Robin Hood (1973)
Tricky, sexy foxes

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A That's Not Canon Productions podcast

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Hi there, and welcome back to Oof! Right in the Childhood, a podcast where I’m telling you the history of each of the Disney animated feature films and then watching them in order and commentating on how they haven’t aged all that well.

This week, I’m talking about Robin Hood which is, at its roots, about tricky, sexy foxes. The myths of Robin Hood are — well, they’re varied. The earliest surviving poem featuring the outlaw is from the fifteenth century BCE, though the legends usually describe the events taking place in the twelfth century alongside King Richard I or Richard the Lionheart.

Like most legends, there are dozens of stories about Robin Hood, and there are almost as many versions of each of those stories from different sources. So, much like we’ve taken liberties with Thor, red-bearded Norse god of Thunder to make him into a blonde, clean-shaven Australian superhero (yes, I’ve seen Endgame too, but go with it), the modern era has adapted Robin Hood so many times that there’s a Wikipedia page dedicated to the movies and television series based on Robin Hood.

And though I don’t know him or get any kind of kick back for recommending his podcast, if you really want to hear about the bizarre adventures of Robin Hood as they were originally written, I highly recommend you go check out the Myths & Legends podcast by Jason Wiser. He does a great job of modernizing more than just Robin Hood. Also, I’d love to be friends with Jason, so let him know.

Anyway, Robin Hood started out as a thief that stole from the rich and gave to himself, and then he realized that all these rich people were making the poor people miserable and decided to give to the poor. He was great with a bow but terrible at melee range.

Another legendary character you might know less about is Reynard the Fox, an anthropomorphic trickster fox that dates back to the 13th century BCE. And if you’re sitting here wondering why I’m bringing him up, well, give it a minute.

Reynard was never seen as a “good guy,” and in fact, may be where we get the idea that foxes are sly and tricky. The Reynard fairy tales are basically stories of how Reynard tricked other animals into doing his bidding and that often leads to their deaths. It’s not that Reynard was a terrible legendary figure, it’s just more that the 13th century was super dark.

Walt Disney knew about the Reynard the Fox stories, and they were among the first stories he considered to adapt to feature films. That’s right, as far back as Snow White, Walt Disney wanted to make movies about a tricky, murderous fox for children.

The problem was that Reynard was a tricky, murderous fox, and Walt was a little worried that the tales were too sophisticated for kids, so he shelved the ideas. He might have been right. The Reynard tales are really funny, if you understand them, but I think kids might have just seen a fox that murders people.

The studio brought the Reynard idea back as an idea for short cartoons inserted into Treasure Island. Then when that didn’t work, he was going to be the villain in their Chanticleer movie and then that movie got canceled.

So as production of Aristocats wound down, the studio was in a constant state of flux. They were both seeking a new film idea and trying to open a brand new theme park. Disney World wasn’t quite complete when the Aristocats was released in December of 1970, but it was in its final stages. In fact, not only the park was completed on schedule, but the golf courses near the Magic Kingdom opened a couple months early, and they completed the first Walt Disney Hotel before Opening Day on October 1, 1971.

When the park opened, tickets were $3.50 for an adult, $2.50 for juniors, and a buck for kids under twelve. But before you get really excited, that’s still $22.50 for an adult today.

With Disney World opened and his brother’s plans fulfilled, Roy O Disney retired from Walt Disney Productions leaving Don Tatum as CEO and Card Walker as the President of the company. He went home to a nice, relaxing retirement until an intracranial hemorrhage ended that and his life two months later in December 1971.

Don Tatum had a lot to live up to, being the first non-Disney in charge of the Disney company. The thing was, Walt Disney had been an artist first. He started the company because he loved drawing cartoons and he wanted to bring the world more cartoons. Tatum was a corporate lawyer. He’d been hired by Walt himself in 1957, but he didn’t have the creative spark that Walt did. He was focused on the business side of the studio.

