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Robin Hood: Most Wanted Edition DVD Review

Robin Hood (1973) movie poster Robin Hood

Theatrical Release: November 8, 1973 / Running Time: 83 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Wolfgang Reitherman

Voice Cast: Roger Miller (Allan-a-Dale The Rooster), Peter Ustinov (Prince John, King Richard), Terry-Thomas (Sir Hiss), Brian Bedford (Robin Hood), Monica Evans (Maid Marian), Phil Harris (Little John), Andy Devine (Friar Tuck), Carole Shelley (Lady Kluck), Pat Buttram (Sheriff of Nottingham), George Lindsey (Trigger), Ken Curtis (Nutsy), Billy Whitaker (Skippy), Dana Laurita (Sis), Dora Whitaker (Tagalong), Richie Sanders (Toby), J. Pat O'Malley (Otto), Candy Candido (Tournament Crocodile), Barbara Luddy (Mother Rabbit, Mother Church Mouse), John Fiedler (Sexton), Beulah Bondi (Mother Church Mouse)

Songs: "Whistle-Stop", "Oo-de-lally", "Love", "The Phony King of England", "Not in Nottingham"

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As the first Disney animated feature to enter production after Walt Disney's 1966 death, Robin Hood illustrates perhaps better than any other film where the Disney studio faltered in the wake of its namesake's passing. Looking back at the company's cartoon canon, it is rather remarkable to think that the loss of a single man could drain a legacy of magic from output collaborated on by hundreds of individuals. After all, from the mid-1950s on, Walt became preoccupied with his theme parks,
from the ever-changing one he opened (Anaheim's Disneyland) to the one he conceived and developed (Florida's Walt Disney World). Yet, the final decade of his life still brought animated films that remain more beloved today than most, including Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmatians, and The Jungle Book. The animators who survived Walt were the same ones behind those masterpieces and earlier ones. And, despite being the person labeled most responsible for feature-length cartoons, Walt's influences were more managerial than artistic.

The creative difficulties that arose in the first two decades that Disney was Walt-less are then a testament to the man's tremendous powers as hands-on troop-rallier and visionary in touch with the public's tastes. Such powers have long been celebrated and immortalized by the company Walt left behind that has since grown into a media empire. While some have questioned the legacy, the fact that a period considered the Dark Ages of animation came immediately in his absence seems to support that there truly was some special touch that Walt brought especially to cartoon filmmaking.

Of course, the fact that I'm talking about Robin Hood today, thirty-three years since it was first released to theaters, indicates that even if this 1973 feature can't claim the massive followings of either Walt's cherished classics or the late '80s/early '90s Renaissance musicals, it still is appreciated enough to justify a second DVD release during the end-of-the-year media blitz that accompanies "the holiday season."

Robin Hood and Little John hidin' in the forest... oo-de-lally, oo-de-lally, golly what a day. The crown doesn't quite fit Prince John, but Sir Hiss remains loyal to the king's brother.

Disney's Robin Hood is an all-animal version of the much-adapted and well-known tale of a noble Englishman who robs from the rich to give to the poor. Robin Hood and Maid Marian are red foxes, Little John is a brown bear, Friar Tuck is a badger, Prince John is a lion, and so on, and so on. Though all the creatures are completely anthropomorphized, this production is still one of Disney's few animated features that avoids human characters altogether.

The minstrel rooster Allan-a-dale (who makes this one of the rare narrated Disney animated features, albeit sparingly so) introduces the cast of characters via a lyric-less melody known as "Whistle-Stop" (sped up, the tune gained exposure in modern times as the music behind The Hampster Dance, an inexplicable Internet phenomenon). From here, the movie progresses in a very episodic fashion. Robin Hood and Little John (who is anything but little) are portrayed as a laid-back, well-meaning duo. Their opposition is supplied by unquestionably evil authority figures: the tyrant Prince John and his often tied-up henchman (the snake Sir Hiss), as well as the forgettable Sheriff of Nottingham.

Robin Hood and Little John don assorted disguises to do their business as Sherwood Forest's redistributors of wealth. The scheming is depicted in a broad and comedic manner and it represents one of several elements calculatedly thrown into the mix. Slapstick-fueled adventure derives from the central acts of acceptable robbery, as does some small-town drama. There is also a group of kid characters (underprivileged rabbits and a bespectacled turtle) and a love story surrounding the destined-to-reunite Maid Marian and Robin Hood. None of these angles feels fully and satisfactorily realized. Individually, they all fall short of more inspired treatment seen in other Disney films. Together, the result is reasonably diverting, but mediocre and evidently disjointed.

