Movie 21: Robin Hood

robin hood poster

(This review ended up being less about the story of the movie but more about the things I learned in my research and how I feel about individual scenes.  I hope it works for you guys)

Robin Hood is a movie as soon as I heard it was on blu-ray I went out and bought it. I really do love it.  That said, I do have to look at films a little bit objectively or what’s the point in even reviewing them?  It can’t be all based on nostalgia even if that is a factor.

So, let’s talk about it.


robin and little johnThere isn’t a ton of production info on a lot of these movies from the 70s.  Honestly I poured through the internet trying to find out the thought process behind the writing, art, songs, etc in Robin Hood but found very little.  However, I was able to piece some interesting tidbits together, and really enjoyed rewatching it again.

First thing to know is Robin Hood is the first movie to be made without any involvement from Walt Disney.  (Walt had signed off on the Aristocats before his passing).

Released in 1973 Disney had moved its focus away from its animated division in the late 60s and all of their capital and energy was going into Walt Disney World in Florida.  We are used to it now but at the time Epcot was a herculean task and another example of Walt Disney dreaming big!

But the budgets on the animated films suffered for a long time.  We didn’t see Disney invest real money into a picture until 1985 with the Black Cauldron, which was also their biggest flop (kind of excited to see that one!).

Robin Hood didn’t always start out as a comedy.   Lead writer and storyboard artist Ken Anderson (who is given writing credit on the feature even though he hated it) was commissioned by Disney to come up with a story based on Reynard the fox, a fearless creature known throughout France.  He gave his drawings to Disney animators and I read multiple places he ‘wept when he saw that his “character concepts  had been processed into stereotypes for the animation in Robin Hood”

raynold fox

It is the first Disney movie to have all anthropomorphic creatures.  The Rooster says at the beginning it is ‘the animal kingdom’s version’ of the story.  Not sure why they did it this way but there were shows and stories featuring all anthropomorphic creatures for kids successful at the time. On the anthropomorphic note doing this research I came across a group called the furry fandom which have an unhealthy love for anthropomorphic creatures.  Let’s just say I have nightmares! 😉

They also give us a really long intro with the character name, type of animal, and the celebrity voice which is new to Disney.  Before Jungle Book Disney had not used celebrity voices, but had relied on talented voice overs actors like Verna Felton and Sterling Holloway. Even now when celebrity voices are very common I still don’t recall them having a character introduction like in Robin Hood.

Recycling Animation-

Something surprising I learned in my research is Disney has admitted to recycling animation (I didn’t know you could do that) from other films to make Robin Hood.  I’m not sure I really care but it is kind of disappointing.

This recycling or ‘limited animation’ is defined as- “Limited animation is a process of making animated cartoons that does not redraw entire frames but variably reuses common parts between frames

It is for this reason that Disney as a company kind of hates Robin Hood and many other films from this era, despite them being very popular.  I’ve always thought it was interesting how little attention they get in the park and I think this recycled material explains why..  .

Humor in Robin Hood-friends

The thing I liked as a child and still like today about Robin Hood is its humorous script.  There is a ton of funny dialogue like when Prince John tells the guards to ‘seize the fat one’ or when Little John says ‘who’s driving this flying umbrella?’ This scene at the tournament is full of classic physical comedy.  We even get a pie in the face.  Some may think that is cliche but to kids watching they haven’t seen those bits before and they are put together so well.   It still makes me laugh:

There is also humor with Robin Hood and Little John dressing in drag to steal from Prince John.  Again the scene uses classic comedy tropes including some sexy music but it works. I repeat it still makes me laugh:

One Disney site I found said Prince John’s humor had been based on The Smother’s Brothers, which makes sense.  They were a very funny comedy sketch team that produced popular comedic albums and had The Smother’s Brothers Comedy Hour from 1967-1969 but it was deemed as too edgy and taken off the air.

Listen to this bit and see if it reminds you of Robin Hood.

As I was watching it today I kept thinking about a Muppets sketch from the 70s I had seen a few days ago.  It felt very similar in tone and cadence to Robin Hood and it made me wonder if the two were connected in some way?  I did some research and found out Sesame Street started in 1969.  Real work on Robin didn’t start till well after that date.  I could be wrong on the Muppet connection but it just feels like a similar form of comedy.   The Muppets are very bawdy in their humor, they have all different animals behaving like humans and they have sincere moments like Rainbow Connection. I think Disney saw the success of Muppets and decided to apply it to Robin Hood.

