In the interest of full disclosure, Robin Hood is my all-time favourite Disney Animated Classic. I know it's not the best or even considered among the better Disney movies but it was such an important part of my childhood and I continue to love it just as much today as I did at four-years-old when I insisted on watching it just about every single day. Viewing the movie as an adult it strikes me how, not only is Robin Hood Disney's first real action hero, he's also Disney's first leading man (except that he's a fox... of course). That really is strange if you think about it – twenty animated features spanning almost forty years and Robin Hood is our first full-fledged adult male star? I mean, Ichabod and Mr. Toad are close but they are more anti-heroes, Pinocchio and the Wart are just kids while the various princes are merely indistinguishable mimbos playing second banana to their respective princesses. However, when it comes to foxy Robin, he possesses everything you'd want in the modern leading man. And, with that, we're going to take the easy way out and simply litanize every piece of criterion of which Robin Hood meets that legendary “Every man wants to be and all women want to be with” status.
Robin the Hero: Most of this goes without saying but we can't just gloss over all of the extraordinary feats and displays of bravery that make Robin Hood that classic hero. For one thing, despite his slight build, Robin is a physical specimen and quite the well-rounded athlete. In hand-to-hand combat, Robin is a remarkably adept swordsman who shows no problem out-dueling and overall out-maneuvering opponents twice his size like Prince John's Hench-Rhinos, Captain Croc and the Sherriff of Nottingham. Robin also makes fast work of the Sheriff's Posse whose errant arrows and shoddy spear-work prove no match for our hero. And, of course, Robin Hood may be the most well-known and skilled archer of all-time. All Robin does is shoot bulls-eyes and never aims to kill but only disarms – what a guy! He's also a world class climber and wall scaler as he displays when scampering up Prince John's fiery castle tower before dramatically landing a Perfect-10, foot-first dive into a muddy moat from what looks to be a 100 foot drop! Not only does Robin have the physicality of your classic action star, he also displays impressive cunning and strategic aptitude. The whole jail break alone, was planned and executed almost flawlessly. As always, he had plenty of help from his first lieutenant and near-equal, Little John, but when it came down to it Robin was always one step ahead of whatever wrench Prince John and his goons threw in his gears.
However, what might have been Robin's most impressive display of courage is how he comported himself as he stood roped, chained and staring death straight in the eye. With Robin's capture at Prince John's archery tournament, the “Phony King” announced that “traitors to the crown must die!” And, as only our hero could, Robin indignantly and eloquently replied “Traitor to the crown? That crown belongs to King Richard. Long live King Richard!” This spurred the crowd of beleaguered Nottingham'ians to join in their own chant of “Long Live King Richard!” At this moment, Robin knows he's a goner but refuses to allow hope to die with him. He must inspire the oppressed one last time so his spirit could live on and that someone may pick up where he left off. While this did inevitably only prove to be a fleeting moment of despair (thanks to Little John's own heroics), Robin's act of resilience surely had an impact on all who witnessed it.
Robin the Criminal: We might not want to cop to it, but both men and women find themselves secretly attracted to a certain brand of criminal – especially the thieving type. There's just a certain romanticism and wayward nobility in robbing from the rich (there's a reason why the vast majority of movie bank robbers are presented as the “good guys”). Then, add the fact that our Robin turns around and funnels that stolen money to the poor and we have our proverbial “Prince of Thieves” (yes, I too cringed typing that as you just did reading it). Yup, Robin Hood broke the mold when it comes to outlaws and that's the reason why his mythos continues to be just as relevant and popular today - a scant eight centuries after it was first told.
But, really, how bad ass do you have to be to completely hijack the heavily guarded royal coach only armed with a crystal ball and gypsy costumes? And, when it was all said and done, our cross-dressing con men were so thorough and ruthless the only thing they left Prince John with was his underwear and crown while they even had the audacity to make off with the coach's solid gold hubcaps. Even during the climactic jail break, it wasn't enough for Robin to spring all of the townspeople out of the clink, the job just wouldn't be complete without Robin then knocking off the royal treasury – literally, right under the nose (and thumb) of a sleeping Prince John. There's a reason why Robin is a fox because he is as sly and crafty as they come.
