The 21st Disney animated feature film, it is based on the legend of Robin Hood, but uses anthropomorphic animals rather than people. The story follows the adventures of Robin Hood, Little John and the inhabitants of Nottingham as they fight against the excessive taxation of Prince John, and Robin Hood wins the hand of Maid Marian.
Alan-a-Dale introduces the story of Robin Hood and Little John, two outlaws living in the Sherwood Forest, where they rob from the rich and give to the poor townsfolk of Nottingham, despite the efforts of the Sheriff of Nottingham to stop them. Meanwhile, Prince John and his assistant Sir Hiss arrive in Nottingham on a tour of the kingdom. Knowing the royal coach is laden with riches, Robin and Little John rob Prince John by disguising themselves as fortune tellers. The embarrassed Prince John then puts a bounty on their heads and makes the Sheriff his personal tax collector, who takes pleasure in collecting funds from the townsfolk including hidden money from the crippled blacksmith Otto and a single farthing from a young rabbit, Skippy, who had just received it as a birthday present. However, Robin Hood, disguised as a beggar, sneaks in and gives back some money to the family, as well as his hat and a bow to Skippy in honor of his birthday.
Skippy and his friends test out the bow, but Skippy fires an arrow into the grounds of Maid Marian's castle. The children sneak inside, meeting Maid Marian and her attendant Lady Kluck. Skippy "rescues" Marian from Lady Kluck, who pretends to be a pompous Prince John. Later, when she is alone with Kluck, Maid Marian reveals she and Robin were childhood sweethearts but they have not seen one another for years, and Kluck consoles her not to give up on her love for Robin. Meanwhile, Friar Tuck visits Robin and Little John, explaining that Prince John is hosting an archery tournament, and the winner will receive a kiss from Maid Marian. Robin decides to participate in the tournament disguised as a stork whilst Little John disguises himself as the Duke of Chutney to get near Prince John. Sir Hiss discovers Robin's identity but is trapped in a barrel of ale by Friar Tuck and Alan-a-Dale. Robin wins the tournament, but Prince John exposes him and has him arrested for execution despite Maid Marian's pleas. Little John threatens Prince John in order to release Robin, which leads to a fight between Prince John's soldiers and the townsfolk, all of which escape to Sherwood Forest.
As Robin and Maid Marian fall in love again, the townsfolk have a troubadour festival spoofing Prince John, describing him as the "Phony King of England", and the song soon becomes popular with John's soldiers. Enraged by the insult, Prince John triples the taxes, imprisoning most of the townsfolk who cannot pay. A paltry coin gets deposited into the poor box at Friar Tuck's church, which gets seized by the Sheriff. Enraged that government has meddled in his church, Friar Tuck lashes out at the Sheriff, to which he is quickly arrested for "attacking a lawman, interfering with the Sheriff's legal duties and high treason to the Crown". Prince John orders Friar Tuck hung, knowing Robin Hood will come out of hiding to rescue his friend and give the potential for Robin to be caught and a "double hanging".
Robin and Little John, having learned of the plot, chose to sneak in during the night, with Little John managing to free all of the prisoners whilst Robin steals Prince John's taxes, but Sir Hiss awakens to find Robin fleeing. Chaos follows as Robin and the others try to escape to Sherwood Forest. The Sheriff corners Robin after he is forced to return to rescue Tagalong, Skippy's little sister. During the chase, Prince John's castle catches fire and the Sheriff figures he has Robin where he wants, either to be captured, burned, or make a risky jump into the moat. Robin Hood elects to jump. Little John and Skippy fear Robin is lost, but he surfaces safely after using a reed as a breathing tube. Sir Hiss says he tried to warn Prince John, and now look what he did to his mother's castle, causing the Prince to exclaim "Mummy!" and suck his thumb and chase the terrified snake into the burning castle.
Later, King Richard returns to England, placing his brother, Sir Hiss and the Sheriff under arrest and allows his niece Maid Marian to marry Robin Hood, turning the former outlaw into an in-law.
The alternate ending (included in the "Most Wanted Edition" DVD) is a deleted version of the story's conclusion, primarily utilizing still images from Ken Anderson's original storyboard drawings of the sequence. As Robin Hood leaps off of the castle and into the moat, he is wounded (presumably by one of the arrows shot into the water after him) and carried away to the church for safety. Prince John, enraged that he has once again been outwitted by Robin Hood, finds Little John leaving the church, and suspects the outlaw to be there as well. Sure enough, he finds Maid Marian tending to an unconscious Robin Hood, and draws a dagger to kill them both. Before Prince John can strike, however, he is stopped by his brother, King Richard, having returned from the Crusades. King Richard is appalled to find that Prince John has left his kingdom bleak and oppressed. Abiding his mother's wishes, King Richard decides he cannot banish Prince John from the kingdom, but does grant him severe punishment (which explained how Prince John, Sir Hiss, and the Sheriff ended up in the Royal Rock Pile). King Richard returns Nottingham to its former glory (before leaving for the Third Crusade), knights Robin Hood as Sir Robin of Locksley, and orders Friar Tuck to marry Robin Hood and Maid Marian.
