Robin Hood: 40th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray)
Disney / 1973 / 84 mins / G
The 1973 retelling of the adventures of Robin Hood, Maid Marion, Prince John and the rest has never been one of the shining jewels in Disney's crown, even succumbing to lackluster reviews upon its original release. It doesn't have the reputation of, say, THE BLACK CAULDRON, but it is no SNOW WHITE either.
Narrated by Roger Miller's rooster incarnation of Alan-a-Dale, we follow the well-trodden path of noble and loyal-to-the-King fox Robin (voiced by Brian Bedford) and his best friend, the giant bear Little John (voiced by Phil Harris) as they rob from the rich, mostly the treacherous lion Prince John (voiced by Peter Ustinov) to give to the poor and outwit the bumbling wolf Sheriff of Nottingham (voiced by Pat Buttram.)
I can't put my finger on what bothered me more about this film, the rambling episodic plot, the utterly dull songs or the use of so many distinctly American voices for several key roles. The Robin Hood legend has always been episodic. After all, it is a series of mini-adventures and Larry Clemmons script hits several of the most popular of these (the archery tournament being the most memorable here). However, they feel so randomly strung together here with a set-up, execution, punch-line, repeat formula used over and over.
With the exception of the opening song, "Oo-De-Lally," none of the songs (including the Academy Award nominated "Love") are catchy or memorable. Country singer Roger Miller's laid-back "lemme-tell-ya-a-story" delivery just doesn't feel right for the derring-do and adventurous fight against tyranny tale of the Hood and his Merry Men.
Which brings me to the voice cast: I will say right up front that none of them are bad. Some are excellent. Brian Bedford's Robin Hood is fun and energetic, Terry-Thomas' Sir Hiss is spot on perfection and Peter Ustinov delivers an appropriate and very winning whiny and childish Prince John. But Pat Buttram as the Sheriff of Nottingham? Mr. Haney from "Green Acres" as one of our lead villains? Buttram has one of the most distinctive voices of his era and it isn't for English bad guys. Phil Harris as Little John? His silky smooth Southern style worked perfectly for Baloo in Disney's THE JUNGLE BOOK and Thomas O'Malley in THE ARISTOCATS, but why have him as Little John? A bear? It's like Baloo left the jungle and came to the forest. This mix of English and Southern American voices just does not work.
I may sound like I'm bashing ROBIN HOOD to the ground, but it isn't horrible. The character design is fantastic. The animation is from several of the legendary Nine Old Men. The film was popular in its day; it just didn't age particularly well.
While the film itself doesn't hold up (at least for me), there is no denying this new anamorphic 1.67 transfer is the best ROBIN HOOD has ever looked on home video. While it appears the Mouse House didn't exert the love and attention to this restoration they do on their major animation titles, this release can boast some truly nice bright colors and even a hint of film grain. Detail is mostly sharp (the opening is on the soft side but it cleans up quickly) with lots of glorious hand drawn imperfections visible to delight animation buffs.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack doesn't expand the original mono source too much and is as crisp and clear as it can be. Overall, this is probably the best this movie will ever look or sound on home video.
Most of the supplements are from previous DVD releases but we do get one new goodie, and what a goodie it is! "Deleted Storyline "Love Letters" is a full subplot that didn't make it to the animation phase but has been reconstructed via black and white storyboards.
The rest of the goodies have been ported over from the "Most Wanted Edition" DVD release (bumped up to HD) and include:
The "Alternate Ending" deleted scene.
A four song "Disney Song Selection" jukebox.
"Oo-De-Lally Sing-Along" music video.
A "Disney Sing-Along" option which allows you to watch the movie with subtitles song lyrics popping up at the appropriate time.
"ROBIN HOOD Storybook" is a read-along featurette.
A "ROBIN HOOD Art Gallery" and the 1933 black and white Mickey Mouse cartoon "Ye Olden Days" round out the supplements.
A minor entry in the Disney Animated Classics series, ROBIN HOOD suffers from a strange mixture of styles in both the voice and storytelling departments. Disney-philes will be delighted at the near perfect upgrade in picture but as a film it is just okay. Recommended as a rental for newbies but fans will find it worth the upgrade to Blu-ray from DVD.