After returning home from a day spent at the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (did you know that is what Disney’s EPCOT stands for?), I decided to put on yet another Mouse production. Not any would do, and there are many that I am still resisting until one of you, my loyal fans, suggest them. In pondering which to put on, my mind went back to the heady days of my youth when I used to love watching Disney films. Well, as I have said in previous reviews, there was one in particular that I liked, The Sword in the Stone (1963). Yet, there was another that I pined to see, but for whatever reason did not get to view it until I was an adult, and that was Robin Hood (1973). Because this is Disney, after all, it was never going to be the swashbuckling thriller of the Errol Flynn days. That will be coming. Instead, this one is full of cute and cuddly animals taking on the roles of the familiar characters of this English legend. I wanted to see it as a kid because then, as now, I was a history buff. I believe I was also aware at that time that there was never a real Robin Hood. Still, it was old looking and that was good enough for me.
Like most retellings of the tale, this Robin Hood begins by filling in some of the historical background. This part is real history, to a certain degree. With King Richard I, also known as the Lionheart, away from England on a crusade, governance of the land had fallen to his corrupt brother Prince John (voiced by Peter Ustinov). With his snake advisor, Sir Hiss (voiced by Terry Thomas), and wolf enforcer Sheriff of Nottingham (voiced by Pat Buttram), they go about the countryside exacting an onerous tax collection on the people. Standing up to this tyranny is the foxy Robin Hood (voiced by Brian Bedford) and his bear companion Little John (voiced by Phil Harris). Together, they do what we have come to know Robin Hood for: stealing from the wealthy Prince John and giving it to the poor. Unsurprisingly, this makes Prince John and his minions exceedingly unpopular with the people since he takes every last bit of money they possess. Yet, Robin Hood is beloved because he gives it back to them. The only thing missing is the vixen Maid Marian (voiced by Monica Evans), which we meet shortly after the opening sequences when some young animals wander into the badminton game she had been playing with her hen for a lady in waiting, Lady Kluck (voiced by Carole Shelley). Now that we have the basics down, it is time for the requisite archery contest, the news of which is delivered to Robin by the badger Friar Tuck (voiced by Andy Devine). The prize is a kiss from Marian, on whom Robin is, of course, keen. Disguising himself as a stork, he enters the competition and wins, but it had all been a trap arranged by Prince John to capture the famous outlaw. Yet, Robin outfoxes his would-be captors, and along with Little John, manages to steal a little more loot along the way. In response, Prince John not only increases the tax burden on the people, but begins imprisoning anyone who cannot pay. The line is crossed for Robin when Friar Tuck is arrested for standing up to the Sheriff, and once more a trap is set to nab the cunning fox once and for all. Inevitably, it all goes awry. In the middle of the night, Robin and Little John sneak in to the castle where the prisoners are held. While Little John frees them, Robin slips all of Prince John’s ill-gotten gold out from under his snoozing snout. During his escape, the castle is set ablaze, leaving Prince John with nothing. Not long after, King Richard I finally returns from the Holy Land and sets everything aright. With Maid Marian being his niece, Robin and her wedding day is especially blessed with an assuredly secure future as their carriage rides off into the end of the film.
Disney’s Robin Hood does not take any chances with the source material. As a legend, it was meant to remind those in power of the need to not take the less fortunate in society for granted. It is not necessarily about anarchy or wanton lawbreaking. It is made clear that Robin Hood’s deeds are being done out of necessity. I will be talking more about the various aspects of these tales in subsequent reviews because I have decided to look at all cinematic versions of the famous outlaw of Sherwood Forest. With the Disney one, there is one particular moment on which I wanted to focus. As Prince John’s demands for tax monies increase, the Sheriff of Nottingham goes into the local church and takes the last penny out of the poor box. This is what sets off Friar Tuck, leading to his imprisonment. Yet, before he found himself behind bars, there is a moment when the church organist and his wife, both mice living in the walls, give their last coin to replace the one taken by the Sheriff. It reminds me of the parable of the poor widow who gave her last pennies to the temple. The passage makes the comparison to the richer attendees who donate similar amounts out of their vast surplus. Jesus makes the point that the woman had given more than the others, pointing this out to demonstrate her trust in God. It is not an easy thing to do to tithe in such a way, believing that God will take care of you even when you are without funds. I know it is something I struggle with every time I go to Mass. Who can say whether or not anyone, poor or rich, is ever truly giving enough? The amount is not the issue. As always, Faith is at the center of such stories. I appreciate the one in the film because the mice are convinced of the rightness of their actions, believing that doing so will bring good to someone else. Ultimately, whatever we do, that should be the goal in mind.
Disney made their version of Robin Hood as they did in order to appeal to kids. Who could not but empathize with Robin Hood’s actions than by seeing the cute bunny family who symbolizes those he is trying to help? Sure, my adult brain has trouble with seeing balloons and pipe organs in the twelfth century, but I doubt a child notices such things. That is a separate problem. In the meantime, you could do a lot worse than this film.