This remains one of my favorite Disney movies and started my interest in British folklore. There is no historical proof of a singular “Robin Hood” existing but tales of him date to the fifteenth century. As with other films and shows about Arthurian legend, I’ll swing back around and post about other Robin Hood films.
Another storybook opening, and simplified history (taking a course in medieval history in college taught me that Richard was not the best king and the whole Plantagenet line is kind of messed up). Our narrator Alan-a-Dale, a rooster, informs us that this is the animal kingdom’s version of the tale and it is “what really happened.” Oo-de-lally is a fun diddy and introduces us to the characters. As an adult, I appreciate Little John cautioning Robin about the chances he’s taking. And as an adult, I recognize how many times Robin comes close to dying. As a child, I related more to Robin; “ha ha! They’ll never catch me!” The bit about “rob” being a naughty word is a bone tossed due to it being a children’s movie.
Little John and Robin are given the chance to further “borrow” from the rich when a royal procession passes through Sherwood Forest to collect taxes in Nottingham. To do so, they dress up as fortune-telling women. Sir Hiss is actually a typical royal advisor; attempting to be blunt, but also kissing up. Prince John is a whiny brat with an enlarged younger-sibling complex. It’s funny as a child when he sucks his thumb and throws a tantrum. And I laughed when Little John and Robin ran away with all that gold and Prince John’s robe.
While Prince John overshadows the Sherriff of Nottingham as the primary villain, the Sherriff is no picnic either. He blatantly steals from the injured and from a child on his birthday. Robin stops by, coming in as a blind beggar, to cheer the boy up. The kids lead us to the castle, where they and we in turn meet Maid Marian, and her lady-in-waiting, Lady Kluck. This is when we discover that Marian and Robin were sweethearts years ago, before Marian went to London (we’re never told why she went to London or what brought her back). It is also revealed that she is the niece of King Richard (which would technically make her Prince John’s niece as well). A phrase that adults catch that goes over children’s head is when Skippy shouts “death to tyrants!” We learn later, in school, that this is what John Wilkes Booth shouts after he’s shot President Lincoln. Make of that what you will. Remember: this is from the kid that thinks kisses are “sissy stuff.”
Once the children have left, Marian tells Kluck that she is still in love with Robin, but worries he’s forgotten her in the time she’s been gone. Then we see Robin humming, paying no attention to the dinner he is burning, because he’s thinking about Marian. And he still loves her, but feels he can’t marry her since he is an outlaw and that is not the life that she deserves. Little John and Friar Tuck both try to cheer him up, Tuck declaring that Richard will pardon Robin when he returns from the Crusades and the king will end up with “an outlaw for an in-law.” Oh, and to really cheer Robin up, there is an archery tournament the next day where Maid Marian will kiss the winner.
The tournament, as the merry band guesses, is Prince John’s plan to capture Robin. Robin has disguised himself as a stork (though Marian recognizes his eyes). But his skill raises suspicion and Hiss realizes who he is (there is a whole funny bit with him flying about in a balloon after being kicked out by Prince John and disguised Little John, then sealed in a barrel of ale by Alan and Tuck). When Robin wins the tournament, John cuts away his disguise and orders his immediate death (okay, a little dark for a kid). Marian pleads for Robin’s life to be spared, because she loves him. Robin returns her love, but Prince John won’t be swayed, shouting “off with his head!” when Robin loudly declares “long live King Richard!” Little John to the rescue! He threatens Prince John to let Robin go, but when the Sherriff discovers the subterfuge, a battle breaks out. Which was honestly my favorite part of the movie as a kid…and still is. Marian at first seems like a typical damsel in distress, calling for Robin to help her. But she does throw a pie to distract a vulture. She eagerly accepts Robin’s marriage proposal and agrees to a honeymoon in “London, Normandy, and sunny Spain.” (The movie does get some historical notes correct: mentioning the Normans and Normandy, Marian’s costume. However, Little John’s purple ruff is inaccurate; that fashion piece wouldn’t show up until Elizabeth I). The little football gag is hilarious, including the snippets of college fight songs.