When I saw this clip my opinion was even more confirmed.  From season 1 or 2 of Sesame Street:

I am spending so much time talking about the writing because I think that is what is special about Robin Hood.  The animation clearly has problems but even if it is recycled, the humor still works.

The Music-

The music is pretty good.   Following the lead of the Aristocats and Jungle Book, they used recognizable singers including Phil Harris and country singer Roger Miller who wrote the songs and serves as narrator.  (A folksy feeling soundtrack may also be a nod to the Smothers Brothers who played guitar and sang in their act).

The introductory song is my personal favorite and I pretty much have it memorized.  It’s not a song that will change your life but I kind of like it.

The Love song is pretty 70’s corny so it isn’t my favorite.  I do like Phony King of England song even if it is recycled animation. (What about you guys?  Does knowing that make you like it less or do you not care?)


Another thing I like about Robin Hood is you get introduced to a lot of characters. In 83 minutes (long for Disney those days) we have little vignettes with the sheriff, Prince John and Hiss, Clucky and Maid Marian, and the rabbits and friends, etc.


I don’t know if there is a more morose moment in Disney than the ‘Not in Nottingham’ number because it affects so many people. I remember as a child being less interested in the last third of the movie and I still kind of agree with that assessment.  The scenes with Nutsy are fun but the jailbreak we don’t really get any action that is better or different from the tournament scenes earlier so it is less engrossing.

That’s a pretty sad song but I like it.   The score is nice by frequent Disney collaborator George Bruns.  They use music for a lot of the sound effect cues so instead of a bonk on the head noise, it is a noise worked into the score.

There is also no attempt in the movie to give accents to any characters but Prince John and Hiss (who is totally a rip off from Kaa down to the hypnotizing eyes but he has a lot of great lines).  Everyone sounds like they are from Chicago but it is less distracting than in the Aristocats because it wasn’t supposed to be London.

I love Hiss’s dialogue like “What cheek! Creepy? Buster? Long one? Who does that dopey duke think he is? or “Sire, you have an absolute skill for encouraging contributions from the poor”

Prince John is also funny with lines like “Yes, my reluctant reptile, and when our elusive hero tries to rescue the corpulent cleric” and “You cowardly cobra! Procrastinating python! Agravating asp! Ooh, you eel in snake’s clothing!”  That’s pretty high vocabulary for a kids movie and it totally works. It still makes me laugh.

prince john and hiss2Clucky is one of my favorite characters.   In one scene she fights off a bunch of rhinos football style and it is very funny. football cluckyThere is also a lot of sadness with Robin Hood with taxes, and people going to prison and one particularly cruel scene where the Sheriff steals the last farthing the church mice have given to the poor.

Movie Review/Conclusion-

So what do you do with a movie like this?  Is it an artistic masterpiece? No.  Do I get why Disney is embarrassed by it? Kind of but not really.  It’s not like in recycling they were stealing from other animation studios artwork.  I get why it may not be your greatest achievement but if it makes people smile than that’s an accomplishment however crudely it is accomplished.

Maybe part of it is Disney had been the first so they didn’t have to recylcle ideas or formulas from any one else.  They were then what Pixar was in the 2000s.  Everything at the beginning had been so great, like Pixar, that when they are less ambitious it feels like a failure even if lots of people like the end product.

I guess when it comes down to it making kids laugh isn’t all that easy, and I think Robin Hood does a good job with that.  I like the vocal performances.  I like the action scenes.  I like that the characters use big words and challenge kids a little bit with ideas of social justice and taxation.

So even acknowledging its flaws I still love Robin Hood and think it is one of the most rewatchable Disney movies.  The artpiece films are amazing but a good laugh goes a long way!

Overall Grade- B+  (I’d give it an A but I do think that last act drags a little)

What do you guys think about Robin Hood?

Movie 20: The Aristocats


When I started this project I was hoping I might find some hidden gems or perhaps grow to love movies I had discounted as a young child.

I guess that kind of happened with Pinocchio and Fantasia but I had already grown to like them as an adult.  I just like them even more after this project.

With our next picture, The Aristocats, we are diving into the 70s and 80s which were rough for Disney animation. There were some gems but there is a reason they call 1989 to 1994 the Disney renaissance.

