Robin Hood has a very divided reputation among Disney fans. Most will quickly admonish the film for its recycled animation, episodic structure, and abrupt resolution. Others will embrace the sheer wackiness and likable anthropomorphized animals. For me, Robin Hood is a top-five favorite that I enjoy immensely whenever watched. Still, I can acknowledge that the film certainly is not the best from Disney Animation. If I were to look at the entire canon through a strictly critical eye, the film is downright lazy and by-the-book. But even so, there are moments in the film that can still impress the audience. In my first "Animated Sequence Analysis," I focused on a low-key moment in a film. This week, we'll look at something also decidedly low-key, but still very effective and very much one of the highlights of the entire movie for me.
Robin, disguised as a stork, waddles over to greet Maid Marian.
Robin Hood: Ah, Your Ladyship. I beg your pardon; it�s a great honour to shoot for the favour of a lovely lady like yourself.
He gives her a daisy.
Robin Hood: Hope I win the kiss.
To shamelessly borrow Jerry Herman's lyrics: "It only takes a moment for their eyes to meet; and then her heart knows, in that moment, she will never be alone again." The camera cuts and zooms quickly from Marian's eyes to Robin Hood's eyes, then back to Marian.
Maid Marian: Oh! Well, thank you my thin-legged archer. I wish you luck.
She leans in to him, and whispers.
Maid Marian: With all my heart.
The scene lasts exactly 25 seconds, yet so much is conveyed very quickly. The wink of Robin's eye serves twofold, alerting Marian and also fooling Prince John. By itself, the line and action of "Hope I win the kiss (wink)" comes across as very confident and also a bit cheeky. The glory in the competition would naturally be the Golden Arrow, yet the competitor is more excited for a kiss. Thus, if Prince John happened to see a stork desiring a kiss, it would seem amusing. In reality, of course, the wink is Robin's signal to Marian that it is him. It makes her reaction, and the cutting back and forth between their eyes, all the more potent. This is a recognition of love, and Marian has to compose herself very quickly in her response. She still chances the situation with her whisper of "with all my heart," but it's such a brief and fast line that Prince John likely may have ignored it anyway.
Even amidst the recycled animation and Saturday Morning quality of most of the film, when we see Robin Hood's eyes staring back at her, we believe there's something very telling of how he feels about Marian. His eyes have a genuine sense of longing for her, a playfulness that celebrates his disguise, and the remarkable subtlety that allows Prince John to not notice. Robin's eyes are used in the scene to convey a variety of things. Aside from the quick zooming, the scene does not do much else on a technical level, yet it is the quick zooming that provides so much on the story and character level. Later in the film, during the "Love" montage, the camera instead provides a slow zoom as the two characters now have a chance to stare into each others eyes for as long as they want.
The shot begins slightly distant, it is an establishing shot that shows the pair in full view. Then, we get three lingering shots in a row:
Marian looks in Robin's direction. She's looking off-camera, but the slow zoom gives her more prominence than the previous shot.
Next, we cut to Robin. He is looking directly at the camera, and the audience is now Maid Marian.
We then conclude with a shot of Marian's eyes, slowly zooming back to the scene of Robin and Marian walking towards a waterfall.
The slow zoom is important in this sequence, as it no longer provides the haste seen in the earlier "eyes of love" shot. We take our time, there is no fear of discovery anymore. By having Robin Hood look directly into the camera, he is inviting the audience to be a part of this moment. We're assigned the role of Maid Marian, and we can truly see the love between them. Not many films - at least the ones I've viewed - can effectively pull off that shot. Robin Hood, for all its faults, succeeds in spades. Both instances of the "eyes of love" require the characters to look directly at us, and the audience does not always realize they become a part of the story. Some may recognize that "look," others may not. But for those brief scenes, we become as involved in the eyes of love as Robin Hood and Maid Marian do.
This is important, especially in animated films. By its very nature, film watching will remove and include an audience from the story unfolding. The best films are ones that an audience gets lost in, where they feel as involved as the characters themselves. For live-action films, a talented actor can bring to live emotions and reactions that the viewers identify or sympathize with in their own experiences. For animated features, the animator can have a character gesticulate wildly, and it can be believable or exaggerated. But the secret to audience involvement - in my opinion - is how the animator portrays a character's eyes. Think about Dumbo drowsily rubbing his newly-opened eyes, or Gus-Gus and his wide-eyed shock and fright at being discovered by Lucifer. Human eyes are a bit more difficult, but look at the subtle scrutiny in Belle's eyes as she tries to find Beast in the transformed Prince Adam. Audiences empathize with the characters in these situations because the eyes are effectively done. All three examples are some of the best uses of eyes in Disney animation, and Robin Hood's "eyes of love" proudly sits up there as well.
Robin Hood has
the distinction of being the very first Disney Animated Classic released on home video, gracing the format in 1984. Since then, it has had several re-releases on VHS (in 1991, 1994 and 1999), a single Laserdisc release in 1991, and two notable DVD releases. 2000 saw the film released as part of its "Gold Classic Collection," a line that was geared to families and lean on bonus features aside from Mickey Mouse's "Ye Olden Days" cartoon, an "Oo-De-Lally" sing-along, trivia game, and virtual storybook. In 2006, the film was re-released in a "Most Wanted Edition." That banner title came during the silly trend for DVDs when "Special Edition" wasn't catchy enough for consumers. Unfortunately, its release was also quite lean, retaining "Ye Olden Days" and adding only an alternate ending, two new games, and 48 stills of artwork. The DVD went out of print this past June, fueling rumors of a Blu-Ray release sometime this or next year. Hopefully the Blu-Ray may include more material, like Floyd Huddleston's unused versions of "Love (It Seemed Like Only Yesterday)" and "The Phony King of England," both of which had a more acoustic style, with the latter sporting different lyrics in some parts.