Robin the Lover: You would expect someone as brash and bold as to, on a whim, rob the heavily armed royal coach to also exhibit that same daring resoluteness when romancing the ladies. However, not only does Robin have eyes for just one vixen in all of Nottingham, he's also downright conflicted and hesitant in declaring his affections to his one true love. The difference though between robbing Prince John and wooing Maid Marian is that stealing from a corrupt tyrant is completely selfless and a necessity while courting Marian is something that's just for him and doesn't really help the downtrodden community which relies on him so heavily. It's almost as if Robin feels guilty or selfish in pursuing a life with Marian because he's become so accustomed to risking his life only to help others. It's not just that though and he plainly articulates as such while bro'ing down with Little John and Friar Tuck; “I'm an outlaw. That's no life for a lovely lady. Always on the run. What kind of future is that?” Robin is also concerned for her own life and well-being. Sure, once Prince John becomes hip to their mutual love for each other, Robin does finally give into his feelings for Marian. But, at this point it's just practical since a life on the run with Robin would be considerably safer for Marian than living under the same castle as Prince John.
Aside from all that though, once Robin gets past considering both Nottingham's and Marian's needs, he's downright dashing, debonair and, dare I say, SEXY! Watching Robin humbly pussyfoot around his love for Marian is admirable but we want our leading man to go out and GET IT... and, that he does! In rescuing a distressed Marian, he literally sweeps her off her feet - swooping in on a rope and carrying her to safety at which point he immediately proposes (“Oh, darling, I thought you'd never ask me” she replies). Then, as if that wasn't enough, he lays out their honeymoon plans (“London, Normandy! Sunny Spain!”) and even talks of offspring (“We'll have six children.” to which Marian replies “Six. Oh, a dozen at least!”) all whilst fighting off a slew of Prince John's inept henchmen. After escaping the chaos of the archery tournament, Robin takes her on a moonlit stroll through Sherwood Forest where he makes A LOT of eye contact, slips a handmade flower engagement ring on her furry finger and ends their rendezvous with a hike to a secluded waterfall - ooh, la and la! They would go on to get married a few days later but you'd be hard-pressed to find a more romantic series of events than what Robin provided Marian that day.
Robin the Community Leader: Yes, robbing from the corrupt crown to feed the poor, overtaxed citizens of Nottingham and then going so far as to free them all from jail after they've been unjustly locked up is enough to make anyone the pillar of the community. But even then, these acts could be carried out in a more aloof and less personal way. He may be a master of disguise but he is no masked fox concealing his identity or brooding about in his proverbial Bat Cave or Fortress of Solitude. What truly sets Robin apart from most heroes is that he is a true fox of the people – he's pressing the fur, shaking paws and kissing cubs so to speak. This is part of why I love Disney's version of Robin Hood so much. In a way, I do miss him having a true gang of Merry Men and while he does still hideout in Sherwood Forest with Little John he has more-or-less made the people of Nottingham his de facto gang. That's why Friar Tuck, Allan-a-Dale, Lady Kluck and Skippy are so quick to aid him during the archery tournament – they're his pals!
There are a few instances that really illustrate Robin's connection to the hoi polloi. First is his full-on participation in the impromptu, late night surprise party thrown in his honour. Robin's not too cool to pick up an instrument, don the “The Phony King of England's” underwear and generally just get down and have some raucous fun with the townsfolk. Then there's the scene that really shows what Robin is all about. When the impoverished and widowed Mother Rabbit throws her eldest son, Skippy, a birthday party who drops in with a surprise visit? Well, it's none other than local celebrity and do-gooder, Robin Hood! Not only does Robin give the seven-year-old his bow and arrow and hat as a present he also provides him with a much needed role-model and father-figure. Skippy would go on to fight alongside with Robin at the archery tournament as well as the jailbreak. He even accompanies him and Marian on their honeymoon because, as he tells it, “Well, Robin Hood is gonna have kids, so somebody's got to keep their eye on things.” Robin's birthday house call wasn't merely just a one-time thrill and brush with fame for young Skippy, but almost rather the first meeting in the Medieval Time's version of the Big Brother Program.
