Friday, February 03, 2006

Robin Hood

My little boy just loves Robin Hood.
I mean the Disney version, of course. At 2 1/2, I don’t think he’s quite ready for the live action versions of the story. (I have both the Errol Flynn and Kevin Costner versions on DVD) But the one where Robin is a fox, Little John is a bear and Prince John is a lion, that one is right up his alley.

I’m not exactly sure what it is about this movie that has such a hold on his fancy. He used to be all in to Winnie the Pooh, but from the first day I let him watch Robin Hood it has been his favorite. He’ll watch others things, but will request Robin Hood at every opportunity.
At first it seemed to be one of Disney’s lesser efforts with animation that was geared more toward Saturday morning cartoons than for a feature film. But now that I’ve seen the movie about 157 times and counting, I have developed a special appreciation for it.

The movie has a lot of the stock Disney vocal talents for that time including Phil Harris as Little John (he was also the voice of Balu the Bear in “Jungle Book” and Thomas O’Malley in “The Aristocats”); Pat Buttram as the Sheriff of Nottingham (he was Napoleon in “The Aristocats”; Luke in “The Rescuers”; and Chief in “The Fox and the Hound”) and Carole Shelley as Lady Cluck (she was the goose in the pink bonnet in “The Aristocats” and one of the Fates in “Hercules”).
Other notable voice talents include Andy Devine as Friar Tuck (recognizable because he had bit roles in just about every Western movie ever made) and country singer Roger Miller as the Rooster/Alan-a-Dale. Roger Miller also contributed most of the songs for the film.
But for my money, Peter Ustinov steals the show as the voice of Prince John, the vain, scheming, vindictive, cowardly, thumb-sucking lion who has it out for Robin Hood. One of the reasons I can make it through multiple viewings of the film without my head exploding is because he gives such an enjoyable and over-the-top performance.

I’m sure the reason my son likes the film is because it has all these animals running around doing funny and exciting things in a non-threatening way. But the Robin Hood story itself has an appeal that goes much deeper for everyone old enough to understand the political dynamics of the time.
When I was in college, a friend gave me a collectible action figure of Kevin Costner as Robin Hood in recognition of my then developing leftist political beliefs. Robbing the rich to feed the poor is the penultimate statement of leftist economic thought. A forced redistribution of wealth to right the wrongs of the oppressive capitalist overlords. But Robin Hood also has many traits that appeal to conservatives such as his loyalty to the crown and his devotion to his childhood sweetheart Maid Marian. And then there is the fact that the thing he is objecting to the most is the high taxation being imposed by the despicable Prince John.

My son will eventually outgrow his obsession with this particular movie, but hopefully he will retain a certain amount of pleasure in the timeless story that inspired it.

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