Monday, May 10, 2010

Robin Hood: Golly, What a Day

Sorry for the late post today, everyone.  Those pesky day jobs, always getting in the way of what you really want to do.  Oh well, to the subject at hand.  This up-coming Friday a new version of the Robin Hood story comes out, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett.  So, since that is one of my favorite classic stories, I thought I'd write about one of my favorite movie versions of it (and I believe my brother's too), Disney's "Robin Hood" from 1973.

Disney's 21st animated feature follows the adventures of Robin Hood and Little John as they steal from the rich (including Prince John) and give to the poor, as well as Hood's romance with Maid Marian.  Yet, in a twist very understandably Disney, all the characters are animals instead of humans.  Robin and Marian are foxes, Prince John is a lion (yet much less domineering than older brother lion King Richard - you know, the Lionhearted), Little John is a bear, the Sherriff of Nottingham is a wolf, etc.  Disney came up with this idea after the studio had originally planned to adapt an European fable by the name of "Reynard the Fox" into a feature film.  However, after deciding that Reynard might not be the best hero for a Disney feature, writer Ken Anderson used the animal characteristics of that fable for "Robin Hood" instead.

I remember watching this as a kid and loving the music from this film the most, mainly the songs sung by Alan-a-Dale, the minstrel rooster narrating the film.  Voiced by country singer Roger Miller, he also wrote the songs he sung, including "Not in Nottingham" and my favorite "Oo-de-lally" (see video below).  He was not the only songwriter to contribute though.  Legendary songwriter Johnny Mercer - of "Moon River," "Hooray for Hollywood," and "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive" fame, to name a few - contributed a little with the song "The Phony King of England."  And the love theme of "Robin Hood," appropriately titled "Love" (written by Floyd Huddleston and George Bruns), was nominated for an Academy Award that year, but lost out to "The Way We Were."  An album of just the film's songs was never released though.  Instead, Disney released a full recording of the film in 1973, which included the songs, score, narration and dialogue (like listening to the movie on the radio.)  If I'm not mistaken, I believe a very worn, repeatedly listened to, copy of that record is still in my parents' house somewhere.

The budget for "Robin Hood" was small, unfortunately, so the artists had to reference previous Disney animated films to cut down on costs.  That's why you may have noticed that some sequences, even characters, look very similar to previous films.  Except for the color of the fur, Little John resembles Baloo from "The Jungle Book" perfectly.  He's even voiced by the same actor, Phil Harris.  And the dance he does with Lady Kluck is taken from the dance Baloo does with King Louie.  Also resembling a character from "The Jungle Book" is Sir Hiss' similarity to Kaa the python, even down to the hypnotic eyes.  However, the animators did incorporate a special trait into Sir Hiss not found in Kaa - the gap in his teeth.  It is a trait of the gentleman who voiced Sir Hiss, character actor Terry-Thomas.

Some of my other favorite memories of this film come from the great Peter Ustinov.  Ustinov not only voiced Prince John wonderfully, but also King Richard.  He even did his own dubbing for the film's German version as Prince John.  That "Ah-hah, AH-hah" laugh he did as Prince John makes me giggle every time I hear it.  So memorable.  Also, his portrayal of Prince John whenever someone mentions his mother is priceless.  It is a comedic reference to the real Prince John's jealousy of his brother Richard, whom his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine favored above him.  (His father, on the other hand, King Henry II, favored John more.)

So, before you head to the theaters this weekend to see the new, grittier "Robin Hood," take a look at the much more lighthearted and fun-loving "Robin Hood."  It will surely get you pumped for the new version to come, and you get some nice music thrown in there too.  Until Friday.  Have a wonderful week!

(Post-tidbit:  Originally Friar Tuck was to be a pig, but when the studio decided that might possibly offend religious groups, he was changed to a badger instead.)


  1. I love Phil Harris and Peter Ustinov in this.

  2. I actually remember having a song- only soundtrack record when I was a kid. It was the size of a 45 but played at 33 speed and had 4 songs on it: "Oo-de-lally", "Not in Nottingham" and "The Phony King of England" performed by a childrens choir (think of the Kids Bop CD's today) and the original movie version of "Love".