Yup, Robin Hood is practically perfect and even better by every measure but what about the movie? At the beginning of this piece, I was diplomatic in recognizing Robin Hood's detractors and less than stellar standing against all other Disney movies of its ilk (a Disney worst 55% on Rotten Tomatoes?!?!?!). I even went as far as to rationalize my own strong feelings for the movie as merely being a product of how much I loved it as a child. Enough of this milquetoast “we'll agree to disagree” attitude – I've been inspired by Robin Hood's own boldness and conviction – the critics are WRONG, any list of Disney movies that doesn't at least rank Robin Hood among it's top-ten is WRONG, and if you are reading this and don't also love Robin Hood, you too are WRONG! Much like Robin Hood, the character, is well-rounded and everything to everyone, so too is the movie Robin Hood. It has almost as much heart as Dumbo (1941), more action than Peter Pan (1952), as fun of a soundtrack as The Jungle Book (1967), the most satisfyingly realistic love story since One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1956) and is just as comical as The Sword in the Stone (1963). Robin Hood is GREAT and, if that's the way you feel, doing anything less than climbing up a fiery castle tower and screaming as such in your loudest voice just before plunging feet-first into the muddy moat below is cowardice and not befitting of Robin Hood.
On a more whimsical note...
It's a little known fact that the omission of Robin Hood's band of “Merry Men” was due to Disney's efforts to capitalize on the success of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) in highlighting the buddy-buddy relationship between Robin and Little John.
Perhaps also playing off of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Robin Hood features an interesting mix of American Western characters with the more historically accurate English.
Unlike the randomness of the Western and British accents, there actually seems to be a function to the different kinds of animals. Except for the Sheriff of Nottingham and King Richard, the good animals are indigenous to England while the bad are from Africa.
In fact, this is the only Disney movie where its animals aren't accurate to its setting. But that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Robin Hood's issues with animals. Disney has featured anthropomorphic animals before but never in a world without humans. Robin Hood's animals aren't merely upright walking, talking animals like Gideon and Foulfellow (Pinocchio) or Mr. Toad and his pals (The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad), these animals are unique to the Disney universe in that they are actual stand-ins for human characters.
Our narrator, Alan-a-Dale, somewhat alludes to the above in introducing this story of Robin Hood in how “we folks in the animal kingdom have our own version.” Is this him implying that there are, in fact, humans in their world or is he just breaking down the fourth wall in talking to us – his human audience?
Also, this movie features an opening credit sequence which no animated Disney film has done before or since and introduces the characters like they're playing parts in a movie. For example “Sir Hiss a Snake. Voice by Terry Thomas.” This is almost to imply that the story is one being told or preformed rather than actually happening. Or maybe none of this means anything and all of this talk about accents, animals out of Africa, anthropomorphics, human stand-ins, etc. is the essence of “paralysis by analysis.”
Just off the top of my head, the comedic duo of Prince John and Sir Hiss is Disney's best with Timon and Pumba (The Lion King) and Captain Hook and Mr. Smee (Peter Pan) just nipping at their heels.
While traveling in his coach, how does Prince John not know they're in Nottingham? Doesn't he live there? Prince John refers to it as his “next stop.” But it's not just a stop, this is where he lives, right? And, we also know that the castle he inhabits while living/stopping in Nottingham is his mother's. Yet, he still refers to Nottingham as the “richest plum of them all” suggesting he's at least familiar with it but not to the extent that it’s his primary home. If not here, where does he live and what's his next stop?
As we find out, the whole usurping of the crown was a plot carried out by both Prince John and Sir Hiss with John hatching the idea for Hiss to hypnotize Richard into leaving for that “crazy Crusade.” Hiss' involvement is probably how he achieved his official title of “Keeper of the Royal Treasure” while also getting to share a room with “The Phony King of England.”
Sir Hiss offers to cure Prince John of his “psychosis” with “hypnosis” but John is so distrusting of his slithering sidekick that he refuses.
Is Prince John as dumb as he seems or is he secretly kinda smart? For one thing, he's the one who plotted to send Richard away; he's fluent in French and also sniffed out Robin all by his lonesome at the archery tournament. Yet, there's way more examples of him being mind-numbingly dumb. His fleeting intelligence and lack thereof seems to be fluid at best.
Most of the nice things we said about Robin Hood can also be applied to Little John. He's every bit the hero Robin is and it's a slap in the face that he never garnered his own wanted poster or at least a mere mention on Robin's. I'm particularly fond of John's work with his bow staff; including his whirling, almost dance-like fighting style which is on full display in his duel with the Sheriff of Nottingham at the archery tournament.
