As has become almost an annual tradition, the new year begins with the discovery that I've collected enough points in Disney's movie rewards program to claim a free Blu-Ray. And, as I was scrolling through the selection, I was thrilled to see that there were a lot of new additions of stuff I actually wanted! Should I go with Mulan? Or the two-pack of the Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under? But no, my eye settled on Disney's 1973 animated rendition of Robin Hood.
Granted, in the grand pantheon of Disney animated films, Robin Hood is regarded as one of the lessers. There was actually a viral video going around a few years ago pointing out how much of the animation in the film is recycled from earlier Disney productions. The whole reason why all of the characters are animals is because they were recycled character designs from an adaptation of the French fables Reynard the Fox that failed to get off the ground. But can you really blame them? It was the 1970s. As many a film historian has pointed out, the 1970s was a weird time for Disney. Walt Disney's death in 1966 left the studio without a guiding vision. And by the early 1970s, all the projects that had begun under Walt's lifetime had been completed, so the company began to flounder. It wasn't until Michael Eisner took charge in the 1980s that their former glory, and in fact a whole new era, came into being.
That being said, I no doubt was drawn to Robin Hood because it looms large in my childhood. My earliest memories of Disney animated movie merchandise is all Robin Hood. I can't remember if I had the book & record, or if one of my friends had it, but I do remember reading and listening to it quite a bit. As I've blogged with other Disney films in Fishing in the Discount Bin, back in the early days of home video, when you had to rent the machine AND the movies, this is one that me and all my friends kind of rented and all saw at around the same time, so there was lots of discussion about it on the playground.
Watching it again tonight, what really struck me was how romantic it is. Has there been any other adaptation of the Robin Hood lore that had such a strong focus on the romance between Robin Hood and Maid Marian? They're presented here as childhood sweethearts, but fate and circumstance has driven them apart, left wondering if the other still feels strongly for them. When they are reunited at about the halfway point in the film, you are just rooting for them.
And you have to love the portrayal of Robin Hood and Little John. Rather than the brash warriors we typically see, they really are charming rogues, preferring to use smooth talk to con the rich and give to the poor, rather than robbing at sword-point.
As with most Disney productions, the music is a highlight, although listening to it tonight, I can't help but notice what an odd mix it is. Going back to the recycling, I recognized some grand orchestral fanfares from Sleeping Beauty, but then the original score is pure 1970s, with twangy guitars and wah-wah pedals. Also going to the weird blends is the strong...country vibe going for it. Disney recruited a lot of veteran Western actors to do voices, alongside British actors, so you've got this blend of English accents and Southern drawls.
And topping it all off is country music legend Roger Miller, giving voice to Alan-a-Dale, who narrates our tale in a series of songs. A lot of them are memorable, like Whistle Stop which opens the film. And of course, the love song, simply titled Love, has been rediscovered by a new generation because the king of quirky Wes Anderson decided to stick into another animated film about foxes in love, Fantastic Mr. Fox.
There's not much plot...it's highly episodic...almost like a string of Robin Hood short films stuck together. But the characters are memorable, the romance is sweeping, and the adventure is high. It may be one of the lessers, but it's still a crowd pleaser.