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Disney’s Robin Hood Was the Final Gasp For a Era of Animators

You’d suppose that if Disney needed to make an all-animal animated adaptation of a legendary outlaw’s story with a fox enjoying mentioned outlaw, they’d go along with Zorro. The studio had had successful with the character of their Fifties TV collection, they maintained a declare on the rights, and Zorro is actually named for a fox. However as a substitute, Disney animation launched Robin Hood in 1973 and has spent the years since making an attempt to reside it down.

It isn’t on account of enterprise that Robin Hood is one thing of a black sheep for the studio — it made cash. It is also not with out its followers. zootopia director Byron Howard likes itit is on the checklist for a remake (as a result of who would not wish to see a speaking cartoon fox in “reside motion”), and critiques on the time of its launch have been mixed-to-positive. However for the era of Disney artists who labored on it, nonetheless not recovered from Walt Disney’s loss of life in 1966, Robin Hood represented a artistic nadir.


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Watching it once more, it is arduous to not agree. With due apologies to family who grew up loving the movie, Robin Hood is as protected and as bland a cartoon function as you are more likely to discover. There are flashes of allure and light-weight humor, however not one of the inspiration or brilliance from the very best of Disney’s work. The story – and I exploit that time period loosely – tells a handful of widespread Robin Hood adventures with out a lot connective tissue and with no central focus. Robin himself, and Maid Marian, aren’t way more than a generic hero and damsel. And a lot of the movie, figuratively and actually, is recycled from previous Disney efforts.

how did Robin Hood find yourself as such a retreat? It is not as if it have been made by second-string expertise aping their betters. The artistic forces behind the film have been among the many prime animators, designers, and administrators at Disney, a few of Walt’s most valued employees. However in that truth, there’s a lot to find out about why Robin Hood is the best way it’s.

Picture by way of Disney

Earlier than the Fox, There Was… a Completely different Fox

Walt Disney by no means touched the Robin Hood legends – for animation, at the very least. I’ve produced The Story of Robin Hood in 1952 to burn off frozen British property (and received a fairly good movie for his cash), however that was it. He was, nonetheless, concerned about working with cartoon foxes. Within the instant aftermath of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs‘ runaway success, the studio chased down as a lot potential materials for brand new options because it may, and among the many tales thought-about was that of France’s legendary trickster, the anthropomorphized Reynard the Fox.

Tales of Reynard’s mischief return to the Center Ages, and diversifications abounded throughout France, Germany, and Holland. Walt first ordered investigative improvement on the character for animation in 1937. However as Disney knowledgeable Jim Korkis has identified, there was an issue: Reynard is a somewhat amoral and underhanded trickster who inflicts and is threatened with grisly violence. Even when Walt was ready to supply his viewers a story of black humor and grey deceivers – and he wasn’t – the tooth of the Hays Code would have precluded an easy adaptation. Writers got here and went from the venture through the years, and it often got here within reach of a inexperienced gentle. However Walt was by no means happy with it.

Some remedies explored combining Reynard with different tales. There was actual thought given to incorporating animated Reynard segments into 1950’s Treasure Island, as parables utilized by Lengthy John Silver to show Jim Hawkins and persuade his pirate crew. And in 1960, the fox was paired with a hen, a fellow French animal character often known as Chantecler. The Gallic rooster’s play fashioned the backbone of the brand new strategy, with Reynard solid because the villain. A devoted staff poured their guts into a recent, Americanized strategy to comply with up One Hundred and One Dalmatians. However a tightening monetary state of affairs pressured Walt to cut back the animation division’s workload, and compelled to decide on only one venture to advance, he rejected Reynard and Chantecler once more in favor of The Sword within the Stone.

Prince John commenting on the archery tournament.
Picture by way of Disney

Recycling in The Publish-Walt Disney Years

One of many chief architects of the rejected Chantecler movie was Ken Anderson, a longtime artwork director, manufacturing designer, and story artist for Disney. Anderson was an unlimited expertise who helped usher in a sea change within the studio’s type via his work from him on One Hundred and One Dalmatians. However he was additionally – if author Steve Hulett is to be believed – a cussed man who may charitably be referred to as upset over numerous rejections from Walt, Chantecler among the many worst. Detest to surrender all that work, Anderson thought he discovered a means ahead when he determined to ditch the rooster and remodel Reynard into Robin Hood. The fox may connive and trick all he needed now, as long as it was to look after the poor and defy the usurper, Prince John. And an entire menagerie may come alongside to play all of the elements of the legend!

