Friday, June 30, 2006

Robin Hood (Reitherman, 1973)

There’s a moral question inherent in the telling of the Robin Hood myth. When is doing the wrong thing actually the right thing to do? After all, one of the absolutes that parents pass down to children is that it is not right to steal. However, if a wicked prince acting on borrowed authority takes from the citizenry that which they should rightfully possess, is it stealing at all? Must the wealth be redistributed in equal proportion according to need or according to who lost what? And if the people live in a monarchy where the right to rule is bequeathed by God, isn’t a complaint against unfair taxes truthfully a complaint against God? This all gets very confusing for an adult; however, it is likely significantly less so for a child watching Disney’s animated version of Robin Hood. Though the film for the most part skirts the issues I have raised above (rightfully perhaps), it is effective at communicating a very basic message of fairness that gives parents a starting point for deeper discussion. Watching the film for a second time, my four-year-old did not want to watch the part where the Sheriff of Nottingham grabbed a youngster’s birthday present right out of his hands. I see this as a good sign. It offended his sense of right and wrong.

I have no idea why the Sheriff and other characters speak in an American Southern accent when the film is set in 13th century England, but I enjoyed the way in which different animal species were matched up with suitable characters. Casting a fox in the title role is a no-brainer, but the film makes clever use of rhinos, elephants and turtles too. There is plenty of satisfying adventure in the heists that bookend the front and back of the picture, as well as the archery contest at the film’s center, although a sequence where a chicken thumps several guards on the noggin struck me as lacking imagination. The film’s look is appealing, if not terribly inventive, and I enjoyed the presence of Roger Miller (including the song which would later gain infamy as the soundtrack to Hampsterdance). There’s also something very effective about the portrayal of the thumb-sucking villian, Prince John. Perhaps it is the crown that barely fits on a head that is too small to bear it. Perhaps it is the way that he overestimates his own power. At any rate, I think that he is a well-created example of the bully mentality that can eventually be overcome with strategic resistance.

Robin Hood is not a film that inspires the kind of thrills, laughs or tears to rank it among Disney’s best; however, it is endearing enough to make for an enjoyable family experience with a little bit of adventure for the little ones and perhaps a little nostalgia for the parents.



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