Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2017 8 "Whistle Stop", "The Phony King of England", "Not in Nottingham"

CD1: 1) Main Title; 2) Whistle Stop; 3) Oo-De-Lally; 4) Hail John; 5) It's Only a Circus; 6) Fortune Tellers; 7) Enter the Sheriff; 8) Skippy's Birthday Gift; 9) A Lost Arrow; 10) Meeting Maid Marian; 11) To the Winner; 12) The Archery Affair; 13) Fooling Ol' Bushel Britches; 14) Archer's Processional; 15) Sir Hiss Suspects; 16) Well, Well; 17) The Loser; 18) Seize the Fat One; 19) Fight on Wisconsin; 20) There You Are; 21) Love; 22) The Phony King of England; 23) Double the Taxes; 24) Not in Nottingham; 25) Not Yourself Today; 26) Bird Brain; 27) Lower the Bridges; 28) All's Well That Ends Well
CD2: 1) Whistle Stop (Ragtime Demo); 2) Oo-De-Lally (Country Western Score Demo); 3) Not in Nottingham (Prince John Demo); 4) Love (Robin Hood Version); 5) The Phony King of England (Country Western Version); Louis Prima Audio Book Tracks: 6) King Louie & Robin Hood; 7) Robin and Me; 8) Sherwood Forest; 9) The Phony King of England; 10) Friar Tuck; 11) Merry Men; 12) Love; 13) Robin Hood

Oo-de-lally, oo-de-lally, golly what a gift for the fans.

Disney's 1973 animated rendition of Robin Hood is an odd one. The film had a long, ever-changing gestation period before finally becoming reality, with a number of tonal changes during the production; the final product even features recycled animation loops from prior films as a cost-cutting method. It has barely any plot; things happen in a sequence to form a narrative but there's no sense of drama or progression to it, and instead it resembles pocket stories that interconnect in a fairly relaxed fashion. There's no Big Disney Song moments and the presence of the occasional sung song is almost coincidental. And yet, it's one of Disney's most charming films: much greater than the sum of its parts, it's a movie that simply feels good to watch. It's so full of personality, brought to life by the wonderful art and the fantastic voice acting, that few Disney films can actually match it in that department. Part of its magic is in fact in how it's relatively low-stakes; it's a film you can put on in any kind of mood and be guaranteed to enjoy and be captivated by.

The act of releasing the score as part of Disney's Legacy Collection soundtrack reissue series to begin with is worth an applause. Despite being beloved by many especially in Europe, the film hasn't really had the right amount of financial clout to be acknowledged by the US-centric Disney and so has been stuck in an unfortunate limbo when it comes to any peripheral material. The Legacy Collection release is the first official release of the soundtrack since the 70s, and the first time the entire score has been released, beautifully remastered but keeping the warmth of the original. This means that we finally get the chance to hear some of the score cuts fully audible and unedited, and truly appreciate the score that's otherwise gone somewhat unsung.

Much like the film itself, its score went through some redesigns and tweaking. The film was originally intended to feature a deliciously contrasting combination of British and American folklore, set in the High Sierras of the American west. By the time the film design had toned down the Western flavours and returned the setting to its country of origin, enough work had been done on its initial musical themes that they made it to the final film to an extent. The final score is an interesting mix of worlds, operating somewhere between whimsical cartoon orchestral songs of yore, a more traditionally Disney-esque cinematic approach with period-accurate instrumental flair, and the folk/country approach inspired by the original drafts. The score, largely composed by George Bruns, is a delightful, memorable little thing: matching the film's tone its cosy and down to earth, more in favour of quaint and subtle melodic pieces rather than big set piece compositions (even the climactic ending scenes are covered by a single composition). It's not a score that jumps out and shouts for attention, and it's clearly been made with a supporting role for the visual side in mind. But listening to it outside the film reveals all kinds of little touches and details you may have missed out when the dialogue has been set over it, and it's a testament to how well the music marries with the film that each song here is so fully evocative of the scenes they're set to that they replay clearly in your head as the music plays. Of the fully instrumental songs, it's e.g. the variations on the regally bombastic Prince John's theme (e.g. "Hail John") and the light-hearted scene-setting of "Skippy's Birthday Gift" that are particularly close to my heart; they're also good examples of the film's rich use of leitmotifs, that then get fleshed out by the vocal songs later on, which is always an aspect I appreciate in soundtracks.

