Sunday, July 8, 2007

Two Princes

Campbell Grant's 1960 illustration of "King John" (see previous post below) seems to have served as the inspiration for at least one of Ken Anderson's rough designs for the same character in Disney's 1973 ROBIN HOOD feature. Perhaps this is where the oversized crown gag came from too. Kudos to Peter Emslie for commenting in and guessing faster than I expected...

This isn't the only artist who influenced Ken Anderson's take on that film, I can post more references soon. I'm not trying to fault him, but I also want to show credit where its due for some of the ideas in the movie. Certainly some of it seems to have grown out of Marc Davis' concepts for the shelved CHANTICLEER project, which featured a fox villain and lots of barnyard creatures in classic settings. There was also an early UPA cartoon with the Fox and the Crow where the Fox played Robin Hood, looking remarkably like the early sketches of that character. Wether that was conciously or subconciously floating around in Mr. Anderson's mind is anybody's guess, but I have to assume he had seen that short at least once.

ROBIN HOOD has its fans, but I remember being disappointed by it even as a kid (okay, teeenager) and still can't find much to like about it, apart from Ollie Johnston's animation (and some of Milt Kahl's, although his contempt for the project seems to have taken the spark out of much of his work here IMO). Its a potentially good idea but when so much is being borrowed and cribbed from other sources, and recycled from other movies, maybe it was doomed from the start.


Victor Ens said...

These are really very funny drawings. I love to look at the old masters work. It always inspires me !
When I think of Bambi for instance and at what age those guys were while doing it...Oghh !! Incredible !!!

Thank you for posting these anyway !


Michael J. Ruocco said...

Great posts lately, Will!

I enjoyed Robin Hood a lot more when I was a kid, but as I got older I sorta grew out of it. The whole "animals in clothes" thing isn't part that gets me, it's just that there's so much modern crap through it. I'm tired of hearing Phil Harris (great as he was), voicing another main character for the third time in a row (after Jungle Book & AristoCats). Modern "hip" dialogue, too. That & all the reused animation throughout the whole thing. Frank, Ollie, Milt & Lounsbery's animation was great, no matter what.

You're totally right that much of the film coming from Marc's Chanticleer idea. Personally, I'd rather have seen that than what ultimately turned into Robin Hood (or Rock-a-Doodle, for that matter).

Floyd Norman said...

I did some animation on Disney's "Robin Hood" back in the seventies. I agree it was a very weak film overall, and far below Disney's standards.

I think I probably got myself into a fair amount of trouble by mouthing off too often about how much this movie sucked.

But, it did.

Pete Emslie said...

I guess it makes a lot of difference as to what age one was when these films first debuted. In my case, I was 13 when "Robin Hood" was released in December 1973, and those were certainly my formative years, having been influenced greatly by both "The Jungle Book" and "The Aristocats" just before that.

Yes, I love all three of these films to this day, though I can certainly see the shortcomings of the later two films in retrospect. "Robin Hood" is a guilty pleasure that I still find immensely entertaining for the character animation and the vocal talents of all those great character actors, most notably Peter Ustinov and Terry-Thomas. Actually, my devotion to that film has led me to meet a couple of the voice actors, Ustinov and Brian Bedford, when I went to see them in stage productions at the Stratford Festival. In fact, Bedford has been a fixture at Stratford for almost every season since about 1976 and I've met him several times. My "foot in the door", by the way, was by showing up backstage with framed caricatures as gifts. (I still do this whenever I hope to meet celebs I like!)

John S. said...

Never heard of Campbell Grant before. These are great designs. Searle-ish, but a bit more conservative. Great designer. It's always a kick to see the stuff that inspired the greats.

Rhett Wickham said...

Apart from the unforgivable laziness of recycled animation, the biggest problem I always had with Robin Hood was its sitcom sensibilities – e.g. Hiss in a balloon using his tail as a propeller. That’s the stuff that completely undermines the more adventurous aspects of the film. I suspect this came from an attempt to stay "current" and relevant during a time when the studio had to keep pace with a radically changing American cinema. Keeping pace was not easy for a company labeled as corny and out of touch by so many movie goers. It's little wonder that the film is littered with horrible jokes like Hiss afloat, bosomy old Kluck getting all NFL on the royal guards, and the tedious Nutsy and Trigger exchange when you consider that shows like Green Acres - which went off the air the same year the film was wrapping production - were known for a similar style of humor; filled with haltingly unfunny attempts at cognitive dissonance and paradoxical set ups. They were swept out by Norman Lear productions, the most un-Disney of all sensibilities at the time. Robin Hood isn’t proof of anybody being a bad artist. It’s just evidence of old guard in a new world not trusting themselves on some level, IMO. I’m not trying to excuse it, mind you, but in context it at least makes it easier to digest. Robin Hood is one of the films I do re-watch now and again, but always with the sound down, just to enjoy to purity of the craft. And there is a lot to enjoy (even the lesser Kahl, as Master Finn so keenly observed).

I do remember that at the same time, there was a magazine article – I believe a Gulf Oil motorists magazine – that had some Ken Anderson sketches that included a very funny series of animal “Hippies”, the best of which was a lion in a neru jacket and hand woven headband and wearing a peace symbol on a chain around his neck. This leads me to an admittedly judgmental note: I have since observed that dear old Ken Anderson and Woolie Reitherman seemed to have been attempting to stay young well beyond their years during this period - as exampled by their appearance in publicity photos of story conferences for Robin Hood; Ken is seen in a paisley neckerchief knotted with a ring, and Woolie is in bright red polyester slacks with white faux patent leather platform shoes, while the rest of the gang are happy to remain in their charmingly musty old Fred MacMurray cardigans. I just get the sense from those pictures that "funny" and “hip” had an entirely different definition to Anderson and Reitherman at this time. On the lion, it’s funny. On Ken…it’s kinda’ like seeing your Dad in baggy jeans and wearing a baseball cap backwards. Not so cool.

