Let's be honest: a lot of movies and TV shows from our childhoods just don't hold up now, since kids are much more forgiving of...well, total crap. Disney's loose adaptation of Robin Hood (1973) was a personal favorite growing up, mostly because a friend of mine always seemed to be watching it when I came over. He pretty much wore the cassette out after a few short years...but during that time, I'd probably seen Robin Hood (or various parts of it) at least fifty or even a hundred times. Oddly enough, I don't recall seeing it even once since then, so popping in Disney's new Blu-ray was kind of a gamble: did I dare revisit this sacred cow through adult eyes, or should I just leave what I fondly remembered alone?
Well, I'm glad I did, because Robin Hood is still a fun, lightweight diversion that holds up pretty darn well. To be fair, it's not in the same league as contemporary classics like The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast or Aladdin, and it's also an artistic step down from older milestones like Snow White, Bambi and Fantasia. But a film, animated or otherwise, doesn't have to be epic, game-changing or visually flawless to be considered worthwhile, though nostalgia alone shouldn't be reason enough to blindly defend it.
I still enjoy Robin Hood for its featherweight structure, colorful characters and unabashed goodness in the face of evil, even if it's goofy and non-threatening like the cowardly, thumb-sucking Prince John or his smart-mouthed, slithering sidekick Sir Hiss. I love that the film runs just 86 minutes and doesn't necessarily need a huge, Earth-shattering climax to feel suspenseful, and that it somehow marries the unique cultural backdrops of the southern United States and medieval England. And I love that, even though certain scenes don't necessarily flow together seamlessly, Robin Hood still creates a unique mood that fits perfectly between classic and contemporary Disney animated fare. It's undoubtedly an accessible film that will appeal to younger audiences, especially those who probably couldn't handle Mufasa's death in The Lion King or Fantasia's "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence. Most importantly, it's charming, unpretentious, entertaining and (dare I say) quaint, in a way that some Disney films aren't.
I will acknowledge, of course, that Robin Hood isn't a perfect film. The story suffers a bit of lag during the second act, drifting in focus while it attempts to build momentum for the slightly rushed finale. The songs also miss the mark at times (especially during the second half), though perhaps it's due to their placement in the film, not the quality of the songwriting. It also inadvertently spawned this fuzzy li'l earworm back from the golden days of dial-up and newsgroups. But just for the record, the recycled choreography from films like Snow White and The Jungle Book doesn't bother me in the least. Considering Robin Hood's low budget, it's a largely winning production that's aged well during the last 40 years.
Robin Hood arrives on Blu-ray the same day as The Sword in the Stone (1963) and Oliver & Company (1988), and it's great to see the studio commit to reviving some of these lesser-knowns in high definition. Robin Hood is undoubtedly my favorite of the three, plus the Blu-ray itself is a mostly satisfying effort. Serving up a solid A/V presentation and a handful of bonus features (mostly from older releases), there's plenty here to enjoy...even if, like me, you've seen it several dozen times before.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in a slightly cropped 1.67:1 aspect ratio (though it's a fair compromise, considering the "Most Wanted Edition" DVD was cropped even tighter at 1.75:1), this 1080p transfer is pretty darn satisfying overall. Robin Hood's slightly muted, watercolor-toned palette looks suitably saturated, while the casual, sketchy art style shows no signs of excessive DNR or compromised black levels. Disney films of this era, especially those with Robin Hood's smaller budget, simply had a unique style and it's been preserved nicely on Blu-ray. No compression artifacts, banding, interlacing issues or signs of edge enhancement could be spotted along the way, leading me to believe that this is the best presentation we'll be getting for quite some time. Overall, fans should be enormously pleased with Disney's tasteful efforts.
DISCLAIMER: These promotional images are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-Ray's native 1080p resolution.
The default audio track is presented in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio...and obviously enough, it's not exactly a powerhouse. More often than not, this mix stays right up front while occasional background noise and the sporadic music cues drift into the rear channels on occasion. Dialogue always remains crisp and easy to follow, though some of the louder moments (especially during busy sequences, such as the archery tournament) sound a little overcooked at times. Much like the visuals, this is simply respectful treatment of limited source material. Also included is a lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 track, as well as 5.1 dubs in French, Spanish and Portuguese. Optional subtitles or captions are also offered in the same languages.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above (in DVD form), the attractive and functional menu interface does a good job at capturing the spirit of the film. Robin Hood
is divided into just over a dozen chapters and the discs are locked for Region 1/A playback only. This two-disc release is housed in a dual-hubbed keepcase; also included are a few promotional inserts (including a Digital Copy redemption code) and a handsome matching slipcover.
Sadly, the only new supplement here is a Deleted Story Line
(8 minutes), presented as animated black-and-white storyboards with substitute voice actors. Don't get me wrong: it's nice to have something
new---especially considering what we get is new Robin Hood
material that didn't make it to the final cut---but it's a far cry from finished work and will only appeal to die-hard fans. I'd have loved to see a new retrospective documentary or current/vintage interviews with surviving cast and crew members.
Everything else of note has been ported over from Disney's earlier "Gold Collection" and "Most Wanted" DVD editions. This recycled material includes a brief storyboarded Alternate Ending (5 minutes), a karaoke-style Song Selection feature (4 songs, 8 minutes total), a narrated Robin Hood Storybook (14 minutes) and Art Gallery (9 minutes), a few more Sing-Along Songs, a very loosely related vintage black-and-white Mickey Mouse Cartoon ("Ye Olden Days", 8 minutes) and a handful of related Trailers.
Also tucked inside, of course, is a new 40th Anniversary DVD and a Digital Copy Code. Oddly enough, the Art Gallery included on the DVD also offers a page-through option, which I prefer to the narrated version present on both discs. Optional English subtitles have been included for all applicable supplements.
Depending on your age, Robin Hood could either be a throwaway effort from one of Disney's least prolific decades, a nostalgic childhood favorite or a film that you haven't gotten around to seeing yet. As I fall squarely into the middle camp, the film's mild shortcomings are more apparent when viewed through adult eyes...but considering the budget and production limitations, Robin Hood is a fun, lightweight and unpretentious film that families can still enjoy. Featuring likable characters, plenty of laughs, a breezy plot and attractive animation, Robin Hood has aged slightly in some categories but, for my money, still remains fairly timeless. Disney's Blu-ray is a capable effort but not one of their best, serving up a dependable A/V presentation and only one new bonus feature. It's a little overpriced for what you get, though established fans and Disney collectors may find it impossible to resist. Firmly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.