Anderson initially needed to push this adaptation additional than utilizing animals. just like the abortion Chantecler, his first pitch was an Americanized story. Este Robin Hood would have been set within the deep South, and Anderson pointed to Music of the South as a mannequin. However even within the early 70s, the popularity of that movie was souring (per Jim Hill Media), and agency orders got here all the way down to preserve Robin and his buddies from him in Merrie Olde England.

Sensitivity wasn’t the one purpose for the change. When Robin Hood entered manufacturing, it did in order the primary animated function not given the inexperienced gentle by Walt himself. Producer-director Woolie Reithermanwho had directed or co-directed each animated function since sleeping magnificence and served as one in every of Walt’s trusted “9 Outdated Males” of animation, had inherited duty for the division. Reitherman was adept at motion and tempo, however like almost everybody ready of authority on the studio, he was thrown by Walt’s loss of life in 1966. Confronted with a significant hurdle in improvement, the frequent mantra on the studio grew to become “What would Walt have completed?” It was a query born of desperation. Walt was so pivotal to the lifetime of his studio and so exacting on main selections that nobody knew what to do with out him round. and as entertainer ward kimball Identified, Walt was continually altering his thoughts and difficult what individuals assumed he would go for whereas alive – how would anybody have a prayer of guessing his needs when he was lifeless?

Picture by way of Disney

Protected Script, Protected Forged, Tight Price range

Wanting on the Disney output from the late 60s via the 70s, the reply to “What would Walt have completed” appears to have been “no matter he was doing when he died” – by no means thoughts how totally different that was from his work within the 50s, the 40s, or the 30s. Anderson had tried to innovate with character design and casting; he had the Sheriff of Nottingham down as a goat, a selection that had the backing of a few of the animators. Reitherman insisted he be a wolf as a substitute and pulled the character designs towards standard Disney fare, one thing writer Robin Allan claims introduced Anderson to tears. Moreover costing the movie a singular villain, the design decisions primarily rendered Little John as Baloo with brown fur. The sense of recycling was solely elevated when Phil Harris was solid and requested to provide primarily the identical efficiency he’d given in The Jungle E-book.

Harris wasn’t the one repeat performer. Taking his cues from Walt’s ultimate selections in life, Reitherman solid Peter Ustinov as a result of he’d labored for Disney within the 60s, and initially solid Tommy Steele as Robin for a similar purpose. The previous offers the movie badly wanted gasps of vitality, whereas the latter ended up recast, however the casting reinforces the sense that this can be a movie decided to not do something new or dangerous.

Probably the most blatant instance of recycling materials is within the animation itself. Robin Hood’s artists have been, by and enormous, longtime Disney veterans, with Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston (two extra of Walt’s 9 Outdated Males) taking the lead. Every little thing is impeccably drawn, and there are some effective performances wrought with pencil. However protracted story improvement and a good funds drove the movie overschedule, and to make up time, animation was repurposed in a number of methods. Unique animation completed for the movie was used and reused throughout scenes. Worse was the lifting of tough animation from 4 prior Disney movies and tracing over it with new characters. Animation buffs have lengthy been in a position to spot the recycled dance routines and musicianship within the “Phony King of England” quantity.

The animators weren’t blissful about these shortcuts, and a few weren’t shy about criticizing the observe and the director in later years. However neither they nor Anderson have been ready to overrule Reitherman, and none of them have been any extra ready for a Disney with out Walt. Tim Burtonwho was first employed on the studio a number of years after Robin Hood’s manufacturing, described it as soon as as a spot nonetheless run by misplaced males, not sure how you can transfer ahead. And the 9 Outdated Males have been actually outdated, or at the very least middle-aged, by then. Reitherman, Anderson, and others of the outdated guard continued to work on cartoon options after Robin Hood, however they steadily gave method to the following era, who introduced in contemporary eyes and contemporary concepts. Disney animation has had its highs and lows since 1973, and a few later lows are arguably worse than Robin Hood. However nothing they’ve made since has felt fairly so beholden to the studio’s personal previous successes and cast-offs.

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