Unfortunately now on this blog we are in the dark ages…

Let’s talk about Aristocats.

This movie in basically every way is an attempt to merge everything we liked about Lady and the Tramp with 101 Dalmatians and  the result feels pretty mediocre.

Lady and the Tramp elements-

We have a high brow female pet

lady and duchessA tough talking street pet

tramp collage

The Plucky Friends Who Save the Day

napoleon and trusty

Borderline Offensive Asian Stereotype


101 Dalmatian Elements-

Villain who doesn’t like pets- (And just to be clear Edgar is no Cruella.  I’m just showing how the copy was attempted)

villainsCute Kittens/Puppies-


Long Journey to Get Back to Owners  (they even both have a little one who can’t make it in the cold scene)

aristocats5Finally a European city local


And you throw in a fun score from the Sherman Brothers with Phil Harris ala Jungle Book and you’ve got the Aristocrats….

The Story-

So, we know what it is derivative of.  Does it do those things well?

It’s not terrible but the Aristocats is very forgettable.  Here’s the story:

A rich Parisian woman named Mademoiselle Adelaide has 4 cats- a mother named Duchess (awfully similar name to Lady don’t you think?) and 3 of her kittens named Marie, Toulouse and Berlioz.  They give the cats French names although none but the mother have a french accent. Why?

Duchess is voiced by Eva Gabor and to be honest I had a hard time understanding anything she said.  I had to put it on subtitles.  I think Disney fixed this with Gabor in The Rescuers but we will see. She is less interesting than Lady because we never feel any sense of growth or anxiety from her.  Indeed when she is away from her madame she seems to be in a good mood, if a little worried about her owner.  When Lady has the muzzle on her and is in the pound it feels much more desperate than anything we see out of Duchess.

Just woke up from and am in a basket in the middle of nowhere but expressions are just the same as before?
Just woke up from and am in a basket in the middle of nowhere but expressions are just the same as before?

Oddly enough, the Duchess and Madame are the only characters that speak with a french accent.

The Madame decides to give all of her money to her butler Edgar but only after her cats are taken care of.  This angers the Butler, so he decides to be rid of the cats. edgar3

My question is wouldn’t this make the most sense to do once the Madame is failing?  Once she isn’t able to search for them or be of any help in finding them?  Also, could he really not share a mansion with some cats?  I mean most people would assume it was his house.  I’d put up with some cats for a mansion.


Even if abducting the cats made sense for Edgar, he is just not the presence and character that Cruella was.  He has very little personality and Cruella cared about looking good in furs which is so much more twisted and interesting than just wanting an inheritance sooner.  Cruella has more personality in her driving than Edgar has in his whole character (which they also try to copy with Edgar as a crazy motorcycle driver to much less effect).

However, before they are abducted we get a song.  It’s little Marie practicing her lessons and it’s okay not great.  It kind of reminds me of the Tremaine sisters practicing in Cinderella.

In this story nobody knows the animals can talk or behave like humans and yet nobody in the story is amazed when they play instruments throughout.  I find that a strange touch.  At least in Lady and the Tramp the one Italian guy thinks it’s strange they are talking to dogs.  In Jungle Book there is just one human and he has lived amongst the animals so he doesn’t know it is strange for them to be playing music and singing.

So, Edgar drugs the cats and puts them by the river; although, he is chased by 2 dogs named Lafayette and Napoleon, who were pretty good together. They are no Jock and Trusty, who had a lot more heart but they are pleasant comic relief.

lafayetteAt least they have some spunk in them. Honestly most of the time the Duchess looks bored.  Even when they meet a tough talking alley cat named Thomas O’Malley she looks disinterested. There is no spark between the two cats like with Tramp and Lady or Pongo and Perdy.

I know I’m over thinking this but if you aren’t going to have an alley cat in France speak with a french accent, and you are going to name him O’Malley shouldn’t he have an Irish accent? Thomas O’Malley is an Irish name if I’ve ever heard one.  I think they just had Phil Harris as the voice because he was so great as Baloo.  They put him in without caring if his character or performance made any sense.

It’s an ok song but it ain’t no bear necessities….

There’s no sense of real danger for any of them like with the dalmatians.  Cruella comes very close to killing the puppies and it is tense.  They have to be a step ahead, smarter and luckier than their foe to make it back home.  If you have both films compare the 101 scene getting onto a truck to the Aristocats getting on to a truck and there really is no comparison. The Aristocats scene is a walk in the park compared to 101.