Little John also gets short shrift in being regarded as a mere facsimile of Baloo from The Jungle Book. Sure, they're both bears and share the voice of the jazzy Phil Harris but that's where the comparisons end. Baloo is a lazy, grey sloth bear with a more pronounced snout and long claws. Meanwhile, Little John is anything but lazy; he's a brown bear (in colour and species) with a smaller head and no claws.
Speaking of which, people also misguidedly say the same thing about Sir Hiss and The Jungle Book's Kaa. These two don't even share a voice nor are their personalities at all similar. The only thing they have in common is that they are both snakes with Kaa being a python and Sir Hiss being of an indeterminate species although I'd guess by his scrawniness that he's of the garter or gopher variety. Oh, and they also both do that hypnotize-y thing with their eyes but ALL snakes do that...
Of all the things I've said about Robin, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least also mention his status as a teen idol/local heartthrob. Sis Rabbit swoons at the sight of him while also noting how handsome he is... “Just like his wanted poster” while Maid Marian actually has said poster hanging on the inside of her closet door as if it's the centerfold from “Tiger Beat.”
One more thing about Robin... you can also add “musician” to his lengthy resume since he can be seen playing a mean fiddle at the “Phony King of England” all-night dance party.
I'm not going to waste time talking about all of the Disney-on-Disney “animation stealing” from that same scene... it's been well-documented by other Disney blogs so you can Google it and see all the #HATE on your own time.
Both Robin and Little John are also masters of disguise. They both dress as gypsies; Robin a blind beggar, a spindle legged stork from Devonshire and Nutsy. With Little John as Sir Reginald Duke of Chutney and even the Sheriff of Nottingham.
I once mentioned that Lady's “old lady voice” ruined Lady and the Tramp for me so, is it any wonder that Barbara Luddy is used here to voice the widowed Mother Rabbit?
As much as I painstakingly dissected Robin and Marian's love story, I did fail to mention the Oscar nominated song, “Love,“ which features prominently and includes this curiously graphic lyric:
It seems like only yesterday
You were just a child at play
Now you're all grown up inside of me
From the point where Robin dons his stork disguise to the anachronistic, yet fitting, "Football Game" makes up probably the most fun and action packed stretch in any Disney movie... nay, the history of film! In those seventeen minutes Robin wins the Tournament of the Golden Arrow, Hiss gets drunk, Robin and Marian get engaged and Lady Kluck does her best Walter Payton impersonation.
King Richard is Prince John's older brother while Maid Marian is Richard's niece yet never once refers to John as her uncle. This at least explains why she lives in the castle but to what are we to draw from the avuncular distinction betwixt brothers? First of all, we know it's not a blood relation for obvious reasons but one theory could be that Prince John demands she only call him "Your Highness" since, in his eyes, royalty outranks family or, she refuses to call him “uncle” because she disapproves of his rule and ensuing actions. However, my own personal theory is that King Richard married Marian's mother's sister and this is what gives him the title of “uncle” while simultaneously leaving Prince John out of the uncle mix. Because you wouldn't call your mother's sister's husband's brother your uncle, right?
Why did Marian ever leave Nottingham to spend those years in London before inevitably returning? I'd like to think she left to matriculate at some posh and proper fashion school but from what I know about English Aristocracy, (which is all from Downton Abbey) she was probably just being presented at court to get married off but had to return home once all of the eligible lords left to go fight in that “crazy Crusade.”
If you're keeping score at home, the jail break occurs from 1am to 4am. Also to that end, how does Prince John figure to keep taxing Nottingham if he throws all of their inhabitants in jail?
You might notice that once Prince John, Sir Hiss and the Sheriff of Nottingham are imprisoned and working the Royal Rock Pile that both Trigger and Nutsy escaped the King's justice and have retained their old jobs as guards.
We list the inspiration for Robin Hood as deriving from the American children's novel The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire by Howard Pyle. Yes, this is a decidedly English tale from England but it was Pyle's version that crystallized and inspired the many Robin Hood tales we know today.
My Grandpa taped the version of Robin Hood I grew up with from an episode of The Wonderful World of Disney. He also managed to record both the Disney and Errol Flynn versions back-to-back on the same VHS!
I must also mention Robin Hood's popularity as the preeminent “Furry Film.” Do yourself a favour and Google “Robin Hood furries”.... you're welcome!