Will Finn said...

While i remain a devoted fan of JUNGLE BOOK, ROBIN HOOD is still hard for me to sit thru, but mainly because like i said in the post, it is a pretty promising idea. even setting aside the swipe from UPA, the character lineup is appealing and some of the voices (like Ustiov & Terry-Thomas) are spot on as Rhett and Peter mentioned. The possibility of a completely cartoony feature remains an appealing one and this was a contender...that's what has always made it a consistently painful one to watch IMO.

Alas, from the wheezy generic title sequence to the syrupy warbling end fade-out, too much of the promise is left unkept in this movie.

As for Campbell Grant, he was in story around the time of MR TOAD, but was long gone from Disney by the 1960's. As you note John, he is referencing the prevailing Searle influence, but when i can scan some of Stieg's DECLINE & FALL pics you will see that influence also. DECLINE was a popular humor book and was clearly the publisher's model for Armour's textbook satires. The original author (Will Cuppy) was dead by the time it was published tho, so we can forgive Richard Armour for basically picking up his irreverent style (along with the gimmick of using funny footnotes as punchlines). Why Stieg wasn't involved in Armour's books is anybody's guess, but it was our gain in the considerable body of Campbell Grant illustrations that these books enabled. I will scan some more soon, they are very entertaining and, i confess they are what led me to these books in my high school library in the first place...

Whit said...

Yet, despite its mediocrity, Disney's animated "Robin Hood" was the top-grossing picture in Britain the year it was released.

RFarmiloe said...

I agree with everyone else...and the world.....ROBIN HOOD isn't too hot. Some nice animation here and there, but the weak story undermines everything. I have a really funny story (on TAPE!) of Ward Kimball talking about this film and some advice he gave Frank Thomas. Not sure if I should share it...but it's pretty funny. It was taped during a post screening held for him for PRINCE AND THE PAUPER in the late 80's. Maybe I'll post it soon. Hard to follow the Errol Flynn version with ANYTHING!

David Nethery said...

Oh, c'mon, Rick, spill the Kimball story ! Let's have it .

Jenny said...

Yeah, Rick! Give out!

Also--Rhett: Mark Kennedy got ahold of a copy of that old gas station booklet with the hippie jungle animals by Andersen; it's great--go to his blog and scroll down to older posts to check it out. Will's got a link on his page.

RFarmiloe said... got me. Grab a bag of popcorn and sit quietly.....
Ward was talking about ROBIN HOOD and all the stuff he didn't like about it, particularly Maid Marion just showing up at the end....just magically, after being locked up in the tower. He called Frank Thomas to tell him to complain to Wollie Reitherman, the director. Ward said, "You've been at that company for 30 years! Why don't you say something for God's sake?? 'Yeah, yeah, you're right,' Frank says over the phone...'But you know Wollie.' I said, "What kind of an answer is that??!!" Ward continued....."I remember one time we were working for(director) Gerry Geronomi. We just went up to Walt's offce and said we're not gonna animate for the f*ckhead anymore....and that was it!"

It was a lot funnier hearing it from Ward....but I always get a kick out listening to that. Hope you enjoyed my little campfire bedtime story.

Ben Balistreri said...

These Campbell Grant drawings are just fantastic! I hadn't heard of him before either but it's always fun to discover "new"/ "old" artists!

That Mark davis Chanticleer art is some of my favorite work I've seen of his, (along with his "Pirates" work.) There's that drawing of a blind mole that blows me away!

Man, though, I feel like I gotta throw some love out for Robin Hood! Re-using those designs is like eating chili. Even if it's sub-par it's still pretty awsome!

Keep up the great posts Will!


WOW, WOOOOW!! That is the drawing you were talking about! Holy crap. Will your blog is amazing. so inspiring man. And yeah, I just like to nerd out on the animation in Robin hood every once in a while. And the voices are pretty damn fun ( Even though Phill Harris is derivative)Robin Hood has a little entertainment
value...every now and then.I hope your doing well Will.

Richard Gaines said...

Aaaaahhhhh.....please forgive me, but I happen to have a certain weakness for Robin Hood. C'mon! Anthropomorphic (NOT anthro) animals talking and fighting?! I wish something like this would be made again, maybe in space this time!!

:-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-)

Okay, I had to get that off my chest! Back to you.

Onward said...

Greetings! I know this discussion thread is long dead, but having come across this post I felt the need to comment.

That is, “Robin Hood is a fairly enjoyable movie and, 38 years after it first appeared it’s still enjoyable.”

Let’s face it; the early seventies were not a good time for the studio. Walt was gone. The great old animators were reaching the end of their lives, and some critics thought that if Robin Hood wasn’t successful there was some doubt as to whether or not the studio would be producing another animated feature.

For this last point alone it’s an important film. Thankfully, it was a success.

Moreover, it continues to be a success. While “official” critics on “Rotten Tomatos” give it a marginal pass, general users of that website continually rate Robin Hood in the seventy-percentile “Fresh” range. The film continues to be popular with many audiences to this day.

I agree with those who wonder what could have been; I would have liked to have seen more. Rumor has it that there was an animated series proposed in the eighties involving Robin and the other characters in a darker, more serious role, but it was passed over for “Gargoyles.” A great pity.

With the film’s 40th anniversary coming up, I hope that “Robin Hood” is remembered more for the fun film it is, and for how it came together at an incredibly difficult time for the studio, rather than it’s technical flaws. From the disappearing “Home on the Range” to “The Black Cauldron” to the bizarre “Brother Bear,” there are certainly a number of post-Disney films which could be considered less worthy.