The story of Robin Hood has been an obvious choice for film studios for years, so it’s no surprise Disney put forth their own version of the Crusades-era tale in the mid-1970s. The story centres around Robin Hood, his loyal pal Little John and their pursuits to right the wrongs of the tyrannical Prince John, who had been overtaxing England to the point of abject poverty while big brother King Richard was away fighting in the Crusades. Of course, there’s also romance, as Robin Hood woos his lady love Maid Marian while he’s not being a hero to the people of Nottingham.
In typical Disney fashion, everyone’s favourite outlaw and his companions were anthropomorphized. Originally, studio writer Ken Anderson wanted to adapt the stories of Reynard the Fox, a sly trickster who could smooth talk his way out of any sticky situation, but the idea was vetoed by Walt himself before his death, claiming Reynard wasn’t a suitable hero. However, the notion of drawing animals did stick with Anderson and the Reynard stories’ main species were emulated in this film with Robin Hood and Maid Marian portrayed as foxes and the Sheriff of Nottingham as a wolf.
Fans are sure to notice many character similarities and reused animation from previous Disney films. Little John and The Jungle Book‘s Baloo are almost identical and are even voiced by the same actor, while Prince John’s companion Sir Hiss shares many qualities with Kaa the Snake, also from The Jungle Book. The film’s tight budget meant animators once again dusted off beloved scenes from old films and tweaked them to fit in this film. While recycling animation was not a new practice at the Disney Studios, Robin Hood contains perhaps the best examples of the most reused scenes from a wide variety of prior films. This quick mashup compares scenes from “The Phoney King of England” sequence with scenes from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Jungle Book and The Aristocats.
The Daily Mail also noticed this trend and compared screengrabs of other repetitive segments, also known as rotoscoping, with this fan quip: “‘Disney made one movie and they’ve been tracing it ever since.”
Interestingly, the film only scores 55 per cent on the review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, which is significantly lower than many of its predecessors. The New York Times, while initially a little baffled by the decision for an all-animal cast, quickly warmed to the fun this Disney film evokes, saying it “testifies to the legend’s elasticity and durability.” The review also compared this romp in Sherwood Forest with all the fun of a Donald Duck short or one of Walt’s beloved Silly Symphonies. Other reviews, however, were not as forgiving, calling the film “lackadaisical,” “mildly diverting,” and “blatantly caters to a juvenile audience, without making even the slightest attempt to entertain the grown-ups.”
For me, though, this film has some special memories. Growing up, it was one of the few we didn’t own on VHS and one of the even fewer my grandmother kept at her house. Just as that bin of aged stuffed animals she must have collected at least 30 or 40 years ago can still make me smile when I visit, watching this film again reminds me of the many times my sisters and I huddled in front of her wooden box TV watching Robin Hood or The Return of Jafar (the Aladdin sequel we were inexplicably obsessed with). So while this take on the classic tale may seem a silly spot of fun now amidst the backdrop of a film studio lost in deep transition, little Skippy the Rabbit meeting his hero Robin Hood after the Sheriff has taken away his birthday money will always warm my heart.