ROBIN HOOD was the first Disney animated feature which had no input at all from Walt himself, who had died in 1966. The film, therefore, was a test to see if the old guard, those great animators, writers and other artists, could create something worthy of the Disney legacy in a post-Disney world. If I were to score this test, I would mark it a "C". The film is entertaining enough in an undiscriminating way, but it also clearly shows that without Walt at the helm, the animation team would have to find their own way. That's not to say that viewing ROBIN HOOD is a poor way to spend an hour or so, but, as the first film of a new era, there was plenty of room for improvement.
Tellingly, the liveliest sequence of the film is actually patched together from several previous Disney classics. After the archery contest, Robin Hood and friends celebrate with a musical party, and the dancing animation is actually rotoscoped from at least three different Disney films: SNOW WHITE, THE JUNGLE BOOK and THE ARISTOCATS. You may notice that when Maid Marion is dancing in this sequence, the animation is much more graceful and three-dimensional than the rest of the film. That's because the animators went all the way back to 1937 to borrow animation from Snow White's dances with the Dwarves. Aside from this sequence, and a small handful of others, ROBIN HOOD is distressingly two-dimensional, almost in a Saturday morning cartoon way. The action lacks depth, almost always moving in a straight line from one side of the screen to the other. It is also overly wordy, again in a way you would find in the "illustrated radio" way of your average television cartoon of the time. The influence of such cartoons is completed by the use of animals portraying all the classic characters of the Robin Hood tale, with no humans to be found anywhere. Although this has been criticized, it is not necessarily a drawback. Personally, I'd rather watch animators work with animals than humans anyway, unless the humans are complete caricatures, like Elmer Fudd or the cast of Popeye. Watching "human" cartoon characters, such as you would find in later Disney films like POCAHONTAS or TARZAN, can bore me.
Some of the character designs of the animals in ROBIN HOOD are very well done, especially the King John (a lion) and Maid Marion's lady in waiting Lady Cluck. But again, the animators went back to films of old to reprise several designs. If there is a difference between Little John and Baloo the Bear from THE JUNGLE BOOK, I'd like to know about it, especially since they are both voiced by Phil Harris. Sir Hiss, King John's henchmen, is a close cousin to Kaa the Snake from THE JUNGLE BOOK with a new voice and a gap in his teeth (appropriately so, since he is voiced by Terry- Thomas). Watching the film you may find yourself noticing alligators that look like they just stepped out of FANTASIA, elephants that wandered off the DUMBO drawing boards and vultures who got tired of hanging out with Mowgli from THE JUNGLE BOOK.
On its own, ROBIN HOOD is an okay film with excellent voice work, but with the likes of Peter Ustinov, Terry-Thomas and Andy Devine in the cast, how could such work not be excellent? There is no innovation, no one sequence that jumps out at you, but it does a decent job of retelling the Robin Hood story, and has a few laughs along the way. But the fact that they ditched an alternate ending, in which Robin Hood is actually wounded and near death, reveals something about the minds of the filmmakers. There was a time in Disney history where they would think nothing of killing off a character's mother, separating a mother from her child, or poisoning the sweetest of all young ladies with an apple. In the fifties and sixties, they lost their nerve and tried to have it both ways, with the near-death of characters such as Baloo or Trusty the Bloodhound from LADY AND THE TRAMP. By ROBIN HOOD, they were playing things safe, and wouldn't even show a near-death for fear of being too dark. Playing it safe makes for nice little stories, which is what ROBIN HOOD is. But if you are working on a Disney movie, you should really want to do better than just a nice little story. ½ - JB