Robin Hood (1973)

Disney’s Cinderella has more cat-and-mouse antics in it than us grown-ups tend to remember it having; Disney’s Robin Hood, similarly, seems to have more marching in it than I would have thought possible. It’s a charming story, though, possibly in part because of all that celebratory marching!

I love the despicable babyishness of Prince John, the adorable aspirations of the rabbit kid who wants to be just like Robin Hood, Marion’s demure wistfulness about her childhood sweetheart… and the way the snake somehow has eloquent body language despite not having a body. (Snakes are so awesome!)

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Keep reading for a detailed plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat as well as a few other thoughts on the movie.

This post is part of a series on versions of the Robin Hood legend.

My beat sheet for Disney’s Robin Hood

Opening Image
Alan-a-Dale, the rooster minstrel, steps out of a storybook to explain that he’s going to tell us the animal kingdom’s version of the Robin Hood legend.

Set Up / Theme Stated
Robin Hood and Baloo Little John are clowning around in the woods. Little John asks Robin, “Are we good guys or bad guys? You know. I mean, our robbin’ the rich to feed the poor.” Robin says, “We never rob. We just… sort of borrow a bit from those who can afford it.” Little John’s response: “Boy, are we in debt.”

Prince John’s entourage marches into view.

Little John thinks it’s a circus. Robin Hood tells him it’s the royal coach. Little John says there’s a law against robbing royalty—as if robbing other people isn’t also illegal!)

Break into Two
Robin Hood and Little John dress up as gypsies and steal from Prince John, who doesn’t heed Sir Hiss’s warning that something is wrong.

B Story / Promise of the Premise
We meet the people of Nottingham, where Prince John has decided to set up camp and collect taxes.

We see the Sheriff follow Friar Tuck to the workshop of an injured blacksmith and cheerfully but ruthlessly shake all the money Friar Tuck gave to the smith out of its hiding place in the cast on the smith’s foot.

We see the Sheriff spoil a young rabbit boy’s birthday by taking the coin his whole family saved up to give him. When a blind beggar interrupts the party, the Sheriff steals all the coins from his begging cup before leaving the rabbit home. However, the beggar is really Robin Hood, and he cheers the boy up by presenting him a bow and arrow and the very hat from his head, though the hat is too big.

When Robin is gone, the rabbit boy gleefully shoots the arrow over the castle walls. When he goes to retrieve it, he and his friends meet Maid Marion and her lady-in-waiting, Lady Cluck, who, to amuse the rabbit boy dressed as Robin Hood, pretends to be Prince John. The rabbit boy defeats the pretend prince and runs away to the pretend woods with Marion, who gives him a real kiss, which he doesn’t want.

Later, Marion admits to Lady Cluck that she and Robin were sweethearts, and that she still thinks of him.

Back in Sherwood, just after Little John catches Robin Hood thinking of Marion, Friar Tuck shows up and says that Prince John is holding an archery contest and that the winner will get a kiss from Maid Marion.

Robin Hood and Little John attend the tournament in disguise. Sir Hiss is supposed to be on the lookout for them, but he winds up stuck in a barrel of ale.

Robin Hood wins the tournament even though the Sheriff of Nottingham cheats. Prince John congratulates the winner, but then immediately tells his guards to arrest him and put him to death. Immediately.

Marion protests, saying that she loves him. Robin Hood says he loves her in return. But Little John is the one who saves Robin Hood. He sneaks up behind Prince John and holds him at knifepoint, demanding that he command his guards to let Robin Hood go.

Then there’s a big battle, part of which resembles an American football game, but in the end all the good guys manage to escape into the woods.

Robin Hood and Marion are enjoying some quality time when they’re interrupted by friends celebrating their escape from Prince John. They all happily sing a song to mock him.

Bad Guys Close In
Sir Hiss and the Sheriff accidentally sing the derisive song in Prince John’s hearing. In retaliation, he increases the taxes on Nottingham and throws anyone who can’t pay in jail.

All is Lost / Dark Night of the Soul
The Sheriff even shows up at the sad, empty church and steals the solitary coin out of the poor box, just after Mr. and Mrs. Churchmouse put in their last farthing, which they’d been saving for a rainy day. Friar Tuck is so angered that he fights the Sheriff. He loses and the Sheriff drags him to jail, too.

Now everybody, including the rooster narrator, is in jail. The rooster sings a really sad song while all the poor people huddle miserably in chains and nibble on crumbs in the damp, dim dungeon of Nottingham.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Prince John hatches a plan to catch Robin Hood by announcing that he will hang Friar Tuck.

Break into Three
Robin Hood, disguised as the blind beggar again, finds out from the vultures constructing the gallows that Prince John is going to hang Friar Tuck at dawn the next day and hopes to catch Robin Hood at the hanging. Robin Hood and Little John plan to break their friends out that night.

As you might guess, the Sheriff and the two vultures do not manage to guard the jail effectively. Robin Hood and Little John sneak in and get everyone unlocked from their shackles. Then Robin Hood goes up to Prince John’s bedroom, which is filled with bags of money, and rigs a remarkably memorable kind of pulley clothesline thing to lower the bags down to the jail where all his friends are.

Prince John eventually wakes up and shouts for the guards, but by then it’s pretty much too late. Everybody gets out the castle in a cart with Little John, except Robin Hood, delayed when he rescued the littlest, slowest rabbit. He gets chased up into a tower that catches fire. He leaps down into the moat. When his hat bobs to the surface with an arrow through it, he seems to have disappeared permanently.

Not so! He’s been underwater, breathing through a hollow reed. To the relief of his friends, he surfaces and mocks Prince John from the shore.

Final Image
One of the vultures, supervising Prince John, Sir Hiss, and the Sheriff of Nottingham as they break rocks in prison outfits at the Royal Rock Pile, accidentally fires his crossbow. The bolt pierces the heart in the “Just Married” sign on Robin Hood and Marion’s wedding carriage as it recedes into the distance.

Other Thoughts on Disney’s Robin Hood

Prince John may act like a baby, but he has a grown-up’s vocabulary, sure enough. He calls Friar Tuck “the corpulent cleric” when plotting his execution with Sir Hiss. He also calls Sir Hiss an “eel in snake’s clothing” as well as a number of disparaging alliterative names:

  • suspicious snake
  • silly serpent
  • stupid serpent
  • reluctant reptile
  • cowardly cobra
  • procrastinating python
  • aggravating asp

The mixture of British and American accents is rather odd. But if we can overlook the fact that all the characters are anthropomorphic cartoon animals, I suppose we can easily ignore the fact that the story doesn’t seem to know what continent it takes place on.

The Captain of the Guard has a very distinctive, very powerful, and incredibly deep voice. Wikipedia’s article on that voice actor, Candy Candido, says he had a number of film roles, one of which was the voice of the embarrassingly non-PC Indian Chief character in Disney’s Peter Pan and another of which was the voice of the Awful Dynne in a dearly beloved childhood favorite of mine, The Phantom Tollbooth.

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