It's the classic tale of Robin Hood, who steals from the rich to give to the poor. The Disney twist is, this version exists in the animal kingdom, in which Robin Hood is a cunning 'ol fox.
England is in a slump. King Richard has gone off on a crusade, leaving his power-hungry and money-minded younger brother John to take over the throne. Prince John seems to think being a king means collecting taxes and basking in them, no matter the hardships placed upon his people in trying to pay those taxes.
So enter the outlaws Robin Hood and Little John (no relation to the Prince), who take it upon themselves to steal from the rich to give to the poor. They're constantly being hunted by the unscrupulous Sheriff of Nottingham, but because they are quick and cunning, seem to always escape to steal another day.
Include disguises, an archery tournament, crazy chase scenes, romancing, song-and-dance, jailings, a potential hanging, a jail break and a tower of fire, and you've got Disney's Robin Hood.
Well, it's a Disney classic. The basics of the immortal legend of Robin Hood are placed into an animal kingdom setting, and while the plot is rather simple (and at times, non-existent), there are many memorable moments that manage to hold the movie together. That, and the animation style of this movie is one of my favourites. Every single frame of every single facial expression and gesture is beautiful. Not classically beautiful yes, but beautiful in the way that makes you appreciate the effort for keeping detail. In those terms, I find this movie, along with Snow White and Pinocchio severely underappreciated.
Disney's Robin Hood plays to the well-established silver-screen 'facts' of the legend. Robin Hood steals from the rich to give to the poor. He has a best friend and accomplice in Little John, the big guy with a heart of gold. His enemies are Prince John and his lackey the Sheriff of Nottingham. Robin also dresses in green, sports an aerodynamic hat (he must have loads of spares lying around, if you keep an eye out for how many times he loses or gives them away), is a master of archery, and has a romantic interest with Maid Marian who by all terms is supposed to be loyal to her uncle Prince John.
The main part of the Robin Hood legend that was not included in this version was the existence of Robin's Merry Men, so there's no Will Scarlet. Here, Robin and Little John are the only outlaws who run around doing mischief, which ties in really well that Robin is a fox, and Little John his big bear sidekick. (By the way, Little John is voiced by Phil Harris, who also voiced another famous Disney bear, by the name of Baloo.) Other bits of the legend were included in the story, including Robin's tendency to use disguises, his attending an archery tournament and winning it despite the fact that he knows its a trap, and his running away with Maid Marian into Sherwood Forest. The jailbreak scene is mostly a Disney concoction, but is nice way to bring the movie into its climax without using King Richard's return at all.
Like most of Disney's other efforts of using animals to tell the story, it's hard to imagine it being done any other way. Prince John and King Richard are lions, Friar Tuck is a badger, the Sheriff of Nottingham is a wolf, and so on so forth. Despite the Merry Men having being cut out of the story, other characters were brought in to enrich the show... Like Sir Hiss, Prince John's right-hand snake; Lady Kluck, Maid Marian's lady-in-waiting, the Rabbit family, and the various people of Nottingham. And the crazy chase scenes? I love the crazy chase scenes. They're so bizarre, like most of the physical humour used in the movie.
A note about Robin, the hero who doesn't quite seem to realise that he's a hero. He does what he does because he knows that it's the only thing within his power he can do for the people of Nottingham. It may not necessarily be the right thing, but it's the only thing. Robin, no matter what the outward impression may be, doesn't believe he's above the law. He knows that on paper what he's doing is wrong, but he's willing to answer for it because he places the people of Nottingham and his loyalty to King Richard above his own welfare. And that is cool.
By the way, Peter Ustinov, the voice of Prince John, rocks my socks. How often is it that you can find an actor of such calibre having such wonderful comedic timing? (Don't know who Peter Ustinov is? That's okay. He's a very awesome and established actor. Take my word for it.)
All in all, Robin Hood is a fun and silly adventure that's to be appreciated the way it is, with nary a moment that doesn't leave you smiling.