Plus or Minus #017: The Story of Robin Hood

Plus or Minus is a series detailing and analyzing every feature film now streaming on Disney+. It combines the unique history all these films share, their cultural impacts, and their qualities, or lack thereof. From timeless classics, to acquired hits, to DCOMs, no stone will be left unturned.


Before Plus or Minus returns with The Story of Robin Hood, I know readers are likely confused by this site’s hiatus. Why have I not made a single blog post since September? Without going into specific details, major events in my life over the past year has made it trickier for me to update this site on a regular basis. And for Plus and Minus in particular, recent events regarding Disney’s recent management has made me unsure to continue promoting and celebrating films from such a problematic company. However, I believe I now have the time and passion to continue posting about movies. And separating art from the company is possible, especially since I will be very critical about many of Disney’s releases.

I hope readers interested in these posts, as well as future movie reviews, will continue to stay invested in the work I place into these, as I try to create a more consistent schedule. The hope is to make this a weekly occurrence, barring a few delays here and there, but I make no promises.

Plus or Minus: The Story of Robin Hood

I am sure this entry is confusing. Didn’t Disney’s Robin Hood come out in the 1970s? Well, long before the talking animal romp people know today, Disney’s first crack at the story was in 1952. So for this edition of Plus or Minus, let’s talk about The Story of Robin Hood, an obscure live-action adventure piece in the Disney canon.

Richard Todd plays Robin Hood, a outlaw living in Sherwood Forest. A skilled archer in love with the beautiful Maid Marian, played by Joan Rice, Hood bands together a set of merry men. Their quest? To fight the tyrannical Prince John and his armies, including a fierce Sheriff. Not just to save the oppressed citizens of the kingdom, but so Robin Hood can enact revenge, as one of Prince John’s henchmen killed his father. What follows is a grand tale full of action, laughs, and swashbuckling fun.

The Black Sheep…or Hood

As I said before, most people think of the 1973 animated Robin Hood when it comes to Disney adaptations. Most have no idea this film even exists. In fact, there’s a bigger shadow that falls on this 1952 release than just the fox. Frankly, The Story of Robin Hood is arguably the most overlooked film version of the Robin Hood legend.

As a public domain property that has plenty of potential for fun action and adventure, Robin Hood has way too many films to count. Ever since 1922 with the first Robin Hood movie starring Douglas Fairbanks, there’s too many Robin Hood films to count. And in the years since, The Story of Robin Hood, while not despised, is largely ignored. Partly because, sorry to say, there’s nothing that especially stands out here compared to the other movies.

1938’s Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn is the gold standard for every further interpretation. The 1973 Disney animated movie is how most people my age were introduced to the story. 1976’s Robin and Marian features acting legends Sean Connery and Katharine Hepburn and plays around with the idea of an older, retired Hood. 1991’s Prince of Thieves also has huge stars and an iconic Bryan Adams tune. 1993’s Men in Tights shows off Mel Brooks’ brilliant comedic talents. Even the 2010 and 2018 movies have prominent talents in front of the camera.

Image from "The Story of Robin Hood". Courtesy of Disney
Courtesy of Disney

So really, The Story of Robin Hood has…nothing. Of course, that shouldn’t be a damning against the piece. While comparisons with all these movies can be fun, it’s important to judge movies on their own whenever possible. It’s unfair to expect this to hold a candle to a masterpiece like Adventures of Robin Hood. However, in the end, there’s kind of a good reason why this film is so forgotten in the broader Disney history.

SparkNotes: The Movie

The reason why The Story of Robin Hood has little unique compared to other Robin Hood movies is its presentation. The film rushes through one sequence to another with little time for character or intrigue. There’s only a glimmer into Hood’s backstory, the romance between him and Maid Marian is undercooked, and the stakes don’t feel as strong as they should be. This is a movie about tyranny and the abuse of the impoverished. Our hero loses a loved one and is fighting for a new love. This should all be interesting, but there’s little time to breathe or make us invested here.

Not helping is just how dull the rest of the movie is. The Story of Robin Hood is surprisingly talky. There’s little in the way of action and adventure, with characters sitting around and discussing plans of attack. What little action there is offers little to the imagination or gets you pumped up. Again, it isn’t totally fair to compare this to other Robin Hood features. But as a film that promises fun adventure, it feels really restrained. Disappointing, when you consider how nice the soundstage sets are.

Not Truly a Hood

What also hurts the movie is how mediocre the acting is. There’s not a truly awful performance, but none of the leads really embody their character. Richard Todd comes close at times to the charming, slapdash Robin Hood people expect, but it’s only at certain moments. Joan Rice is pretty flat as Maid Marian and Peter Finch’s Sherriff of Nottingham is surprisingly forgettable. The only actors who really give the film any sort of energy are James Hayter as the kindly Friar Tuck and Elton Hayes as the traveling musician Allan-a-Dale.

Image from "The Story of Robin Hood". Courtesy of Disney
Courtesy of Disney

The performances and general direction really emphasize the biggest problem here. The Story of Robin Hood is frankly too generic of a movie. There’s spurts of energy and creativity here, but they are watered down to an absurd degree. There’s little in the way of creative setpieces and none of the characters possess much intrigue or likability. In the end, the film is a rushed, dull affair.

While I will not make comparisons with the Robin Hood movies before and after, I do find myself comparing this to Disney’s first live-action outing. I was not in love with 1950’s Treasure Island. However, it still had distinct elements and style to it. Yes, the screenplay was generic and rushed. However, there is a lot more to keep audiences invested. The film could get gritty at points and the acting is largely solid, resulting in a passable, yet still entertaining adventure film. However, two years later, this has forgettable action and ho-hum performances. There’s just nothing here.

Plus or Minus?

I feel bad taking part in my usual Plus or Minus conclusion for The Story of Robin Hood. This could have been something great. With better direction and a tighter screenplay, this might not have been an all-timer like The Adventures of Robin Hood. Yet it could have been a likable family adventure story. In the end, the pieces don’t come together, and it makes sense why Disney’s 1973 adaptation is what folks are nostalgic for.

The Story of Robin Hood gets a Minus, a decision that was not very hard to decide.

NEXT TIME: We’re back to animation with the classic story of Peter Pan. Decades later, is it a flying Plus or a sinking Minus?