That blind beggar is really one sly (but good-natured) fox. This sharp-shooting stork may remind you of a certain outlaw that likes to wear green. The Sheriff of Nottingham is certainly taken aback.

If you grew up with Robin Hood, you're bound to be forgiving of the film, but nostalgic feelings laid aside, it just doesn't stand up very well next to other Disney classics artistically. Now, like pretty much every piece of Disney animation, the movie is not without its charms. One of the highlights is Peter Ustinov's funny embodiment of the thumb-sucking comic villain Prince John.
The character is not just goofy and quirky like your typical cartoon comedy's villain, he's genuinely funny enough to produce laughs in adults. While the antagonist's mannerisms are meant almost purely to amuse, "P.J." emerges as the movie's most defined character and he's just malicious enough to root against.

Most of the other characterizations won't stick with you if you're not committed to regular repeat viewings. Robin Hood is sufficiently charming, Maid Marian is a suitable love interest, and Sir Hiss is an entertaining sidekick. Beyond that, the ensemble cast operates perfunctorily, with several characters being most identified by what other Disney character shares the same voice actor. (Close your eyes and Merryweather, Piglet, and Jasper all make appearances.) Likable though he may be, Little John is essentially Baloo all over again, as Phil Harris' character from The Jungle Book who is even closely physically resembled here.

As far as the craft of animation is concerned, Robin Hood feels slight coming after such visually impressive Disney features. It possesses the same slightly rough pencil look of the studio's other works from this period, but whereas other animated films can justify the look (the Winnie the Pooh featurettes) or at least exhibit some degree of imagination (The Aristocats), Robin's benign imagery feels a bit lazy. Supporting this claim is the apparent employment of cost-cutting measures, most noticably in the dance animation of "The Phony King of England" that's clearly lifted from The Aristocats and Snow White.

"Now you're all grown up inside of me"? What on earth is Maid Marian singin' about? Three rabbits, a doll, and a bespectacled turtle make up the kid contingency of "Robin Hood."

The music of Robin Hood is possibly the most dated of any of the studio's animated films. The best-known song ("Love") has some of the flimsiest lyrics of any Disney number in spite of its soothing sudsy '70s sound. Grammy-winning singer Roger Miller, known for his country music and novelty songs, brings a bit of both to "Whistle-Stop" and "Oo-de-lally", the tone-establishing tunes which open the movie in succession, and the less memorable "Not in Nottingham" later on.

Like any other Disney 'toon that's unspectacular enough to be labeled "average", Robin Hood is not a bad movie. It's merely not so terrific when viewed as #21 in the studio's largely extraordinary list of over 40 "animated classics." Another animation studio would likely be quite proud of the movie and its formidable $32 million domestic gross (including the movie's successful spring of '82 reissue). For the Mouse, it's merely at the lower end of the spectrum. Much of the humor lacks the timeless nature of Walt-era fare, occasionally resorting to lowbrow antics (for Disney). The movie's heart isn't so prevalent either. The film is slow-moving and lacks a solid, coherent whole; the stream of fade-out transitions underscore the movie's fissured and flawed structure.

Robin Hood made its DVD debut as part of Disney's Gold Collection on the Fourth of July in 2000, a year replete with basic DVD releases of feature-length animation. Now, with the majority of its most popular films having already received (or been scheduled for) stellar, fan-pleasing two-disc treatment, the studio has turned its attention to giving slight single-disc upgrades to B-list titles that are missing from many collections, especially those of folks slow to adopt the DVD format. Like the "Big Top Edition" of Dumbo (which ought to be A-list, though its sales fall just short of making the cut) issued last June, Robin Hood is treated to a "clever" themed title: Most Wanted Edition.

Buy Robin Hood: Most Wanted Edition on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.75:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
Release Date: November 28, 2006
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Black Keepcase with Side Snaps
and Embossed Cardboard Slipcover

VIDEO and AUDIO

Looking just at the numbers, it would appear that Disney dropped the ball on this Most Wanted Edition re-release. The movie's Gold Collection disc released in 2000 weighed in at 7.39 GB of data, boasting a high average bit rate of 8.53 Mb/second. Six and a half years later, with a bit more bonus material, you'd expect this Most Wanted Edition to leave those numbers in the dust,
but in fact it comes in at a surprisingly skimpy 4.77 GB with an average bit rate of just 5.51 Mb/s. Fortunately, advances in compression techniques mean this re-release is not a clear loser despite what mathematics tells us. But, the differences to my eyes and factors which shape them are not enough to declare one disc superior to the other.

