Weekly Video/DVD Picks

Robin Hood (1973)

Oo-de-lally! As post-Sleeping Beauty Disney animated features go, Robin Hood is a fine entry, better than The Sword in the Stone or The Fox and the Hound but not as good as The Jungle Book or The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Strengths include supporting vocal talent including Phil Harris (a Baloo-like Little John), Peter Ustinov (Prince John), inimitable Andy Devine (Friar Tuck) and Pat Buttram (the Sheriff of Nottingham).

Then there's the catchy, country-themed soundtrack courtesy of Roger Miller (Alan-a-Dale) and a fine, swashbuckling plot.

The conceit of casting the story with animals adds a certain charm and helps gloss over such oddities as the distinct shortage of Merry Men and the regionally eclectic accents (British Bedford and Ustinov, Southerners Devine and Buttram, etc.).

Jovial, pugnacious Friar Tuck is notable for being one of the few positive representatives of Christianity in a Disney-animated feature.

As a priest, he's allowed to allude to the Gospels (“Your last farthing? Aw, little sister, no one can give more than that!”) and say things like, “Thank God! My prayers have been answered!” as if he really meant them. And when Prince John plots to hang Friar Tuck in order to lure Robin Hood out of hiding, even Sir Hiss is shocked: “Hang Friar Tuck? A man of the Church?”

Content advisory: Mild animated action and menace; brief comic inebriation.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Finally available on DVD, The Adventures of Robin Hood has been fully restored and comes loaded with extras, including a documentary on the film's making and a tribute to other screen Robin Hoods, notably Douglas Fairbanks.

The archetypal Hollywood swashbuckler, The Adventures of Robin Hood is everything a big-screen derring-do should be: rousing, lighthearted, witty, romantic, colorful, moralistic and richly satisfying. In his defining role, Errol Flynn establishes himself as the quintessential Robin Hood — jaunty, dashing and fearless, while Olivia de Havilland (Maid Marian), Basil Rathbone (Sir Guy of Gisbourne) and Claude Rains (Prince John) shine in supporting roles.

The story is the classic Robin Hood tale, and it's all here: the fateful shooting of the king's deer, Robin's ignominious duckings upon his first meetings with Little John (Alan Hale) and Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette), Robin's penchant for entertaining wealthy victims in high Sherwood style before relieving them of their gold, the return of Richard (Ian Hunter) from the Crusades disguised in monk's attire. Innovations on the legend include a bravura early scene in which Robin boldly confronts Prince John at dinner and promises to oppose him by every means possible, and the initially prickly relationship between the rough Saxon Robin and the noble Norman Marian.

Content advisory: Much swashbuckling violence; a depiction of a corrupt bishop; a brief assault on a woman.

Robin Hood (1922)

Silent action king Douglas Fairbanks Sr. is the most exuberantly athletic of Robin Hoods, for sheer physicality perhaps outdoing even Errol Flynn's definitive performance.

In some ways the ideal Fairbanks vehicle, Robin Hood features bravura stuntwork and a moral theme of resisting oppression as strong as that of The Mark of Zorro, awesome castle sets rivaling the lavish production design of The Thief of Baghdad, a well-crafted plot as engaging as Don Q Son of Zorro and large-scale action scenes, with scores of Merry Men besetting Prince John's troopers.

Missing are the familiar episodes of Robin Hood's career, such as his river-crossing match with Little John and the archery contest.

Instead, this Robin Hood uses its long first act to develop a surprisingly involved back-story in which the man who will be Robin Hood accompanies Richard the Lionheart on the Crusades until he hears of Prince John's perfidy back in England.

Physically, Fairbanks was at the top of his game, and his Robin Hood leaps from the parapets and rides an enormous tapestry 30 feet or more to the ground.

In the film's most memorable stunt, he climbs up the chain of a closing drawbridge to the top of the castle wall.

Content advisory: Action violence; brief depictions of hanged bodies and of a woman being tortured.