Hulk’s Favorite Movies: Disney’s ROBIN HOOD (1973)

On the brilliance of this animated gem.

"Every town / Has its ups and downs / Sometimes the ups /

Outnumber the downs / But not in Nottingham"

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TO MOST PEOPLE, WALT DISNEY PRODUCTIONS' ROBIN HOOD (1973) IS EITHER A FONDLY REMEMBERED CHILDHOOD TREAT OR ONE OF THE MANY DEATH KNELLS OF THE DISNEY ANIMATION EMPIRE... BOTH THOUGHTS ARE UNDERSTANDABLE.

MOSTLY BECAUSE THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO MISTAKING THE SHIFT IN OVERALL ANIMATION QUALITY THAT CAME AFTER WALT DISNEY'S DEATH IN 1965. WHILE WALT WAS CERTAINLY MANY THINGS, HE WAS STILL AN INNOVATOR; SOMEONE WHO UNDERSTOOD THAT TECHNOLOGICAL INVESTMENT IN QUALITY ANIMATION WAS JUST AS MUCH A PART OF YOUR FILM'S SOUL AS THE THEMATIC SPIRIT ITSELF. AND LIKE MANY GREAT PRODUCERS THAT HAD REAL VISION, HE UNDERSTOOD HOW TO BE AN ASSURED GUIDE THROUGHOUT THE PROCESS OF FILMMAKING IN ORDER TO HELP A COLLABORATIVE TEAM REACH A BEAUTIFUL END RESULT. HECK, WHEN WHEN YOU TAKE OUT HIS INTERESTING SHORT-STORY-FOCUSED SLEW OF FILMS FROM 1943-1949, YOU GET A LIFETIME RUN COMPRISED OF: SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, PINOCCHIO, FANTASIA, DUMBO, BAMBI, CINDERELLA, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, PETER PAN, LADY AND THE TRAMP, SLEEPING BEAUTY, 101 DALMATIONS, SWORD IN THE STONE AND FINALLY THE JUNGLE BOOK (HE PASSED AWAY DURING THE FILM'S COMPLETION). LOOKING OVER THOSE TITLES, YOU REALIZE THAT IS AS GOOD A RUN AS ONE CAN HAVE.

BUT THEN CAME THE TWENTY-YEAR RUN AFTER HIS DEATH (1968 TO 1988) IN WHICH WE GOT A RANDOM SPOTTING OF FILMS INCLUDING: THE ARISTOCATS, ROBIN HOOD, THE MANY ADVENTURES OF WINNIE THE POOH, THE RESCUERS, THE FOX AND THE HOUND, THE BLACK CAULDRON, THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE AND OLIVER AND COMPANY. IT'S A GROUP OF MOVIES THAT RANGE FROM THE CHARMING TO THE UNDERWHELMING, BUT IT'S NO ACCIDENT THEY ALL BARED THE UNFORTUNATE HALLMARKS OF CHEAPER ANIMATION, SHORTER RUN-TIMES AND SPARING FOCUS ON THAT UNMISTAKABLE DISNEY MANTRA. AND THE BRAND WOULD NOT TRULY RECOVER THEIR PRESTIGE UNTIL THE EARLY '90S RUN (STARTING WITH 1989'S THE LITTLE MERMAID). BUT OF ALL THE FILMS IN THAT LACKLUSTER TWENTY YEARS, THERE IS ONE FILM THAT STICKS OUT TO HULK FOR A NUMBER OF REASONS. NOT JUST BECAUSE IT WAS ONE OF HULK'S FAVORITES AS A YOUNGIN, BUT BECAUSE IT HIGHLIGHTS A REALLY COMPELLING AND RARE ETHOS IN THE MIDST OF THIS INTERESTING META-NARRATIVE.

THAT WOULD BE 1973'S ROBIN HOOD.

