Disney // 1973 // 83 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // August 6th, 2013
Join the merriest menagerie in the world's best-loved legend.
As Disney continues to upgrade its entire catalogue of animated classics to high definition Blu-ray, it's eventually going to get to some of its "lesser" movies -- not bad titles, just not "classics" in the same sense as Pinocchio or The Lion King. To celebrate its 40th anniversary, one such title -- Disney's take on Robin Hood -- is making its Blu-ray debut.
You know the story: Robin Hood, Little John and their band of merry men live as outlaws in Sherwood Forest, robbing from the rich to give to the poor. They are the thorn in the side of Prince John, a pretender to the throne while King Richard is off fighting a war, who rules by fear and continues to tax the poor as a power play. The catch this time? All of the characters are cartoon animals!
The late 1960s and '70s were an odd time for Disney animation. The Golden Age was over, but the studio was still turning out new animated features with regularity every couple of years. Though many of these films -- The Aristocats, The Rescuers, and The Sword and the Stone among them -- are still considered "classics" by virtue of the fact they were produced by Disney and carry with them a certain pedigree, these "Silver Age" films are less ambitious and less accomplished than the best films of the studio's heyday. 1973's Robin Hood, the House of Mouse's retelling of the classic legend, fits right into the Silver Age mold Like most titles produced between Sleeping Beauty in 1959 and The Little Mermaid 40 years later, Robin Hood is good, not great; pleasant, not essential.
Oddly enough, Robin Hood is -- at best -- a supporting character in his own movie. It's clear that the filmmakers are much more taken with the colorful cast of animals surrounding Robin Hood, whether it's the hulking Little John or sniveling Prince John or the adorable little rabbit and turtle kids that exist just to be cute, I'm guessing. The movie tends to exist around Robin Hood rather than being about him. That's ok, since Disney's take on the character (and Brian Bedford's voice work) seems to start and end with the fact that's he's a fox: sly, confident, handsome, British. Much more interesting is Peter Ustinov as Prince John, a spoiled little wimp whose every line delivery drips with contempt (rare, too, is a Robin Hood that doesn't set up the Sheriff of Nottingham as the primary villain). The decision to make him a lion was a smart one, as it is at odds with the characteristics we tend to associate with the King of the Jungle. Every shot of John wearing his ill-fitting crown inspires giggles.
The songs and narration come courtesy of Roger Miller, sounding a bit like Paul Williams (probably another reason the movie endeared itself to me), and it's some of the best stuff in the movie. Look no further than the film's opening credits, in which characters are introduced and stroll past the screen while Miller simply whistles on the soundtrack: if you can get on board with that kind of laid-back energy and low stakes (though Prince John is constantly shouting that Robin Hood be killed, the movie has roughly the same stakes as a Tom & Jerry cartoon), you'll find a lot to like in Robin Hood. The movie's structure is much more episodic than traditionally narrative, but can never quite make a decision about which way to go. I might have welcomed a series of "shorts" about Robin and his Merry Men compiled together into one feature, but the movie still tries to tell an overarching story. In this, it is less successful. Still, the movie works in fits and starts enough to make it an enjoyable diversion, but not much more than that.
Disney's 40th anniversary Blu-ray of Robin Hood looks great, with eye-popping color and solid definition around the hand-drawn lines. The movie is not the studio's most sophisticated effort, animation-wise, but the HD transfer is a keeper. The 5.1 DTS-HD lossless audio track stays faithful to the original mono mix, mostly by still sounding a lot like a mono track. Though some use is made of the surround channels, the majority of the audio comes through the center speaker; it's perfectly serviceable so long as you don't expect some kind of magnificent surround mix overhaul.
The Blu-ray comes with a collection of new bonus content, which is nice for those collectors who have already purchased Robin Hood on VHS and DVD. The most significant feature is a deleted storyline that's been reconstructed via black and white storyboards called "Love Letters." Also included is an alternate ending (ported over from the previous DVD release), a gallery of original movie artwork, a read-along storybook version of the movie, and a bonus animated short -- "Ye Olden Days" -- starring Mickey Mouse. The remaining bonus content (all of which is presented in full 1080p HD, which is nice) is devoted to the film's music: a "Disney Song Selection" that jumps right to one of the movie's musical numbers and a couple of sing-along features for the movie's music, including "Oo-De-Lally." DVD and Digital copies of the movie are also included.
Robin Hood is far from one of Disney's best efforts, but is not without its charms. It's much more of a "hangout" movie than the studio's usual fare; the narrative is meandering and there are way too many characters, but it's still a lot of pleasant fun. Far from being the best telling of the Robin Hood legend, the movie is a breezy and fun 83 minutes and totally in keeping with the energy of Disney's Silver Age. The 40th anniversary Blu-ray isn't going to force anyone to reevaluate the film, but offers up the best picture quality the movie has ever seen. Collectors of the Disney catalogue won't need to think twice about adding this one to the shelf.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 83 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Alternate Ending
* Deleted Storyline
* Song Selection
* Bonus Short
* Art Gallery
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy