ROBIN HOOD – Blu-ray review

Of the three titles Disney recently released on Blu-ray for the first time, Robin Hood (1973) stands out as the weakest entry, in terms of both the audio-video upgrade and the creativity and energy level. “Oliver and Company” was remarkably enhanced by HD, and “The Sword in the Stone” has considerable more creative energy. But this one?

Although Wolfgang Reitherman, one of Disney’s fabled Nine Old Men, directed Disney’s 1973 animated adaptation of the Robin Hood legend—one which hovers close in plot to the Errol Flynn “Adventures of Robin Hood” classic—the music isn’t as well integrated, and the story seems flat in spots.

There’s a hint of limitation in the title sequence, which simply features a parade of characters marching across the screen to a folk-pop song by Roger Miller, then running back the other direction, chased by another group of uniformed animals. At times, the animators seemed satisfied to be going for “cute” instead of clever, and there just isn’t the same give-and-take robust energy to the characters of Robin Hood (a fox, voiced by Brian Bedford) and Little John (a bear, voiced by Phil Harris) as there was with Flynn and his partner in live-action convivial crime, Alan Hale. Other characters also seem too nice, or too nondescript.

The most memorable ones are Prince John (Peter Ustinov), whose demeanor vacillates between delusions of grandeur and infantile withdrawal, and his advisor, Sir Hiss (Terry-Thomas), a snake whose schtick comes closest to what passes for snappy patter in this fiilm.

Rooster Alan A. Dale (Miller) plunks on his lute and sings part of the narrative and speaks the rest. The story will be familiar to most readers:  While King Richard is off fighting on the Crusades, his conniving brother, Prince John, has seized the throne and is taxing the people of Britain into starvation. In one memorable scene, his henchman, the Sheriff of Nottingham (voiced by Pat Buttram), even crashes a boy rabbit’s birthday party and confiscates the single coin his family had wrapped as a present for him.

As in the Flynn version, Robin can’t resist showing up in disguise in order to win a kiss from the vixen Maid Marian (Monica Evans), but rather than Robin trying to save Marian from hanging (as in the live-action version), Disney decided it was better to put a minor character’s neck halfway in the noose. That’s probably a good call, but it’s surprising how little creative energy this film has, or how little chemistry the voice actors have with each other.

That said, there are some very fun scenes, and just enough of them to keep this passel of bears and foxes and such from turning into a complete disappointment. “Robin Hood” isn’t a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination; it’s just surprisingly flat and by-the-numbers compared to other Disney animated features.

“Robin Hood” is rated G and has a runtime of 83 minutes.

“Robin Hood” was digitally restored to look brighter than previous DVD releases. It’s a little grainier than the other August 6 new-to-Blu releases, though I saw no compression issues as a result of the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to a 50GB disc. Colors seem to fall somewhere between acrylics and watercolors, in terms of their saturation, with black levels that are adequate but really could have been just a little stronger. “Robin Hood” is presented in 1.66:1 widescreen.

The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 that is also adequate rather than stunning. Or maybe the producers involved in the transfer process decided to go with the tone set by Miller—a kind of laid back, matter-of-fact style. But I thought that the rear effects speakers weren’t as boisterous as they might have been, given the frequent movement of sounds from left to right and vice versa. Additional audio options are in French DTS-HDHR 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.

This 40th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray combo pack comes with a DVD and Digital Copy of the film. In addition, there’s a never-before-seen deleted story line (“Love Letters”) that’s substantial, along with an alternate ending, a “Robin Hood” art gallery and storybook, a sing-along option, and a “Ye Olden Days” cartoon featuring Mickey Mouse.

Bottom line:
Of all the Disney movies from the ‘70s, “Robin Hood” had perhaps the most potential, but suffers from a mild case of “averageitis.” I remembered it being better than it was, but for me it just didn’t hold up as well as some of the other Disney entries. As John J. Puccio wrote in his DVD review, “The Disney filmmakers seem to have had only kids in mind when they made ‘Robin Hood,’ rather than aiming their arrows a little higher and hitting a few older folks too.”