AT THE TIME, THE POSTHUMOUS WALT DISNEY PRODUCTIONS WAS COMING OUT OF THE PERCEIVED FAILURE OF THE ARISTOCATS. BECAUSE EVEN THOUGH IT DIDN'T DO THAT POORLY AND WAS ACTUALLY RECEIVED SOMEWHAT POSITIVELY, IT WAS STILL A FILM THAT "PROVED" TO THE PUBLIC AND THE TOP BRASS OF THE COMPANY THAT THEY COULDN'T CAPTURE THAT UNIQUE DISNEY MAGIC WITHOUT WALT HIMSELF. GRANTED, THE STUDIO'S ANIMATION DEPARTMENT HAD ACTUALLY BEEN FIGHTING BUDGET BATTLES FOR YEARS (AS PEOPLE HAD TROUBLE SEEING THE HIGH COSTS OF PRODUCTION AS AN INVESTMENT IN THE CULTURE), AND WITHOUT THE PROTECTION OF WALT, IT LEFT THE FUTURE OF DISNEY ANIMATION IN SHAMBLES. ESPECIALLY SINCE THE STAPLES OF WALT'S "NINE OLD MEN" LIKE JACK KINNEY, WILFRED JACKSON AND CLYDE GERONIMI HAD LONG SINCE LEFT. THUS, IT ALL FELL ON THE SHOULDERS OF WOLFGANG REITHERMAN TO CARRY ON THE LEGACY. THE PROBLEM IS THAT HE FOUND HIS BUDGETS AND STAFF WERE DRAMATICALLY CUT BACK. THE CREATIVE TEAM AROUND HIM WAS COMPLETELY HAMSTRUNG WITH THE STUDIO'S MANDATE OF THE EVER-POPULAR AND ASININE THEORY OF "DOING MORE WITH LESS." BUT LUCKILY FOR US, HAVING TO OPERATE IN THAT SPACE CREATED ONE OF THE MOST INTERESTING AND SOULFUL FILMS IN THE DISNEY CANON.

THE PRODUCTION OF ROBIN HOOD IS SOMEWHAT FAMOUS FOR ITS LACK OF ACTUAL PRODUCTION. THE ANIMATORS WERE REGULARLY FORCED TO CUT MAJOR SEQUENCES, INCLUDING MOST OF THE FILM'S CLIMAX. THEY WERE ALSO FORCED INTO RECYCLING FULL-ON ANIMATION SEQUENCES FROM PRIOR DISNEY FILMS LIKE SNOW WHITETHE JUNGLE BOOK AND EVEN ITS DIRECT PREDECESSOR THE ARISTOCATS (YOU CAN LITERALLY SEE ONE OF THE ARISTOCAT CHARACTERS DANCING BY THE CAMPFIRE, NOT EVEN REDRAWN). HECK, THEY EVEN HAD TO RE-USE MUCH OF THE FILM'S OWN ANIMATION FOR A SEEMINGLY ENDLESS-YET-SORT-OF-CHARMING OPENING TITLE SEQUENCE; ALL PART OF A SERIES OF GESTURES WHERE THEY WERE DESPERATELY TRYING TO STRETCH THE FILM TO 80 MINUTES.

AND YET EVEN WITH ALL THESE IMMENSE DIFFICULTIES, WHAT HULK LIKES TO ARGUE IS THAT ROBIN HOOD IS THE PERFECT EXAMPLE OF SHOWING US WHAT REALLY MATTERS IN MOVIES. PLEASE UNDERSTAND THIS ISN'T AN ARGUMENT FOR TAKING AWAY THE LOVELY FINANCIAL SUPPORT AND INNOVATION WHICH DRIVE THE INDUSTRY, BUT IT IS ABSOLUTELY PROOF OF WHAT YOU CAN DO SIMPLY WITH THE POWER OF CHARACTER, PERFORMANCE, SEQUENCING AND CHARM.

FOR ONE THING, IT IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT FOR HULK TO PICK A FAVORITE CHARACTER IN THIS FILM. THEIR VERSION OF ROBIN HOOD IS NOT JUST THE CHARMING, UNFLAPPABLE ROGUE, BUT SO MUCH MORE A GENTLE AND MELANCHOLY MAN; A MAN WHOSE WEARY EXPLOITS ARE CATCHING UP WITH HIM, AND A WISTFUL, LONGING DESIRE IN HIS HEART FOR A LOST LOVE. WHAT IS REMARKABLE ABOUT SUCH CHARACTERIZATION IS HOW IT GETS ALL THIS ACROSS IN MERE LINES OF DIALOGUE. OFTEN THOSE LINES ARE EXCHANGED WITH LITTLE JOHN, THE BIG, BOISTEROUS BEAR WITH A SLIGHT N'AWLINS DRAWL WHO SOMEHOW EXISTS IN THIS SAME WORLD WITHOUT OUR BATTING AN EYE. OR HOW IT DOES THE SAME WITH LADY KLUCK AND HER BURLY SCOTTISH BROGUE. OR WITH MAID MARIAN WHO TRANSCENDS THE STOCK FEMININE NOTIONS OF SENSITIVITY AND KINDNESS INTO AN AUDREY HEPBURN-LIKE GRACE. OR THE HILARITY OF PRINCE JOHN'S HOPELESS KINGLY POSTURING COUPLED WITH HIS WILDLY CHILDISH TEMPER TANTRUMS ("I HAVE A DIRTY THUMB"); WHICH THEN COUPLES AGAIN WITH THE PRINCE'S YES-MAN IN SIR HISS THE SNAKE. HULK IS HARD-PRESSED TO THINK OF A MORE HILARIOUS VILLAIN DUO WHOSE INSECURITY AND LACK OF SPINE STILL ACTUALLY MANIFEST IN REAL DANGER / STAKES FOR THE GOOD CHARACTERS. WHICH IS BRILLIANT, REALLY, BECAUSE UNLIKE SO MANY OTHER STOCK VILLAINS, THEIR EVIL IS A CASUAL, INSIDIOUS AND REAL EVIL. IT IS THE BASIC EXPRESSION OF SELFISH CALLOWNESS AND PETTINESS THAT MANIFESTS IN THE REAL WORLD. AND WHO BETTER TO THROW INTO THOSE GRAVE STAKES THAN THE FILM'S PLETHORA OF ADORABLE CHILDREN, WHO READILY MAKE TRUE OF THE OLD ADAGE OF AUDIENCE INVESTMENT ("TAKE SOMETHING YOU LIKE AND PUT IT IN REAL DANGER"). YUP, EVERY CHARACTER ONLY SEEMS TO HAVE A FEW LITTLE BITS OF SCREEN TIME AND YET EVERY CHARACTER COMES TO LIFE WITH SUCH VIVID HUMANITY.

YOU'LL ALSO PROBABLY NOTE HOW THE FILM SEEMS TO ALMOST FLOAT FROM SCENE TO SCENE, OFTEN FOLLOWING ONE CHARACTER INTO A NEW LOCALE ALL BEFORE FADING AND JUMPING TO ANOTHER PART OF THE STORY. RARELY DOES IT FEEL ALL THAT STRATEGIC, BUT MORE OF A CONCENTRATED FAIRY TALE-LIKE EFFECT THAT HIGHLIGHTS THE IMPORTANT NOTION OF CINEMATIC SEQUENCING. STRING A MOVIE ALONG IN CHUNKS, LET US CHEW OVER ONE SCENE IN FULL AND LOVING EFFECT, AND WE'LL HAPPILY SKIP OVER LARGE SECTIONS OF THE DRAMATIC CONSTRUCTS THAT REALLY DON'T AMOUNT TO MUCH MORE THAN SIMPLE EXPLANATION (LOOK AT THE WAY KUBRICK AND TARANTINO CONSTRUCT MOVIES IN FIVE-ACT CHUNKS OF SEQUENCES). WHAT'S STRANGE IS THAT PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS AFRAID TO DO THIS, BUT IT IS EXACTLY WHAT EDITING IS. WE DON'T NEED TO SHOW CHARACTERS DRIVING AROUND DOING NOTHING. WE'RE ACTUALLY GOOD AT FILLING IN GAPS. AND IT'S AMAZING HOW MUCH GREAT STORIES UNDERSTAND THAT "DOING NOTHING" IS SO MUCH MORE OF THE STORY THAN ONE WOULD THINK. AND HECK, THIS FILM EVEN HAD TO CUT AN ENDING WITH KING RICHARD'S TRIUMPHANT DRAMATIC RETURN, BUT IT STILL KNOWS HOW TO SKATE BY WITH A MOMENTARY ESCAPE AND A TACKED-ON STORIFIED CONCLUSION. AND WHAT'S SO GREAT ABOUT THE FILM IS WE PERHAPS INSTINCTIVELY UNDERSTAND ALL THIS BECAUSE THE FILM TELLS US IMMEDIATELY IN THE NARRATION: "OH, INCIDENTALLY, I'M ALAN-A-DALE, A MINSTREL. THAT'S AN OLD TIME FOLK SINGER. MY JOB IS TO TELL IT LIKE IT IS, OR WAS, OR WHATEVER."

THE WHATEVER SHOWS HOW THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH IS SO MUCH MORE COMPELLING.

BECAUSE THERE ARE JUST SO MANY LOVELY THINGS ABOUT ROBIN HOOD IN THESE SEQUENCES. MOMENTS THAT LET A SMALL, INTIMATE WORLD OFTEN FEEL LARGE AND UNWIELDY. AND JUST HOW THE BIG STUFF FEELS EQUALLY INTIMATE. WE CAN WONDER INTO A SCENE AND MEET A NEW CHARACTER (LIKE THE CHURCH MICE) AND UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING WE NEED TO KNOW IN JUST A FEW SECONDS. AND SO MUCH OF THE TONAL EXPLANATION COMES FROM THE FILM'S FAMOUS USE OF MUSIC, SPECIFICALLY A FEW ROGER MILLER SONGS THAT HAVE GONE ON TO BECOME EARWORMS FOR FOUR DECADES FOR A DAMN REASON (HINT: IT'S BECAUSE THEY'RE AMAZING). BUT WHAT HULK WANTS TO POINT OUT IS THAT THOSE SONGS ARE NOT THE SUBJECT OF FOLKSY WISDOM, THEY ARE EXPRESSIONS OF THE MOVIE'S REAL DARKER ETHOS...

