Robin Hood: Most Wanted Edition (1973)
Wolfgang Reitherman's long tenure as head of Disney Animation during the studio's least impressive era yielded only a few minor feature films of any quality, and even those were heavily dependent on lively voice actors compensating for lackluster animation and by-the-numbers screenwriting. The 1973 release Robin Hood, while occasionally fun and lively, shamelessly brandishes many of the studio's most uninspiring shortcuts of the period, a poor testament to the legacy of Walt Disney, whose death in 1967 made this the first major release without his involvement. Written by long-time Disney scribe Ken Anderson (Cinderella, Jungle Book), Robin Hood tells an all-animal version of the familiar legend of the infamous thief Robin Hood (as a fox, rather than a human, given voice by Brian Bedford), whose philanthropic crimes were aimed at undermining the oppressive taxation of greedy Prince John (a lion; Peter Ustinov) and his corrupt underling, the Sheriff of Nottingham (a wolf; Pat Buttram). With his sidekick Little John (a bear; Phil Harris) in tow, Robin dons clever costumes to skillfully avoid a series of traps and pull off audacious heists while also wooing his estranged love, Maid Marian (also a fox; Monica Evans). There's nothing glaringly wrong with Anderson's screenplay; despite its lack of truly memorable set pieces, it is structurally solid with touches of genial if ordinary humor, and enough smarts to effectively elevate Robin above common thievery into a likable and sympathetic outlaw hero. However, the low-budget animation lets the movie down in spades, with director Reitherman cribbing characters and other elements from previous Disney productions, the most obvious of which are the many character concepts lifted directly from The Jungle Book including the hit-you-over-the-head obviousness of using not only the same figure of Jungle Book's bear Baloo for Little John, but also using the same voice performer. In animation, where artistic creativity is usually crucially employed to mitigate an inherent lack of realism, such shortcuts bring with them a whiff of squalor, and with the overall quality of animation nearing Hanna Barbera-levels of detail, one can almost smell Walt Disney turning over in his grave. Some nice music by Roger Miller (including a theme that would later become annoyingly famous in an online remix known as "The Hampster Dance") and appealing vocal performances (despite a preponderance of American "hick" accents for a story set in medieval England) lifts Robin Hood out of the muck, but fans of Disney's more ambitious works may feel a bit soiled regardless. Buena Vista presents Robin Hood in this "Most Wanted Edition" with an anamorphic transfer (1.75:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a longer, sketch-only alternate ending, games, and the bonus vintage Mickey Mouse short "Ye Olden Days." Keep-case.