Love is not my favorite Disney love song. Part of it stems from the scene being really boring as a kid, after the high energy of the battle. Phony King of England, on the other hand, is hilarious. And includes further nuggets of history. No, history books do not call him the “phony King of England.” The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Royal Britain put out by Charles Phillip describes John as “an unprincipled opportunist…[who] made a series of bad decisions in pursuit of short-term advantage (46).” He was known as Lackland due to being the younger son, and losing territory in France that had been gained by his father, Henry II. His taxation policies when he fought to reclaim that land led to the barons’ revolt which brought about the Magna Carta, which “guaranteed the reform of royal abuses of power and turned out to be the first step in establishing constitutional government in England (47).” It was true that Eleanor of Aquitaine (a truly awesome queen) favored elder brother Richard over John, but their father favored him (not that it helped when both sons revolted). “Too late to be known as John the First, he’s sure to be known as John the Worst,” is rather true. There have been no other “Johns” in the royal family. [Further historical note: John at least had children to succeed him; Richard did not. Richard also was rarely in England due to either being on Crusade, captured, or simply preferring France. Can you tell where my interests lay in college? lol]
Disney note: it has been pointed out and I can verify after watching Disney movies for the past month or so, that the dance scene in Robin Hood borrows from Jungle Book and Aristocats. I see nothing wrong with the fact and just find it a bit of a “fun fact.”
Continuing on! Prince John is furious now, between Robin’s escape and the peasants’ irreverence. He’s tripled taxes and thus, most everyone is in jail due to their inability to pay. When the Sherriff pays a visit to Friar Tuck and takes the lone coin from the poor box, Tuck kicks the lackey out and they fight in the churchyard. Tuck is arrested for treason. Prince John sentences him to be hung in the morning in an effort to draw out Robin and thus make it a double hanging (again, a bit dark for a kids’ film). Robin re-uses his blind beggar disguise to gain information from the Sherriff (Trigger is a bit paranoid, but Nutsy and the Sherriff are both idiots). Robin and Little John plan a jailbreak (Marian and Kluck must have stayed back in Sherwood Forest). Little John will take care of the jail and Robin will go after Prince John’s gold.
And they’re almost successful. Hiss wakes up as Robin grabs the last bag of gold, but Robin escapes on his zip line and Little John has the rest of the prisoners loaded on a cart. But one of the baby bunnies has been left behind. Robin sends the rest on and he goes back. The guards manage to close the gate, but the bunny fits through; Robin climbs. The Sherriff chases him into the tower and his torch lights the room on fire. Robin escapes to the roof, but the flames still lick at him. This remains a bit of a nail-biter and I can remember being worried during this scene as a child and almost in tears when Robin jumps and the arrows seem to have possibly killed him, one sticking through his hat. It doesn’t help that Little John and Skippy are worried and almost in tears themselves. Happily, Robin is alive and shouts “a pox on the phony king of England!” Prince John is incensed again and pushed over the edge when Hiss points out his flaws and mentions that his mother’s castle is now on fire. The Prince chases Hiss with a stick, thumb in his mouth again, Hiss crying for help because “he’s gone stark-raving mad!”
The final scenes show that Robin Hood has been pardoned and there’s a wedding; his and Marian’s. King Richard has returned and “straightened everything out.” The monarch chuckles to Tuck that he now has “an outlaw for an in-law,” quoting the friar’s prediction. Prince John and his cronies have been arrested and are shown to be toiling in the rock field. The carriage is reminiscent of Cinderella’s (and Marian’s dress and the bouquet are not historically accurate, but it’s a children’s movie and that is what we are familiar with in regards to a wedding). And they live happily ever after!
As I stated in the beginning, Robin Hood remains one of my favorite Disney movies. It’s got lots of action, a little bit of a love story; though I’ve always enjoyed it for the tale solely about Robin. To me, the music isn’t quite as good as the soundtracks from the eighties and nineties (I’ve got nothing against the Sherman Brothers; I love Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Mary Poppins [those will be mentioned in a future musical section]). But I’d love to hear what you guys think. Do you have a favorite folk hero? Favorite period in history?
Next Time: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh