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On Nov. 8, 1973, Buena Vista unveiled its 83-minute animated adaptation Robin Hood, featuring music and songs from George Bruns, Roger Miller, Floyd Huddleston and Johnny Mercer. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
Two-thirds of Robin Hood, the new Disney animated feature produced and directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, is charming, amusing and imaginative. The characterizations are simple, vivid, and with the aid of the vocal talents of Peter Ustinov and Terry-Thomas, sometimes genuinely inspired. But there’s also that other third, spaced throughout the 83-minute movie, which is visually monotonous, uninteresting and a rehash of familiar Disney techniques.
The story by Larry Clemmons, based on character and story conceptions by Ken Anderson, turns all the characters of the legend into animals. Thus, Robin Hood does what Disney has always done best — bring animals to life on screen. Happily, there are no awkward people figures to diminish the audience’s suspension of disbelief.
Alas, the main character, with the voice of Brian Bedford, is a failure; this is no sly fox but a lifeless hero without flair or energy. Much, much better are his trusted ally Little John, a big teddy-bear-like bear with the voice of Phil Harris, a badger Friar Tuck (Andy Devine’s voice) and a wonderfully feisty chicken called Lady Kluck (Carole Shelley’s voice) who serves as the lady in waiting to Maid Marian, a vixen with the voice of Monica Evans.
But best of all is the childish tyrant, the temper tantrum throwing campy Prince John, a cowardly lion with the outrageous, delicious voice of Ustinov. His chief courtier is a nasty snake with the voice of Thomas.
The two have all the best scenes and all the best lines, like the episode in which Robin Hood and Little John disguise themselves as women fortune tellers to steal the prince’s jewels. The love-hate, daffy, greedy relationship of the lion and snake makes the movie genuinely diverting entertainment.
The subsidiary characters are often delightful, like the two vultures who assist the mean sheriff of Nottingham, a rather imprecise wolf with the voice of Pat Buttram. Some rabbit children are shamelessly endearing, as are the poor church mice who get taken to jail with Friar Tuck.
The movie’s two big sequences are an archery contest and an escape from Prince John’s palace jail. Both episodes more than amply serve to demonstrate the dazzling fluidity of animation, the fanciful method of screen motion available only to cartoon characters. The directing animators were Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston and John Lounsbery.
Too much of the movie is talky, as if dialogue were of real interest in animation. There’s also nothing that stops the show, like the attack on the witch’s fortress in Sleeping Beauty or the inspired horrors of Pinocchio. The washed-out, muted colors are a mistake, and if Robin Hood is sometimes hilarious, it has little memorable magic.
There are five songs in the movie, three of them written and sung by Roger Miller whose voice creates Allan a Dale, the rooster minstrel who narrates the story. “Love,” written by George Bruns (who also scored the movie) and Floyd Huddleston, is a too sweet ballad sung by Nancy Adams, the singing voice of Maid Marian. The best song is “The Phoney King of England,” a diatribe against Prince John performed by Phil Harris as Little John and written by Johnny Mercer. — Alan R. Howard, originally published Nov. 2, 1973.
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