The Animated Films of Don Bluth|
by John Cawley
Walt Disney Productions' ROBIN HOOD was released in 1973. The film was a funny-animal version of the Robin Hood legend with a fox portraying the rogue of Sherwood Forest. The film was a strange mixture of country western music and characters thrown against a setting of medieval England.
The story follows Robin Hood and Little John, a bear, through a series of adventures. Similar to most Robin Hood films, it is merely a string of sequences including the oft-portrayed archery contest in which Robin comes disguised (as a stork in this version). Earning almost equal screen time is Prince John, a sissy lion, and his hissing aide, Sir Hiss, a snake. Another major subplot was that of a young rabbit named Skippy, who hero-worshipped Robin Hood.
Don's work on this film was largely as an animator. One of Don's first scenes as an animator came in the finale as Robin Hood steals the gold from Prince John. Two key scenes by Don were Robin's rescue of a baby rabbit at the film's climax and Robin and Marian (a vixen) walking under a waterfall during the romance scene. The oft-forgotten song ("Love") during this love scene was nominated for an Academy Award.
Disney and animation critics usually list it as one of the low points in Disney animated feature history. Oddly enough, the style of using realistic looking "funny animals" (mostly designed by Milt Kahl) in lieu of earlier cartoony styles found in such films as SONG OF THE SOUTH (Br'er Rabbit, etc.) or Warners' Bugs Bunny, caught the fancy of a generation of cartoonists and animators. Many later comic and animated characters can be traced back to the character design style from ROBIN HOOD. (Even some of Don's characters.)
Critics at the time were generally kind to the feature. The Los Angeles times opened their review with "What the Disney folks do well they do better than anyone else. ROBIN HOOD, the studio's city-wide Christmas offering is the 21st full-length animated feature. And the hallmarks are there as they ever were: the incomparably rich, full animation, the humanized animal characters perky, individual and enchanting and the wild inventive slapstick action."
Time magazine was not as amused. "Even at its best, ROBIN HOOD is only mildly diverting. There is not a single moment of the hilarity or deep eerie fear that the Disney people used to be able to conjure up, or of the sort of visual invention that made the early features so memorable."
The New York Times took a more middle of the road, "good for kids" stance. "The visual style is charmingly conventional, as gently reassuring as that of a Donald Duck cartoon, sometimes as romantically pretty as an old Silly Symphony. Roger Miller, the composer ("King of the Road") and humorist, provides the voice for Allan a Dale, the rooster who acts as the film's narrator, thus giving this ROBIN HOOD a decidedly odd but not unpleasant country-and-western flavor."
In a recent interview, Don commented on the film. "I drew
with great excitement, thinking how good it was to work on a
Disney feature. When ROBIN HOOD was completed I decided it did
not look the greatest of films. The heart wasn't in it. It had
technique, the characters were well drawn, the Xerox process
retained the fine lines so I could see all of the self indulgence
of the animators, each one saying 'Look how great I am,' but the
story itself had no soul."
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text and format © John Cawley