The most noticeable difference between the two releases is the aspect ratio. The Gold Collection DVD presented Robin Hood in 1.33:1 fullscreen, as has been the case for the DVDs of most animated Disney films post-Sleeping Beauty (one of the studio's two CinemaScope feature-length cartoons released in the 1950s) and pre-The Black Cauldron (which in 1985 rang in an era when all animated Disney films began clearly being composed for widescreen, though some minor ratio discrepancies still exist). Here, the film is presented in 1.75:1 anamorphic widescreen. To achieve this, 25% of the picture seen in the vertical direction has been lost from the Gold Collection transfer while the movie retains the same width. In other words, the Most Wanted Edition offers a matted widescreen presentation of Robin Hood, which is what at least some (and maybe most) theaters would have done in 1973 and 1982 (the movie's re-release) to screen the film.

Matting occurs on a majority of live action films today, which are often shot "flat" (filling an approximately 4x3 frame) but framed for widescreen (approximately 16x9) so that the excess space at the top and bottom of the filmed frame are never intended to be seen. Animation is a different story, and for Disney's features (and some shorts) from 1960 through 1984, this issue has been the source of questions with no easy, definitive answers emerging. Just a few weeks ago, 1981's The Fox and the Hound was re-released and treated to the same 1.33:1 standard TV screen-filling dimensions it previously had, even though the majority of films made then were framed for and exhibited in one of two widescreen aspect ratios.

Clearly, Disney animators took the time to animate Robin Hood for the full 1.33ish:1 frame; whether they did this to achieve the ratio of most of the studio's past cartoon features or to ensure that television broadcasts would not require cropping is unclear. But matting the film does result in a loss of about 25% of artwork, which is no unsubstantial amount. We cry foul when movies are cropped to fill the standard television dimensions; now that 16x9 televisions are becoming more common, is matting a film like Robin Hood tantamount to the dreaded pan-and-scan procedure? It's tough to say and the DVD is little help; the issue is not addressed anymore than it was for Fox and the Hound's recent still-fullscreen reissue. The package doesn't even define 1.75:1 as the movie's original, intended, or theatrical aspect ratio. IMDb claims that Robin Hood's intended ratio is 1.75:1, but you or I could submit a change just for kicks and giggles. The one person who could probably put an end to speculation -- director Wolfgang Reitherman -- has been dead for over twenty years, so I know he didn't tell IMDb the intended ratio.

Of course, looking at the two DVD presentations and comparing the framing does shed a fair amount of light on the subject. In the fullscreen Gold Collection version, the action often stays vertically in the center of the screen, which might suggest that the top and bottom of the frame were considered disposable. But, this is not always the case, as some elements do feel slightly cramped in the vertical direction, and also it's just natural to keep focal action in the middle of the screen, look at Walt's early films (which were obviously intended for the one and only Academy Ratio) and you'll notice the same thing. For the most part, the matted framing looks okay, but not enough to convince me it is the only correct ratio. Naturally, the best solution would have been to include both open matte and widescreen versions in the set to let people decide; there's nearly enough room for both on the disc with compression the way it is.

Still from Robin Hood: Gold Collection DVD - click to view screencap in full 720 x 480. Still from Robin Hood: Most Wanted Edition DVD - click to view screencap in full 720 x 480.

Screencap from Robin Hood Gold Collection DVD

Screencap of same frame from this Most Wanted Edition DVD

Comparing the two DVDs for picture quality yields obvious (aspect ratio) and more subtle (colors) differences.

If you can get past the aspect ratio issue (and the prevalence of separate widescreen and fullscreen editions for the majority of big studio's newest movies leads me to think that most of us can't), you probably want to know if the Most Wanted Edition trumps the earlier disc in picture quality. The answer is a slight "yes." A sticker on the front of the case boasts a new digital transfer, and while it's clear that there are some differences, the Most Wanted Edition's video remains imperfect and not drastically different (aside from the aspect ratio) from the Gold Collection transfer. The Most Wanted Edition's print is a little less riddled with digital artifacts and other intrusions. The Gold Collection presentation provided brighter colors, though perhaps overly bright. Here, hues are darker, deeper, richer and a bit more subdued. Compare the opening title shot of each film: what looks like a crimson backdrop, with a bright green book and nearly orange text in the Gold Collection becomes a maroon backdrop, a faded green book, and pale yellow text.

