due to limitations on its animation and narrative. I would recommend someone check it out if they are interested in story writing and creating lush, interesting characters. If you have nostalgia from watching this movie as a kid, it will probably still entertain, but not for the same reasons you may have enjoyed it years ago.