A short finished scene from the planned original ending, featuring King Richard and revealing himself to vulture henchmen Trigger and Nutsy, appeared in the Ken Anderson episode of the 1980s Disney Channel documentary series Disney Family Album. This scene, at least in animated form, does not appear on the Most Wanted Edition DVD.Brian Bedford as Robin Hood (a fox)
Monica Evans as Maid Marian (a vixen)
Phil Harris as Little John (a bear)
Roger Miller as Alan-a-Dale (a rooster)
Andy Devine as Friar Tuck (a badger)
Peter Ustinov as Prince John and King Richard (lions)
Terry-Thomas as Sir Hiss (a snake)
Carole Shelley as Lady Kluck (a chicken)
Pat Buttram as The Sheriff of Nottingham (a wolf)
George Lindsey and Ken Curtis as Trigger and Nutsy, respectively (vultures)
John Fiedler and Barbara Luddy as Friar Tuck's Sexton and his wife, respectively (church mice)
Billy Whitaker, Dana Laurita and Dori Whitaker as Skippy, Sis, and Tagalong, respectively (rabbits)
Richie Sanders as Toby (a turtle)
Barbara Luddy as Mother Rabbit
Candy Candido as the Captain of the Guard (crocodile)
J. Pat O'Malley as Otto (a dog)
Although at least five of the voice-actors utilized were British, the decision was made to cast quite a number of American character actors in the traditional medieval roles. Many of these individuals were veteran performers from Western-themed movies and television programs, which meant that characters like Little John, Friar Tuck, and the Sheriff of Nottingham have distinctly American accents and mannerisms. This effect was further reinforced by the choice of country singer Roger Miller as the movie's songwriter and narrator.
Around the time of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, Walt Disney became interested in adapting the twelfth-century legend of Reynard the Fox. However, the project languished due to Walt's concern that Reynard was an unsuitable choice for a hero. In a meeting held on February 12, 1938, Disney commented "I see swell possibilities in 'Reynard', but is it smart to make it? We have such a terrific kid audience...parents and kids together. That's the trouble – too sophisticated. We'll take a nosedive doing it with animals." For Treasure Island, Walt seriously considered three animated sections, each one of the Reynard tales, to be told by Long John Silver to Jim Hawkins as moral fables. Ultimately, the idea was nixed as Treasure Island would become the studio's first fully live-action film. Over the years, the studio decided to make Reynard the villain of a musical feature film named Chanticleer and Reynard (based on Edmond Rostand's Chanticleer) but the production was scrapped in the early 1960s, in favor of The Sword in the Stone (1963).
While The Aristocats was in production, Ken Anderson began exploring possibilities for the next film. Studio executives favored a "classic" tale as the subject for the next film, in which Anderson suggested the tale of Robin Hood, which was received enthusiastically. He blended his ideas of Robin Hood by incorporating that the fox character could be slick but still use his skills to protect the community. Additionally, Anderson wanted to set the film in the Deep South desiring to recapture the spirit of Song of the South. However, the executives were wary of the reputation of Song of the South which was followed by Wolfgang Reitherman's decision to set the film in its traditional English location inspired by The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men. Veteran writer Larry Clemmons came on board the project by writing a script with dialogue that was later storyboarded by other writers.
As production went further along, Robin Allan wrote in his book Walt Disney and Europe, that "Ken Anderson wept when he saw how his character concepts had been processed into stereotypes for the animation on Robin Hood." According to Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, one such casualty was the concept of making the Sheriff of Nottingham a goat as an artistic experiment to try different animals for a villain, only to be overruled by the director who wanted to keep to the villainous stereotype of a wolf instead. Additionally, Anderson wanted to include the Merry Men into the film, which was again overridden by Reitherman because he wanted a "buddy picture" reminiscent of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, so Little John was the only Merry Man who remained in the film, whle Friar Tuck was put as a friend of Robin's who lived in Nottingham, and Alan-a-Dale was turned into the narrator. Because of the time spent on developing several settings and auditioning actors to voice Robin Hood, production fell behind schedule. In order to meet its deadline, the animators decided to recycle dance sequences from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Jungle Book, and The Aristocats.