For the most part, both look okay and tinkering with your TV's settings could achieve similar effects based on your preferences. In this Most Wanted Edition, there is still some grain, however, and elements still fluctuate on occasion. The picture also doesn't appear to be as sharp as before, though some would argue that the old disc looked excessively or artificially sharp. To sum up, both discs offer a satisfactory presentation of the film (the picture quality in the alternate ending's movie footage reveals things could look a lot worse) and disregarding the aspect ratio, the Most Wanted Edition offers slight improvement but leaves plenty of room for more.

In the sound department, the Most Wanted Edition is encoded as Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, French, and Spanish, which may sound like an upgrade from the two-channel Mono tracks found on the Gold Collection. I would be lying if I said it was, though. Indeed, I'd be lying if I said this was anything beyond broad mono; putting your ear up to the rear speakers reveals minor reinforcement in music and sound effects, but other than that, the soundfield is essentially non-existent beyond the front speakers. The soundtrack shows some signs of age and is limited in what it achieves, but it is still capably enough presented.

King Richard checks in on the injured Robin Hood in the movie's underwhelming alternate ending. Disney Song Selection: Wow, songs with lyrics on the screen...someone should devote a whole video line to this type of thing. The Archery Trivia Challenge rewards knowledge and speed, but you'll have to be patient enough to listen to the question.

BONUS FEATURES

The Bonus Features menu consists of a rather pitiful list of five supplement headings. First up, under Deleted Scenes, is an alternate ending (4:33), which further prolongs the already excessive climax by putting Prince John and Sir Hiss on the trail of an injured Robin Hood. Slightly more interesting, we also get to see King Richard confront his brother and make Robin Hood a knight, before giving way to the wedding that actually ends the movie. After a brief narrated setup, the sequence is brought to life by new voice recordings set to rough sketches and paintings. With no discarded animation or temp track recordings, it doesn't play out a lot differently than it would read. While that's also true
of the types of deleted scene constructions found on Bambi and Lady and the Tramp, there isn't even the old Walt Era allure to redeem this, making it unsurprisingly somewhat of a letdown.

Next, the heading Music & More refers merely to "Disney Song Selection", a feature which lets you watch the musical numbers of the film... with plain subtitles providing the lyrics on the screen. Actually, this cutting-edge treatment is applied only to "Oo-de-lally", "Love", and "The Phony King of England", yielding three brief excerpts or with the "Play All" feature, a 5-minute, 45-second all-musical version of the movie.

The lone heading which justifies being in plural form, Games and Activities holds two set-top treats referred to as "Robin Hood's Merry Games." The Archery Trivia Challenge rewards knowledge and, in a change, speed. You answer a series of multiple choice questions, gaining the most points for responses that are quick and correct. Racking up 400 points gets you in Robin Hood's band; in other words, you win. (Your prize? A return to the menu.) For most, that ends the game after just four questions. For the young (the game's obvious target), it may take longer, but they'll have to endure listening to every choice before getting to answer and not having the question text on screen. Oh, and if those weren't enough of a bummer, the questions are exactly the same and posed in the same order every time.

The game "Rescue Maid Marian" requires listening and looking for five objects scattered about four locations. The Robin Hood Art Gallery can be explored in the usual way or brought to life as a more informative child-narrated featurette. Wandering minstrel Mickey pays a visit to the tower-sentenced Minnie in "Ye Olden Days", which this time around is presented in its original black and white.

The other game, "Rescue Maid Marian", is essentially Disney's umpteenth variation of virtual hide and seek. Here, in order to achieve the titular task you have to find six pertinent objects in four separate locales. The twist is that the cheery British narrator only hints at what you're looking for, so that the aloof might need to do some head-scratching. At least this one is well-designed, although it too is the same on repeat visits.

Representing Backstage Disney is the Robin Hood Art Gallery, a collection of 48 stills which range from concept art depicting human versions of the characters and colorful design sketches to production photos and posters.
The same artwork can be viewed as a "Video Gallery" (8:48), in which it is accompanied by narration that provides some kid-oriented background information on the images. Though it's drawn out, this presentation is enlightening and does liven up the gallery as an alternative to standard navigation. Still, as the closest thing to a making-of featurette found on the disc, it's not much.

