Robin Hood is considered by many to be a weak point in the Disney Animated Feature canon, but I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for it. Watching it again after all these years I can agree that it doesn’t measure up, but not, perhaps, for the same reasons others feel that it doesn’t.
For one thing, I really like the casting. Brian Bedford and Monica Evans give good readings as Robin and Marian, which is essential. Many have a problem with Phil Harris playing Little John, as he is basically just Baloo the Bear all over again. I do not have such qualms. Baloo is a great character and essentially re-using him here is a masterstroke. There’s a lot of that sort of shorthand when it comes to the characters in Robin Hood. While it may lack in originality, I think it helps make them instantly recognizable and appealing.
Another area that comes under scrutiny is the use of a folksy score that some feel keeps the film from being exciting. I think it gives it a wonderful rural feel that is necessary if you are going to get an audience’s sympathy on the side of an outlaw.
And that’s where the film falls down for me nowadays. Maybe it’s just a change in attitude as I grow older, but I find the activities celebrated in the Robin Hood stories to be difficult to justify. True, taxation was harsh and the poor had a bad lot (particularly in this version), but do we really want to teach children that it’s ever okay to steal what doesn’t belong to them? What happened to “two wrongs don’t make a right” or “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”?
Complicating this issue for me is the knowledge that the “evil” Prince John eventually becomes King John anyway, following Richard’s death. I’ve always been amused by the big celebrations at the end of most Robin Hood movies showing everyone cheering the return, when he’s only going to die and leave them to John in the end. Perhaps I just take that aspect too seriously, but I can’t help it. It hurts my viewing of the film.
Still, Robin Hood gets a bum rap. Sure, it’s not the best of even the output from the “dark ages”, but it’s still entertaining. The action is solid, the songs fun and the cast infuses their characters with life. Could it have been done better? Without a doubt. But it’s still good fun.