"Robin Hood: Most Wanted Edition" Misses the Mark as a Film
Robin Hood is one of the world’s truly enduring fictional characters. The outlaw who robs from the rich to give to the poor has always had obvious popular appeal, and Robin’s roguish charm and wily intelligence place him alongside classic trickster figures of myth and folklore. The thief and his merry men have been film subjects from the earliest days of the medium, with such actors as Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn, Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, and Cary Elwes all putting their stamp on the title character.
In 1973, the crew at Disney animation made Robin Hood the subject of one of its first efforts without Uncle Walt’s guiding hand. The results are decidedly mixed. On the positive side, the character animation is wonderfully well-done, recasting Robin and the Merry Men of Sherwood forest as an adorable menagerie of anthropomorphic animals. The voices alternate between refined British accents and American Southern twangs, which works better than it might sound. This is nowhere more evident than in the wonderfully relaxed relationship between the British Brian Bedford, who voices Robin with cheerfully upper-crust British starch, and the American Phil Harris, who voices Little John as a minor variation of Baloo the Bear from Disney’s The Jungle Book. Famed country singer Roger Miller contributes several songs that are sung by the film’s Alan-a-Dale, who shows up periodically as the film’s narrator. Peter Ustinov voices the neurotic Prince John, who—in one of the movie’s odder creative choices—is regularly reduced to thumb-sucking mama’s boy. A brace of children rounds out the cast; the best that can be said for them is that they are usually more endearing than annoying and don’t chew up too much screen time.
Unfortunately, cute characters can’t carry a movie all on their own. Robin Hood can’t even get past the opening credits without bogging down under an almost complete lack of narrative drive or dramatic urgency. The movie is simply a meandering collection of vignettes, none of which tie to each other very well and all of which run far longer than needed. The end result is a movie that drags on interminably, even at a lean 83-minute running time. The movie faithfully presents the quintessential Robin Hood moment, when Robin enters an archery tournament in disguise and wins by shooting a bulls-eye that splits an arrow in half, but the moment is played almost entirely for laughs, robbing it of any dramatic power it might have had. A big, energetic battle near the end comes way too late to save the film, which could have used far more of that sequence’s boisterous energy. Worst of all, the movie simply ends with the climactic plot development happening entirely off-screen, with Alan-a-Dale narrating the just-desserts meted out to the movie’s villains. To add insult to injury, Robin Hood frequently makes use of recycled animation, some of which isn’t even original to the film. It turns out that there are very real reasons Robin Hood isn’t usually mentioned as one of Disney’s animated classics.
The movie’s flaws may explain why the single-disc “Most Wanted Edition” DVD comes up short in extras. Robin Hood has been cleaned up and digitally restored, and is presented in a 1.75:1 anamorphic widescreen. The restoration has been handled with the same loving care and attention Disney has devoted to all its feature films on DVD. The movie is also accompanied by a new 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack in English, French, and Spanish, with English subtitles for the hearing impaired. There is certainly little to complain about in the movie’s presentation. The list of bonus features is fairly thin, though, with the highlights being an alternate ending and the 1933 short film “Ye Olden Days.” The alternate ending is shown in storyboards with newly recorded voices, and proves to be incredibly frustrating because it is so much better than the ending to the movie we got. It’s also rather sad to note that “Ye Olden Days” has a more satisfying story and packs in more energy than the feature film, despite having only 1/8 the running time. The remaining features include games for the kids, dedicated music tracks with on-screen subtitles, and a production art gallery.
In the end, the Robin Hood Most Wanted Edition is a high-quality presentation of a deeply unsatisfying film. Disney completists and those who wish to study the technique will be well-served by the disc, but those who get the disc simply out of nostalgic sentiment may find that Disney’s Robin Hood is one of those films that is better in memory than in actuality.
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