However, he did still have guidance from Roy O.’s son Roy E. who became part of the board of directors starting in 1967. Based on what Tatum learned from the studio’s past, he decided to remain in the background and let the more charismatic members of the executive team shine. He also decided that the animation studio would continue, despite the recent concerns of the board of directors. I’m not sure if that was based on his relationship with Walt or the fact that both The Jungle Book and Aristocats were slam dunks.

Though Aristocats was an original story, the execs wanted a more classic tale as their first foray into a completely Disney-less Disney film, and Ken Anderson suggested a take on Robin Hood. They loved it.

However, the animators still didn’t want to draw a lot of people, so Ken looked at Reynard the fox and said, “Fox equals trickster, Robin Hood’s a trickster. What if Robin Hood was a fox?”

All his ideas weren’t hits, though. He also wanted to move the setting to the Deep South and “capture the spirit” of Song of the South. You know, the only full-length Disney film I refuse to commentate on? Yeah, that one. By 1970, audiences had already started to realize that song of the South is supes racist, so the execs looked at Ken and said, “England’s fine Ken!”

With Robin Hood a fox, Maid Marian needed to be a fox as well. Then Little John who was known for being big and burly was obviously a bear. In fact, they hired Phil Harris, the voice of Baloo, for the voice and liberally reused a lot of Baloo’s animation from the Jungle Book. Because this was supposed to take place during the reign of Richard the Lionheart, Richard and therefore, his brother John, had to be lions. And they just kept going from there.

Utilizing the Xerography technique, the studio was able to release Robin Hood in November of 1973 with a budget of $5 million or about $20 million today. It was met with mixed reviews. New York Magazine felt that the movie succeeded in being funny without insulting anyone’s intelligence. The Montreal Gazette felt that this was a comeback of sorts stating that, quote, “ever since the old maestro died, the cartoon features have shown distressing signs of a drop in quality,” endquote, and um, hey, this is the second movie out from Disney’s death. How ‘bout you calm down Montreal Gazette?

But Time’s critic said the film was, at best mildly diverting and lacked the story depth that Walt Disney had brought. Gene Siskel gave the movie one and a half stars saying it was quote, “eighty minutes of slapstick and prat falls.”

Theatre goers, however, had a different opinion. Once it hit theatres, Robin Hood grossed $9.6 million from domestic box offices and $18 million internationally resulting in a total box office of $27.5 million — $109.8 million when adjusted for inflation. And that made it the highest earning Disney feature film up to that point.

The song Love was nominated for an Oscar for best original song, but lost to The Way We Were. It’s also one of those Disney films that has simply just become part of the collective consciousness. The characters appear as cameos in Disney shows throughout the ages, including Mickey’s Christmas Carol. It also played a part much more recently when the director of Zootopia remembered his favourite movie as a kid and created Nick Wilde for the movie.

So is it worth that moment of nostalgia that those in my generation feel when they see a fox with a feathered cap or does it miss the mark when watched with a modern eye? Stick around after this short break, and I’ll let you know what I think.

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Mixie: You're so right. Twice a month, we bring you a docuseries and commentary on the women of Star Trek. How they worked tirelessly to break the chains of convention and give us something to evolve toward.

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Zane: A That's Not Canon Productions podcast.

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This week’s cover art was made by Wendy from Pencil Paints and Threads. She has a great Instagram and takes commissions over there. I’ve linked to that in the show notes.

I’m always looking for new cover art, so if you’d like to be featured, pop onto my website at oofmychildhood.com and send your piece to me.

Well, we’re back to the book again. This time, there’s a lot more reading though. The Rooster explains that the human version of the Robin Hood legend is all wrong. Only the animal version is correct.

We get to see each of the characters in order with voice talents up front. Right, Marian’s a vixen. Not a fox, and yes, I know that’s the name for a female fox, but c’mon. And Friar Tuck is the nicest badger ever.

I do like how these inserted characters are just given names for their characters. Sir Hiss and Lady Cluck are definitely not in the original stories.

The Rooster is Robin-a-Dale, a minstrel. Oo-de-lally oo-de-lally, golly what a day.

