Thirty-five years after Errol Flynn and eighteen years before Kevin Costner, the role of Robin Hood went to an anthropomorphic fox, courtesy of Disney’s staff of animators and Brian Bedford’s voice. For its 1973 feature Robin Hood, Disney cast every player in the legendary story as a member of the animal kingdom-foxes (Robin and Marian), lions (Prince John and King Richard), bears (Little John), wolves (Sheriff of Nottingham), badgers (Friar Tuck) and other woodland creatures.
The story is a familiar one. Prince John, “the phony king of England,” has assumed the throne while his brother Richard is off on a Crusade. Through heavy taxation, carried out by the underhanded Sheriff, the Prince is grinding the poor even farther into the dirt. Enter Robin and his band of merry men, who steal from the rich king to give back to the poor. Naturally, this doesn’t sit well with the Prince, who makes several unsuccessful attempts to capture our hero.
Robin also has his eyes on the fair Maid Marian, a childhood friend who lives inside the castle walls with the Prince. Seeing this, the Prince announces an archery contest, with a kiss from Marian as the top prize. Robin, the finest archer in the land, arrives incognito to take on the Sheriff and the other contestants, ending with one of the film’s many wild chase scenes.
Trying another route, Prince John imprisons merry man Friar Tuck and other poor locals, promising to hang the Friar at dawn if Robin doesn’t surrender himself. Robin, Little John (who is anything but) and the rest of the merry men infiltrate the castle to rescue their friends, building up to a tense, flaming finale.
Produced during Disney’s years of tighter budgets, Robin Hood nonetheless recruited an impressive voice cast, with Peter Ustinov as Prince John, Andy Devine as Friar Tuck, and Phil Harris doing a riff on his Baloo from The Jungle Book as Little John. The film also benefited from a catchy country & western-influenced song score (an odd choice for a story set in Medieval England, but it works), including the mournful “Not in Nottingham” and the Oscar-nominated “Love.”