Just as in 101 we have relief from the horse,  colonel, and sergeant Tibbs, the Aristocats are helped by a cute mouse and 2 British geese (3 if you include a drunk geese uncle who is briefly seen and then forgotten about).  These three side characters  are the best parts of the movies.  I wish the movie was about them to be honest.

roquefert AristgeesePretty quickly and with nothing but sore feet they make it to Paris and meet a group of scat musician cats.  (Again nobody thinks it’s strange all these animals playing music?).  But they sing and while the flashing colors during the song gets old quick it is a fun number and well written by the Sherman brothers.

I hate to keep harping on the accents but it is so distracting to have everyone else sounding like Americans with Duchess tough to understand she is so strongly French. I wish they didn’t have the little girl singing in the song because I don’t think she is good but the song is a lot of fun even if the chopsticks cat is pretty bad…

Without the Duchess even breaking a sweat they make it back home with the Madame and send Edgar to Timbuktu.  Next we get a scene of Thomas domesticated just like in Lady in the Tramp.   This feels hollow because there hasn’t been any chemistry between Thomas and Duchess.  I guess they danced but there was no spaghetti magic!

21474_4I know I’m overthinking things again but in Lady and the Tramp and 101 Dalmatians we have 2 couples that don’t have puppies till after they are basically married (quite literally in 101).  But in Aristocats the Duchess has 3 kittens at the start of the movie.  The journey from kitten to cat isn’t that long so we can assume the Duchess must have had some kind of cat relationship (can’t believe I’m writing that) where she was abandoned or left with the 3 kittens.  Isn’t that strange? You would think she had procreated by osmosis by this movie!

Another somewhat nitpicking point-

They are at the most beautiful city in the world and yet nearly every shot looks ugly and gloomy.  Here’s an interesting contrast.

Take a look at Paris from Ratatouille  (I realize different technology but hear me out)

ratatouille-paris-pixar-dvdbashIn their version of Paris it is light  and  bright and your eyes are drawn right to the skyline and the Eiffel Tower.  It looks magical.

In the Aristocats version

aristocats parisIn this version the Eiffel Tower is a part of a distant blur and the skyline is cloudy and gray.  It’s the smokestacks and rooftops which are most prominent.  You would think  the great thing about Paris was the smokestacks and the soot!

You see what I mean? The sketchy xerox style of this era already makes things look dark and dreary and the choices the artists made enhanced that not made it better. And when they did add color it wasn’t in a sparkling magical way like in Lady in the Tramp, it was distracting, like an assault to the eyes. It’s like a cat rave.

dancingI don’t know if it was just the netflix version I was watching but some the animation was alarmingly bad on this as well.  There were times when characters spoke where it didn’t quite match up to the images on the screen, especially when the Madame was speaking.

Look at this scene and see if you agree with me they are slightly off.  Like when she says ‘you’re a shameless flatterer George’ her lips don’t match up with what she’s saying.  It kind of reminds me of anime when the translators get really close but not quite with the English dubbing.

Movie Review-

So if you haven’t gathered this is not my favorite film.  I suppose it is harmless fluff but in a world where you can watch the real deal why watch the mediocre copy of the better Disney films? I guess since it’s on netflix right now it will entertain small children.  The music is fun and it isn’t offensive just kind of lazy.  Even on Netflix there are better Disney films like The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh or Robin Hood.  Put on one of those and then only after you have watched everything else put on the Aristocats.

I guess it was a big hit for Disney so they knew what they were doing in that regard but as a lover of Disney art this fails to impress.  The music is fun but not the Sherman Brothers best.

In a way I kind of feel the same way about the Aristocats as I felt about Fun, Fancy and Free.  Both felt very lazy and derivative of better films.

Plus, Aristocats has such bland characters, a boring villain and no real tension with the cats journey.  The lack of accents bugged me and other story flaws like Edgar’s motivation for killing the cats at that moment didn’t make sense.  Also, why is the Duchess an unexplained mother?

Those are just some of the objections but all in all it’s just a boring, lazy film.

Overall Grade- D- (my lowest grade so far because it is the movie I would least want to rewatch of all the movies I’ve seen to this date)

This is what I call Disney phoning it in…