Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Robin Hood (Disney Version)

Robin Hood is not usually considered one of the crowning achievements of Classic Disney era, to say the least. It was made during the height of the Xerox technique. Which depending on who you ask either was an intriguing permutation that allowed animation to keep the sketchy energy and liveliness of the pencil test, or was the act that began the slow sad decline of not merely animation but Western Civilization itself. And is further more the worst thing that ever happened to anyone ever.

This coupled with its repeat appearances in those infamous Disney recycled animation highlight reels, have led most to dismiss Robin Hood as a lazy film unworthy of consideration.

(This will blow your mind)

I have to disagree. While Robin Hood might not have the ambition of Disney’s Renaissance period, or the sheer artistry of the classic age. It instead takes its cue from the lackadaisical score and songs provided by eccentric CW genius/crazy person Roger Miller (Seriously download "What Are These Things (With Big Black Wings)" for the greatest song you never knew you loved), turning in one of the loosest, shaggiest, enjoyable films that the Disney brand has ever had its name on. It might just go through the paces. But it does so with an easy comic grace and aplomb.

The animation is Xerox (In which the pencil cells where photocopied and then colored eliminating the inking once crucial to the process) which as I’ve implied is something of an acquired taste. Still the animation is an effective example of the character based, personality driven animation that Disney made its bones on. From the Sheriff of Nottingham’s redneck waddled, to Hood’s own lithe swashbuckling. Its all backed by the nearly abstract (at times) water color backgrounds that serve as a precursor to Lilo And Stitch and perfectly serve the film’s storybook tone.

After the unremittingly grim revisionism of the Robin And Marian its refreshing to see a movie that so plainly enjoys its story. Early on a young forest creature says “Golly Gee Mr. Robin Hood.” And the film keeps that exact tone throught out. Ironic to as its tone of gentle comic anarchy is much closer to Richard Lester’s nomial style then the afore mentioned film. Though it is somewhat sad that the only actor who has yet to give Errol Flynn a run for his money in the derring do department is a cartoon Fox. The film gives him many moments to show off, until the flaming swashbuckling end that contains more genuine genre excitement then Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves, Robin And Marian, and Ridley Scott’s Big Mistake (I’m assuming), combined.

Most of the film is of course the house Disney style of taking various archetypes and sanding all the rough edges off. But its all charmingly done stuff. And the delectable performance of Peter Ustinov (?!!!?) as Prince John contains a real strange edge to it. Ustinov’s John is something of an underrated comic masterpiece. A brazen mixture of vanity, petulance and what can only be termed some rather serious Freudian Impulses, all delivered with the crack comic timing of a pro.

Looking at Robin Hood now is like picking up a picture book you owned as a child. It may be a bit ragged and torn, and rereading it, it may not quite hold together (With key characters disappearing and reappearing at will it's hardly a model of narrative unity). But it retains the charm of a good story well told. It’s a charming film, and I can’t quite believe that the warmth I still feel from and for it is mere residual nostalgia.


Kschenke said...

It's one of those movies that I loved as a kid and only recently discovered is not considered a classic by many. But even as a kid, I could tell they were copying parts of other movies (let's be honest, Little John is just Baloo).

But I still think the script is one of the better ones from Disney. And the music is very cool.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Kschenke: Agreed the movie is very well written. Its alot more relaxed and not as relentlessly plot driven as other Disney films. Some are bothered by the episodic style I liked it.

Andrew said...

Great Robin Hood post....
Men in Tights and the Disney cartoon one are the only Ribon Hoods I can take seriously.

Bryce Wilson said...

I here you Andrew. Compared to Costner the animated Fox is freaking Olivier.