Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Why Disney's Robin Hood Isn't A Classic

Definition of "Classic":
a. Belonging to the highest rank or class.
b. Serving as the established model or standard
c. Having lasting significance or worth; enduring

Here are some reasons why Robin Hood, though remarkable and influential in it's time, is not a classic, and Disney should stop pretending it is. These reasons are not opinions, but truths according to structural flaws. These flaws include:

1. Too Much "Fluff": Today's movie scriptwriters have learned to begin scenes as late as possible and end them as soon as possible. They've also learned to throw out any material that doesn't further the story. The reason for this is that they have only two hours to get their message across. "Fluff" is any meaningless line of dialogue or pointless action. In other words, it's screentime without story. Robin Hood is overflowing with examples of this. It's scenes come in early and exit much too late with too many details without exposition or movement. The result is that viewers, especially young kids, become bored and stop watching. Also, it's just bad storytelling.

2. Limp Protagonist: Every story must have conflict. Without conflict there can be no resolution, and the plot structure collapses. Furthermore, direct conflict only takes place because characters make choices that bring it about. Now, Robin Hood's fault is not in it's conflict, but rather in the essence of it's conflict. It's true that stories require action and reaction, but for some reason the main character, Robin, always seems to be on the reaction end. This is true not only for the Setup, but also the Confrontational and Resolution stages of the plot. Think about it. What happens if a character never makes a direct action to overthrow antagonism, but is always reacting instead? When the antagonist Prince John raises taxes and the town of Nottingham goes into depression, Robin does nothing about it. Instead, Prince John makes another action by ordering that Friar Tuck be hanged(in a crafty attempt to ambush Robin Hood), and Robin reacts by executing a jail break and freeing all the unjustly imprisoned inhabitants. Hmm. Why didn't he just save all those poor prisoners in the first place? The film provides no explanation. Though witty and charming, Robin is ultimately becomes a character we can't relate to or properly cheer for.

3. No Concrete Controlling Idea: A controlling idea is the inner message of the story. It's referred to as "controlling" because it directs the plot's events and characters in order to reflect a meaning. Though there are themes of unjust taxes and oppression in Robin Hood, a controlling idea itself is strangely absent. Interesting, as this element is often the ultimate purpose of a film.

Finally, and most importantly...

4. Abrupt And Anticlimactic Ending: At the ending of the final cut of Disney's Robin Hood, Robin and Little John set out to save the innocent imprisoned villagers. This happened, as I've mentioned, after Prince John announced the execution of Friar Tuck. So, our heroes snuck into the prison in the dead of night and managed to quietly free the majority of those held prisoner, and save Friar Tuck.

Eventually the alert sounds and an action sequence ensues. Robin helps everyone escape from the castle except for himself, who is trapped inside. The Sheriff of Nottingham chases Robin up a tower, lighting it on fire as he repeatedly swings at Robin with his torch. Robin escapes to the roof of the tower, but has nowhere to run, as the fire climbs. Finally, Robin leaps off of the tower and lands in a nearby pond outside of the castle's walls.

Prince John has his archers fire on Robin position. Robin struggles to swim to land, but then appears to be hit by an arrow and sinks. Little John, who was watching from land, mourns for Robin. Just then, he sees a small stalk poking out of the water. Robin had been using it breathe underwater; hurray he's saved! And then, bizarrely, the movie drops from there and ends.

It's really perplexing, because structurally this point where this movie stops should have been the beginning of act three. There should have been another twist that pushed the story on for at least another twenty minutes. However, further research provides at least some answers as to why they made this decision.

In the original draft of the movie, Robin Hood did jump off the tower, and Prince John did for a moment think he was dead. In the original draft, when Robin surfaces from the water, he's mortally wounded, and drops to the ground unconcious. At that point troops begin scouring the area for Robin's body, to be sure. Little John lifts Robin and runs, as Prince John's minions take after him. At about the time Little John loses the soldiers, the Prince has adorned an iconically dark cloak and is following a trail of Robin's blood through the woods. Finally, he comes to the church, and sees Little John run out from it to go to find help. Now is the Prince's chance! He'll sneak in and stab Robin in his sleep! (Isn't this turning out to be a much more interesting ending than the original?)

Prince John creeps into the church and sees Robin lying alone and unprotected. He unsheathes and lifts his dagger, but is suddenly surprised by his brother, King Richard, who comes up behind him. It's then that King Richard rebukes the Prince and puts him in his place. I would have prefered an even more climactic conclusion, such as one where Robin in his weak condition had to find a way to turn the tables on the Prince at the last second, but almost anything would have been better than the ending in the final version. I'm rather puzzled that they chose not to go through with the original ending, because the result is something of an injustice to the audience, who never get to experience the true fulfillment that the storyline should have given.

Disney's Robin Hood has many remarkably charming and influential moments. On the other hand, the flaws listed above would condemn most any of today's movies. Disney is lying to you, and I imagine they're getting paid quite alot for it.

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