Disney’s 1973 re-telling of the classic folk tale “Robin Hood” brings the whole merry band of thieves to the big screen as animals. Rated G, Robin Hood tells the story of Robin, a sly fox, and his happy-go-lucky ursine assistant Little John as they steal ill-gotten taxes from “The Phony King” Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Prince John is portrayed as a stubborn mama’s boy, and the Sheriff proves himself time and again to be ruthless and greedy.
Parents who watch this movie today, though, may be put off by the apparent message of the film. Violence solves problems, the story says, and if you disagree with the way the system is run, the best solution is to abandon the law and resort to vigilantism. Maid Marion, with whom Robin had a fling many years ago, describes him as “brave and impetuous,” and the townsfolk of Nottingham praise him as dashing and handsome. His identity as an outlaw makes him an attractive figure in the film, a fox to be admired and emulated, and in the end, he saves the town and gets the girl (fox).
Impetuousness is hardly a trait to be admired in the real world, however, and while he may be brave, Robin is also a criminal. When Prince John holds an archery competition, Robin cannot stay away, and his need for competition almost proves to be his downfall. He wins the competition in disguise, but Prince John recognizes him and has him carted off to the gallows. Little John helps him escape at sword-point, and a recurring theme once again rears its head: For all of his misdeeds, Robin never suffers any real negative consequences. Near misses abound, but in the end he and his pals are safe.
Prince John is the victim of many of their schemes: in the opening of the film, Robin and Little John dress as roadside fortune tellers in order to relieve the Prince of his wealth, and later they sneak into his castle while he sleeps to make off with more loot. The young viewer may get the idea that the rich are greedy and mean, and that those in power are always corrupt.
Later, Robin even recruits a child to help him fight the corrupt system! When a young rabbit receives a gold farthing as a birthday present, the Sheriff takes it away in the name of taxes. Robin Hood saves the day –by arming the child with a bow and arrow and his signature hat. Little thought is given to the fact that the young rabbit could die if he uses his new weapon, or to the message he learns. With Robin’s hat and bow and arrow, the little rabbit learns that if things don’t go his way he can always fight.
Rated G or no, parents may want to think before they share a film whose main character is a violent criminal (and who takes the law into his own hands), with their children. The characters are portrayed as animals, but sly fox Robin is less a hero than an antihero. This may prove too much for young and impressionable minds.
Overall, however, the film’s lesson is more wholesome. The poor, victimized by the greedy Prince John and the Sheriff, are hard-working people. The wealthy are oppressive and lazy. Robin equalizes this injustice with cunning, well-executed plans and a little bit of luck. When the Prince’s older brother Richard comes home from the crusades and realizes what he has done, Prince John and the Sheriff are sent away to prison.
In a classic fairy-tale ending, the Sheriff and the Prince –who seek to victimize the weak- are served their just deserts, and Robin Hood and Little John are pardoned of their crimes. Disney’s Robin Hood ends on the optimistic note that those who are truly evil will pay in the end, and while the good may be victimized, in the end, with hard work and cunning, a person can overcome even the most unfavorable odds.
While parents may have reservations about the details of the story, the message that good deeds always triumph over evil is exactly the message that kids should hear. After all, what was true in the 1300’s when Robin Hood came into being was still true in 1973, and is still true today: If we are good, we will reap the rewards of our good deeds. If we are evil, eventually we will be brought to justice. Any parent can surely agree with that!