By October 1970, most of the voice actors were confirmed, with the exception of Tommy Steele cast in the title role. Steele himself was chosen because of his performance in The Happiest Millionaire while Peter Ustinov was cast because Reitherman enjoyed his presence on the set of Blackbeard's Ghost. However, Steele was unable to make his character sound more heroic, and his replacement came down to final two candidates which were Bernard Fox and Brian Bedford, with the latter being chosen. Meanwhile, Louis Prima was so angered by not being considered for a role that he personally paid the recording expenses for the subsequent album, Let's "Hear" it For Robin Hood, which he sold to Disneyland Records.
The film premiered at the Radio City Music Hall on November 9, 1973. The film was re-released on March 26, 1982. It was released to videocassette on December 4, 1984 becoming the first installment of the Walt Disney Classics home video label. Disney thought the idea of releasing any of its animated classics (known as the "untouchables") might threaten future theatrical reissue revenue. However, Robin Hood was viewed as the first choice since it was not held in such high esteem as some of the other titles, and was less likely to get another theatrical release as its 1982 reissue proved to be disappointing. It was later re-released becoming the first 1991 (as part of Walt Disney Classics Collection), 1994, and 1998 (as part of the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection). It was first released on UK VHS in 1987 followed by a 1989 re-issue. It was re-released in 1992.
In January 2000, Walt Disney Home Video launched the Gold Classic Collection, with Robin Hood re-issued on VHS and DVD on July 4, 2000. The DVD contained the film in its 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and was accompanied with special features including a trivia game and the cartoon short "Ye Olden Days". The remastered "Most Wanted Edition" DVD ("Special Edition" in the UK) was released in 2006 and featured a deleted scene/alternate ending, as well as a 16:9 matted transfer to represent its original theatrical screen ratio. On August 6, 2013, the film was released as the 40th Anniversary Edition on a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack.
When the film was originally released, Judith Crist said it was "nicely tongue-in-cheek without insult to the intelligence of either child or adult." She also stated that it "has class – in the fine cast that gives both voice and personality to the characters, in the bright and brisk dialogue, in its overall concept." Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that it "should ... be a good deal of fun for toddlers whose minds have not yet shriveled into orthodoxy" and he called the visual style "charmingly conventional". The Montreal Gazette said that when "Disney cartoon films ... are good, they are very good" and that "there are not many films around these days which an entire family can attend and enjoy. Robin Hood is one of them." New York magazine called it "a sweet, funny, slam-bang, good-hearted Walt Disney feature cartoon with a fine cast" and said it was "a feast for the eyes for kiddies and Disney nostalgics." Reviews written decades after the initial release of the film have been more mixed. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that the film received a 52% approval rating with an average rating of 5.4/10 based on 25 reviews. The website's consensus states that "One of the weaker Disney adaptations, Robin Hood is cute and colorful but lacks the majesty and excitement of the studio's earlier efforts."
On its initial release, Robin Hood grossed $9 million in the United States. However, it has been reported that the film grossed $35 million during its initial release.
The song "Love" was nominated for Best Original Song at the 46th Academy Awards but lost to "The Way We Were" from the film of the same name.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2008: AFI's 10 Top 10:
Nominated Animation Film
- "Whistle-Stop" written and sung by Roger Miller
- "Oo De Lally" written and sung by Roger Miller
- "Love" written by Floyd Huddleston and George Bruns and sung by Nancy Adams
- "The Phony King of England" written by Johnny Mercer and sung by Phil Harris
- "The Phony King of England Reprise" sung by Terry-Thomas and Pat Buttram
- "Not In Nottingham" written and sung by Roger Miller
- "Love"/Oo-De-Lally Reprise" sung by Chorus
The music played in the background while Lady Kluck fights off Prince John's soldiers in an American football manner, following the archery tournament, is an arrangement of "Fight On" and "On, Wisconsin", the respective fight songs of the University of Southern California and the University of Wisconsin.
A record of the film was made at the time of its release in 1973, which included its songs, score, narration, and dialogue. Both "Oo De Lally" and "Love" appear on the CD collection, Classic Disney: 60 Years of Musical Magic. The full soundtrack of the film was released to the general public on August 4, 2017 as part of the Walt Disney Records: The Legacy Collection series on compact disc and digital, and was a timed exclusive to the 2017 D23 Expo.
The song "Love" is featured in the 2009 feature film Fantastic Mr. Fox. The song "Whistle-Stop" was sped up and used in the Hampster Dance, one of the earliest internet memes, and later used at normal speed in the Super Bowl XLVIII commercial for T-Mobile. The song "Oo De Lally" is featured in a 2015 commercial for Android which shows animals of different species playing together.
In December 2014, it was announced that Disney had bought a spec script for a live-action film titled Nottingham & Hood with hopes that it would spawn a new film franchise. The tone is said to be similar to the Pirates of the Caribbean film series.