Finally, there is the 1933 Disney short Ye Olden Days (8:13), in which princess Minnie Mouse gets locked away in a tower for not wanting to marry assigned groom Goofy (then called "Dippy Dawg"). After Minstrel Mickey Mouse shows up and rescues the princess, the king calls for a joust between Mickey and prince Goofy. I suppose this black and white cartoon is included for its medieval European setting; not that a reason is needed to round out an otherwise barren disc with some vintage Mickey gaiety.

Disappointingly, there are no trailers or other worthwhile bonus features provided for Robin Hood here. That means all four of the Gold Collection disc's extras have been dropped. Alas, three are essentially replaced (a colorized version of Ye Olden Days, a 16-question trivia game, and an "Oo-de-lally" sing-along), while the fourth was a flippin' virtual storybook, which most won't miss.

The pleasant Main Menu provides a clear improvement over the Gold Collection disc's static selection screens. There's mild animation in this thankfully compact Bonus Features menu, which underscores the paucity of behind-the-scenes materials.

MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The animated menus offer improvement over the Gold Collection's selection screens. The Main Menu showcases a montage of film clips on a tree-posted Reward notice, as leaves fall and birds chirp in a computer-animated Sherwood Forest.
Apple iTunes

Apple iTunes
The Bonus Features menu is mildly animated at Robin Hood and Little John's unoccupied campsite. While the rest are static screens, all are naturally bolstered by instrumental score excerpts.

In its initial pressing, the Most Wanted Edition does boast a nice embossed cardboard slipcover. Of course, the front, back, and spines of the slipcover are nearly an exact replica of the keepcase artwork, so only superficial points are awarded. Inside the case, one finds two inserts: a scene selection/extras overview that doubles as an ad for Disney's other November 28th DVD release and 100 points for the Disney Movie Rewards program.

In what should come as a surprise only to those who haven't encountered a post-1999 Disney DVD, there are some tolerable previews that automatically play upon inserting the disc. These showcase Peter Pan: Platinum Edition, Meet the Robinsons, The Fox and the Hound 2, and Air Buddies. The first page of the Sneak Peeks menu offers more promos that tout Cinderella III: A Twist in Time, Disney Princess: Enchanted Tales - A Kingdom fo Kindness, Playhouse Disney's upcoming debut "My Friends Tigger & Pooh" and "Little Einsteins": The Legend of the Golden Pyramid. The menu ads also play post-movie thanks to the wonders of Disney's Fast Play, which of course this disc is "enhanced" with.

Robin Hood shows off his stuff. PJ's philosophy: When your serpeant tries to sit higher than you, you choke and scold him.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Like the recent re-release of The Fox and the Hound, this "Most Wanted Edition" of Robin Hood does not do much to revisit its subject in a thoughtful and respectful way. No, it's more of an impetus to get those who haven't already picked up this lesser middle-of-the-road Disney 'toon to add this to their collection. The timing and treatment are curious, as there seems little reason for this disc to come now and like this, aside from strengthening the studio's holiday slate.

Completists, those with fond memories of the film, and those who appreciate having a vast animation library should all find enough shelf space to accomodate this movie on DVD. If you've avoided buying the movie's previous DVD release in the 6 years for which it was available, and your standards for quality are not too stringent, then this disc may be one to pick up. However, the Most Wanted Edition is most lacking in the extras department, with the modest menu showing just the slighest bit of effort to go beyond the film. While the 16x9-enhanced transfer will surely be attractive to widescreen TV owners, the filmmakers' preferred aspect ratio remains unclear. As such, it sets a questionable precedent for how other Disney animation from the '60s, '70s, and early '80s should appear on DVD. Gains in picture quality, while detectable, are minor and the movie still falls short of optimal DVD presentation. Still, picture may be the only thing that justifies re-buying the movie, though, since Robin Hood is not a movie many will consider worth upgrading and this is hardly an upgrade anyway.

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The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952) The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (Friendship Edition)
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Related Pages:
Top 50 Disney Heroes & Heroines Countdown (featuring Robin Hood)
Top 30 Disney Villains Countdown (featuring Prince John)
Top 100 Disney Songs Countdown (featuring "Love")

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Reviewed December 1, 2006.