Thursday, February 4, 2010

#21: Robin Hood (1973)

Y'know... how can the departure of one man truly endanger an entire creative machine. Walt didn't work on these alone, and when he died, the incredibly gifted and talented writers, animators, production crew, everyone was still there. So what is it about the post-Walt movies that don't exactly click? And I've seen this in many a cartoon: Ren & Stimpy, Powerpuff Girls, SpongeBob, Dexter's Lab... their creator leaves for one reason or another, retaining most if not all of the original crew, and the show tanks. It's incredibly peculiar to me. So that being said, 'Robin Hood' is the first film to come out that Walt knew nothing of, and while you'd think another film based on a well established story would be slam dunk, it unfortunately falls short.
To sum this up quick, since you should know this story, Robin Hood is a hero amongst the poor of England, robbing rich barons to give to the needy. All the denizens of the kingdom long await the return of King Richard, but in his place is Prince John, a cowardly, selfish whiner whose taxation laws are out of control. Along with his companion Little John, who's nothing but little, Robin seeks to ransack the kingdom for all its worth, for the greater good. ...oh yeah, and all the characters are animals. This is Disney, after all. To speak first of the overall style, it's rather basic. The character designs are simple, and at times derivative (more on that in a bit), and the whole film seems rather washed out. The forests and woods that try to come off as lush and gorgeous are actually rather pale and bland.
Still going with visuals, a lot of the animation, while still fluid, seems a bit lazy compared to films past. Combine that with the film's penchant for re-using animation at times, the most egregious example being a dance scene with all the woodland critters, with obvious dance sequence lifts from 'Snow White' and 'The Aristocats.' That's right, they borrowed footage from their LAST MOVIE. There's also some stuff from 'The Jungle Book' that's rather obvious, and it doesn't help that Little John not only has a similar character and design as Baloo, but has the same voice actor.
Seeing as how the studio was struggling financially and doing this film relatively cheap, I can understand their use of animation shortcuts. However, the main problem with this film is that a lot of its elements don't exactly blend. A lot of the film's set pieces appear to be played off as slapsticky action, but for some reason the movie never reaches that light-hearted tone. Regardless, the film piles on some scenes with these kid characters, and the love story with Maid Marian, all of which are fine individually, but none seem to really mesh as a whole. The obvious fade outs don't help the movie's episodic feel either.
When all else fails, take refuge in your villains, and there I found some relief. While Robin and Little John provide some amusing scenes, a lot of enjoyment came from the childish antics of Prince John, and his snake assistant. His character isn't exactly evil, just selfish and self-aggrandizing. Though at times the way he's played off so lightly makes it a bit difficult to take him seriously as a villain, but he's still fairly entertaining. The unusually Southern-sounding sheriff of Nottingham is a somewhat interesting character too, although I have a feeling I'll forget all about him as time goes on.

Verdict? Despite its best efforts, this movie is kind of a mess. It seemed like at its core it wanted to be light-hearted and comedic, but a lot of other elements were thrown in to divert it. It's by no means a bad film (so far the few duds there have been are still better than a lot of movies now), but it's kind of hard to judge when I've been inundated with classic after classic for the last month. I try to be subjective, dammit!

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