THE FILM IS ABOUT TRYING TO BE A GOOD PERSON IN A TERRIBLE SITUATION.

THINK ABOUT THE PLOT ITSELF: KING RICHARD HAS GONE TO THE HOLY LAND TO FIGHT A CRUSADE AND HAS THUS LEFT THEM WITH PRINCE JOHN, THE HORRIBLE PHONY-KING OF ENGLAND, A SURE-FIRE EXPRESSION OF THEIR EXPERIENCE WITH THE NEW DISNEY PRODUCTION AND COMBATING THE PRETENDERS TO THE THRONE. MEANING IT'S NO ACCIDENT THE VAST MAJORITY OF THE FILM'S SCENES SHOWCASE PRINCE JOHN AND THE SHERIFF TAKING AWAY ALL THE CITIZENS' MONEY IN INCREASINGLY CALLOUS WAYS. TO BOOT, AND THIS IS PURELY ANECDOTAL, BUT THESE CHARACTERS ARE LONG RUMORED TO BE BASED ON DONN TATUM AND CARD WALKER, WHO WERE CONSIDERED THE FIRST PURE BUSINESSMEN TO BE BROUGHT IN TO RUN THE DISNEY EMPIRE AT THE TIME. AS SUCH, THEY DIDN'T QUITE UNDERSTAND THE IDEA OF INVESTING IN ANIMATION AS A LONG-TERM GOAL. THEY SAW THE LEGACY AS BEING ENOUGH FOR THE FUTURE AND EVENTUALLY SPENT MOST OF THEIR TENURE WORKING ON DISNEY WORLD AND EPCOT CENTER. AND THAT LEFT THE ANIMATORS, OUR PROVERBIAL RESIDENTS OF NOTTINGHAM AND SHERWOOD FOREST, SCROUNGING FOR EVERY LAST FARTHING, TRYING TO DO WHAT THEY CAN. EVEN WHEN BOUND IN CHAINS, THEY ARE TRYING NOT TO LET THE OMNIPRESENT SADNESS BREAK THEIR SPIRIT.

IN THAT WAY, IT OFTEN FEELS LIKE THE MOST DOUR AND MELANCHOLY DISNEY UNIVERSE THAT HULK CAN THINK OF. AS ROGER MILLER SINGS, "EVERY TOWN / HAS ITS UPS AND DOWNS / SOMETIMES THE UPS / OUTNUMBER THE DOWNS / BUT NOT IN NOTTINGHAM" AND IT IS REFLECTIVE OF A CREATIVE TEAM THAT REALLY, TRULY FELT LIKE THIS WAS GOING TO BE THE END OF THE RUN. THEY MAY HAVE BEEN ABLE TO PUT HIM IN THE STORY ITSELF, BUT THEY KNEW KING RICHARD WOULDN'T BE COMING BACK IN THE REAL LIFE VERSION. A THOUGHT THAT SEEMS TO HANG OVER EVERYTHING.

IN POPULAR CONNOTATION, ROBIN HOOD IS MOSTLY REMEMBERED FOR ITS MUSIC, OR FOR BEING THE MOVIE THAT MADE A BUNCH OF FOLKS HAVE CONFUSING FEELINGS ABOUT FOXES (WHICH IS COOL. YOU DO YOU), BUT IT ABSOLUTELY REMAINS ONE OF HULK'S FAVORITE FILMS. AND THE THING THAT STILL STICKS TO HULK AFTER ALL THESE YEARS IS HOW MUCH OF IT IS REALLY ABOUT THE INESCAPABLE FEELING OF DOOM. BUT IT IS ALSO PERHAPS THE FIRST FILM THAT TAUGHT HULK THAT, YES, DOOM IS SOMETHING TO BE AFRAID OF, SOMETHING TO BE RESENTED, SOMETHING THAT MAKES YOU SAD IN YOUR BONES...

BUT IT CAN NEVER BE A THING THAT CHANGES WHO YOU ARE.

LONG LIVE KING RICHARD.

<3 HULK

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