I don't think I ever watched the credits as as a kid, I didn’t realize the Sheriff was a wolf, and now I see his deputies were also wolves and that’s pretty clever.

Little John says they’ll get caught, Robin makes a joke about John’s weight. Off to a good start, I see.

Robin also informs John that they don’t steal. They just borrow a bit from the people who can afford it. And right on cue, a very loud royal procession is making its way through the forest. Given Sherwood Forest’s reputation, I would think they’d be quiet.

Sir Hiss is the ultimate Yes Man to a male lion who never grew a mane. As a kid, I was so confused that Prince John didn’t have a mane because female lions don’t have manes.

Every time anyone brings up John and Richard’s mother, Prince John goes into some kind of trauma state where he holds his ear and sucks his thumb. Hiss uses the hypnosis thing that Kaa used in the Jungle Book to pop him out of it.

Meanwhile, Robin and John are running through the woods pulling on dresses and wigs as fast as they can. John thinks they’re looking at a circus, but Robin’s like, “nope that’s a royal coach.”

Little John says, “There’s a law against stealing from royalty,” but isn’t there a law against robbing anyone?

Female bandits? What next?

The two kiss John’s hands and steal his rings and gems. Hiss sees them but John is enjoying the fortune tellers’ fawning over him. While Robin stokes Prince John’s ego, he passes gold to Little John outside the carriage. Little John stuffs his bra with solid gold hubcaps and gets creepy wolf whistles from the guards. But Robin’s stolen the prince’s clothing in addition to all the gold.

Prince John is so mad about being tricked after Sir Hiss warned him that he was getting tricked that he breaks his mother’s mirror over Hiss then has his little catatonic state.

In the next scene, there are posters all over advertising a £1,000 pound reward, and I had to know. The earliest inflation calculator I can find is from the Bank of England, and it goes back to 1207. Not quite the 1189 when Richard the Lionheart was coronated, but close-ish. Anyway, when converting £1,000 from 1207 to 2019, it becomes just over £2 million, or converted to U.S. dollars, about $2.8 milion. So yeah, they’re offering these very impoverished people about $3 million to turn in their friend that sometimes gives them coins.

The Sheriff sees Friar Tuck going into the blacksmith’s shop. The blacksmith dog has a broken leg, and the Sheriff proceeds to smack his cast to find his taxes which, if you’ve ever hit a broken limb on something you’ll know is is akin to a form of torture.

Next, the Sheriff busts in on a birthday party and steals a kiddo’s birthday farthing from him.

There’s a whole mess about how the taxes work here. Like, in the early years, “taxes” was the word for “land rent” but holy crap they need better laws about taking all of someone’s money. You know, like the Magna Carta which was codified into law after King John ran the country into the ground while Richard the Lionhearted was off in the crusades? Oh, yeah.

Then a blind beggar comes in and the Sheriff proceeds to steal from him. Good Guy Sheriff of Nottingham.

But as soon as the Sheriff is gone, the beggar is Robin Hood! He gives a 7 year old rabbit a working bow and arrow and his hat. This totally makes the kiddo’s day. Then, once the kids are out, he hands Mrs. Rabbit a bag of coin so she can feed her children.

Little Rabbit proceeds to shoot his first ever arrow over the wall of the castle. He wants to retrieve it, but first, the kids have to threaten Toby the Turtle with death if he tells on him.

In the castle garden, Marian and Lady Cluck are playing badminton which wasn’t created until the 16th century, but ok. The shuttle cock goes down Cluck’s dress, and while they try to find it, they see Little Rabbit. Maid Marian is kind and loves the kiddos. The kids ask impertinent questions about Marian and Robin’s relationship like if they’ve kissed and if they’ll have kids. Young kids are the best.

Marian and Robin were a thing a few years ago before Marian went to London, so she’s sure he’s forgotten about her. Then they all have a good laugh about murdering Prince John and kidnapping a woman. As they escape into the “not-a-real-forest” Marian embarrasses Little Rabbit by kissing him against his will.

