Despite Flaws, ‘Robin Hood’ Remains Lighthearted Classic

by Andrew Williams
Columnist

“Robin Hood” is generally considered to be one of Disney’s weaker movies. Its craftsmanship certainly leaves much to be desired.

For one thing, it lacks focus: The plot tends to wander and characters like Maid Marian inexplicably vanish halfway through the film only to reappear suddenly at the end. Sometimes it goes too far with its silliness, like during the brawl following the archery tournament. And as sweet as the romantic moments may be, they do come off as a bit trite, even by Disney standards.

But despite its flaws, “Robin Hood” has gone on to become a much-beloved classic, because what it lacks in quality it makes up for with pure spirit. Few other Disney movies radiate with quite as much joy and playfulness as “Robin Hood” or abound with as many inane yet classic moments.

Who could forget the scheming but cowardly Prince John, who in times of crisis would suck his thumb and tug at his ear like my 4-year-old nephew? But for all its frivolity, the movie hardly feels irreverent. In fact, I think it actually does a magnificent job capturing the heart of its source material.

The Robin Hood legend endures in part because it exists in a world of eternal summer, in an idealized age of adventure and romance where good always wins out in the end. There is something inherently innocent and nostalgic about the legend which the Disney film renders for us in a number of creative ways.

Consider how much the decision to personify all the characters as animals adds to the lighthearted tone of the movie. Anthropomorphic animals of this sort have long been a staple of children’s entertainment, so we tend to associate them with childhood itself and the blithe innocence it represents.

In addition, “Robin Hood” recalls elements of the western. For example, country singer Roger Miller provides the narration and most of the music, many of the characters speak with southern accents, and the Sheriff even wears a gold star. On top of that, there’s a wonderful sense of community and goodwill ingrained throughout the film which also characterizes the genre.

Like the Robin Hood legend and our own childhood memories, the western romanticizes a time long past, when life seemed more pure and simple even when under the threat of villainy. By drawing elements from the genre, “Robin Hood” gains not only the proper nostalgic atmosphere, but its own unique look as well.

As for Robin himself, the animators and actor Brian Bedford do a splendid job bringing the character to life, making him at once roguish, dashing, romantic and theatrical. Most importantly, though, they make him heroic. Robin rarely thinks of himself but is always working tirelessly and selflessly to help the suffering villagers and raise their spirits.

In fact, the one time when he does act to serve his own interests results in him being captured and threatened with execution. True, he steals, but is it really stealing when you are merely taking back what was wrongfully taken in the first place?

“Robin Hood” may be a little rough around the edges in terms of craftsmanship, but its kindness, warmth and joviality make it difficult to resist. It is by no means a masterpiece, but it doesn’t aspire to be. It is simply out to have a good time, to bask in the bright legacy of its source material, to charm and entertain. Sure, it’s silly, but that’s all part of the fun. Besides, couldn’t we all use a little silliness every now and again?

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