Later, Marian dances around her room in love with Robin still. For someone who assured the children that they’re definitely not a thing any more, she definitely wants them to be a thing. Lady Cluck says someday Uncle King Richard will have an outlaw for an inlaw.

Uncle King Richard? How do genetics work here?

Back at the camp, Robin burns their food because he’s thinking about Marian. He says, he can’t just walk up to her and say, “Hey remember me, we were kids together, will you marry me?” but I’m pretty sure he could.

Friar Tuck comes up and says they’ll be called heroes someday. Prince John is having an archery tournament. Robin’s not invited, but Tuck wants him to know that Maid Marian’s going to give a kiss to the winner. Robin does not care if he's invited; he’s going to go put himself in danger for her. It’s so romantic.

The next day, after a very loud procession of elephant heralds, Prince John and Hiss reveal that, to quote Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!” Hiss gets in trouble for not sitting still for Prince John to give him head trauma.

Marian’s worried she won’t know Robin. Robin’s dressed like a stork. Little John is dressed as a royal in ill-fitting clothing. He’s the Duke of Chutney. Which is not a place. He then proceeds to sit on Hiss.

After being dismissed, hiss goes and hides in a balloon and uses it for aerial surveillance. Robin meets Marian and she recognizes his eyes. They say, “I love you” without saying “I love you,” and the tournament begins.

Robin Stork hits the bullseye which is apparently the bar for that being Robin Hood. I’m a little worried about the accuracy of the town guard, actually. The Sheriff is bragging that he’s scared Robin off, but Hiss figures it out.

Friar tuck knocks Hiss out of the air and stuffs him in an ale barrel. Pretty sure he didn’t just drown a snake.

Back on the range, the Sheriff cheats first by getting the target to move to his arrow then by tripping his opponent. Prince John dubs him the winner and reveals that it was Robin Hood in disguise all along. He sentences Robin to instant death.

Marian pleads for Robin’s life and reveals she’s in love with him. Robin says he loves her too. But Prince John decides to kill him anyway. Little John gets behind the Prince and puts a dagger in his back and forces him to release Robin. This works until the Sheriff finds little John.

Then a fight breaks out. Lady Cluck says Marian needs to run because this is no place for a lady then proceeds to run into the fray. As Robin rescues Marian, he proceeds to propose to Marian, plan their honeymoon, and decide how many kids they’ll have.

The rhino guard run the Sheriff through a brick tower. Prince John calls Lady Cluck “the fat one” because this movie’s really hung up on fatphobia.

Finally, the group escapes into the forest and Prince John finds Hiss, pickled in ale.

That night, Marian and Robin run through the forest with lightning bugs and a love song over it. Robin gives Marian a flower ring that sparkles and I’m not sure if that’s supposed to be a proposal or if they just got married.

Their romantic moment is interrupted by the entire bandit gang cheering on their romantic moment. Then ensues a hilarious song about how terrible Prince John is. A pox on the phony king of England.

A little bit of Ken Anderson’s vision of this taking place in the South pops up with the jug band, and we get Little John doing the dance from The Bear Necessities. While this is all good fun, it does seem like there was a real, dirtier version of this called “The Bastard King of England” written by none other than Yikes on Bikes White guy Rudyard Kipling.

In the castle, the Sheriff is singing The Phony of England. He and Hiss proceed to make fun of the prince while he overhears them. He’ll triple the taxes, which again, makes no friggin sense. Then he sends them all to debtors’ prison.

We see almost all of the village imprisoned by the capricious prince. There are sick babies and starving mice. The blacksmith dog is ill as well. They top of this incredibly sad scene with forced labour racoons Oof! Right in the childhood.

In the church, Friar Tuck is ringing the bell to bring hope to the villagers. His church mice are Winnie the Pooh and the blue fairy from Sleeping Beauty. Blue fairy mouse gives Tuck their last farthing. If you wonder, like me, how much a farthing was, it's a quarter of a penny!

The Sheriff walks in and steals the donated farthing. Tuck finally loses his temper and screams him out into the rain where he proceeds to beat the crap out of the Sheriff until the vultures interfere. Then he’s arrested for treason.

Prince John is depressed. Hiss tries to cheer him up by telling him Friar Tuck is in prison. John decides he’ll trap Robin Hood by hanging Friar Tuck and waiting for Robin to rescue him. That’s pretty dicey.

Blind Beggar Robin shows up as they’re constructing the gallows, and honestly, Robin might not have heard about this if he didn’t come at this exact moment. The vultures brag that they’ve got a heckuva trap for Robin Hood, therefore notifying Robin to their trap.

Once out of the keep, Robin tells Little John they have to rescue Friar Tuck tonight. They skulk around the castle. The Sheriff’s upset that he keeps getting woken by the guards doing their job then almost gets killed in a crossbow incident.

After they kidnap Nutsy the vulture, the two lullaby the Sheriff to sleep and make it seem like Trigger the vulture is crying wolf. Little John frees the people in terrible conditions, and Robin heads off to empty the treasury.

John’s bedroom is apparently the royal treasury as he sleeps surrounded by gold and with two bags of gold in his hands. Robin proceeds to somehow hang the bags of gold on a rope and Little John ferries them down into the jail cell. But one of those bags is split, so they have to kidnap the Sheriff and sneak everyone out of the keep. The clock chimes 4 times, and Robin’s not happy stealing all but two bags of gold from the Prince. He has to steal everything. This seems unnecessary, especially because Hiss catches him with the last bag. See what greed gets you Robin?

The rhino guard, again being unable to stop again plow the prince through several stone walls while the royal archers have the aim of storm troopers. Robin goes back to save a baby bunny and puts himself in more danger. While I can’t say I’m ok with him putting himself in danger for stealing the extra two bags of gold, I can absolutely defend this, though she wouldn’t have been in danger if it weren’t for the two bags of gold.

The Sheriff decides to fight Robin with a lit torch resulting in him setting the entire castle on fire and Robin jumping into the moat where they shoot him with arrows until he goes down and his hat comes up. Little John and Little Rabbit watch this and realize that Robin has died. This little kiddo lives under the worst rule in history and just watched his hero die.

That is, until he sees a reed moving around. Robin escaped! Hiss sees Robin tells the Prince how useless he is and that he destroyed his mother’s castle. So Little John beats Hiss with a stick.

We cut to daylight, and all of Robin Hood’s warrant posters have a pardon notice. Prince John, the Sheriff, and Hiss are breaking rocks in a better prison than they ever put anyone in. The bells ring and Robin and Marian dash from the church. So the ring scene was an engagement.

King Richard has a luscious Fabio mane. The two ride off in their carriage happily ever after.

So, this particular movie doesn’t have too many offensive pieces, but did have some super sad moments, though. Like wow, throwing children in jail to starve, what an amazing ruler. And though the big three do have to break rocks at the end, they break rocks in the open air rather than being confined to a drafty cell where they can all get sick and die.

I did notice that, with singing rooster Allan-a-Dale and trickster fox Robin Hood, it does seem that Walt Disney did get a version of the Chanticleer movie after all. I mean, it’s a completely different story, but we did get an inkling of it.

I’d like to know what you think. How do you remember Robin Hood? Is it a happy, happy fun time or do you remember something I missed that makes your heart hurt? Let me know on my social media. You can find me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter under oofmychildhood.

And I’ll be back on Thursday with another guest episode. This time it’s a really special interview for me. See, I have two best friends, Melissa and Eli, and both of them loved Robin Hood as kids, but neither of them know each other. So instead of interviewing another podcaster, I’m going to talk to the two of them about Robin Hood at length.

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Thank you so much for joining me today. I hope you come back each week to discuss Disney through modern eyes. This episode was written, recorded, and produced by me. I release a new episode every Monday through Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and many, many other podcatchers.

So, until next time, keep the magic alive.

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