Speaking of the vocal tracks, Robin Hood was released near the start of Disney's transitional period from the fairytale musicals of their older features, and the airplay-enticing hit song extravaganzas of more modern Disney, and so while a few sung songs are scattered throughout the film, they're treated more like narrative interludes than big centrepieces. The closest thing to it is the Oscar-nominated "Love", sung by Nancy Adams, and even it is an atypically gentle song for the big love theme of the film; but thanks to its softer touch, it does manage to reach something actually genuinely romantic. Three out of the film's five vocal songs are sung by the omnipresent troubadour narrator Alan-a-Dale, voiced by the country legend Roger Miller: "Oo-De-Lally" is little more than an establishing intro piece though it's thoroughly lovely in its own right, but "Not in Nottingham" really showcases the value of getting a proper soundtrack release, because now its gorgeous church organ outro gets the chance to finally play in its entirety, uninterrupted. Getting the full version had been a personal daydream for many years, and the Legacy Collection feels worth it for that alone. Miller also contributes his charisma to "Whistle Stop", which oddly might just be the film's most iconic song even though its vocals are fully wordless - it runs through the gamut of film's styles in its three minutes and has a dangerously catchy hook, and it has managed to establish itself as the first thing that comes to mind musically from the film. The most elaborate song of the lot is "The Phony King of England", the closest the film gets to the kind of sing-along number you'd come to expect from most Disney films. It's a load of good fun, full of quotable lines, and it's where you can hear remnants of the film's original musical direction the clearest.

In terms of the extra things that The Legacy Collection issue brings to the table, it's a fantastic set for a fan and a collector. The packaging is incredible, full of gorgeous custom artwork as well as a long, detailed history of the film's and the score's production, full of information about the various changes and plans both went through; the sheer level of love clearly put into the overall set makes it one of my favourite physical packagings in my collection. The second disc is devoted to various bonus material, from demos to alternative versions cut from the film to songs from Let's Hear It for Robin Hood, an obscure musical storybook version of the film, featuring Louis Prima as a facsimile of The Jungle Book's King Louie narrating the film. The demos are particularly great as they really highlight the original country western direction, with the full-on country hootenanny version of "The Phony King of England" being the creme de la creme of the set. With the alternative versions/reprises, you can understand why they were ultimately chopped and it's especially disappointing that the otherwise delightful Robin-lead version of "Love" isn't sung by Brian Bedford himself, but elsewhere it's still fun to hear Peter Ustinov chew the scenery as Prince John in his own reprise of "Not in Nottingham". The big band style cuts from Let's Hear It for Robin Hood are interesting supplemental material; the original songs aren't the most memorable perhaps but they retain some of the original source material's charms, and by this point "The Phony King of England" has fully established itself as the kind of song that I can happily listen to in countless different versions (why it hasn't become a canonical Disney classic is bewildering). The bonus material doesn't account to much in terms of runtime, only around 26 minutes in total, but it's fascinating archival material for fans of the film. I.e., the exact kind of thing you'd hope from a celebratory re-release.

And honestly, this whole set and this review are effectively preaching for the converted. In the wide sea of Disney films Robin Hood is more of a cult classic, and while its score is a very good one it's arguably not flashy enough to swoon anyone who hasn't already drank the Sherwood kool-aid. But as someone who at the very moment of writing this has two sets of artwork related to this film on the nearby wall and whose second copy of a similarly themed mug is a permanent fixture of his PC desk, and as someone who is a big enough music fan to review things, this is about as essential as a piece of merchandise can get. You can also tell that they wanted to make the release as comprehensive as possible, from liner notes to bonus material (the notes even lament a few particular archive takes they learned about while researching for this edition, the recordings of which are seemingly lost forever); it's a celebration of something that hasn't had its day in the spotlight yet. It's opened up a way to fully enjoy a specific aspect of the film in a way that hasn't been possible before, and for a fan of the film it's only made the entire experience even greater. Oo-de-lally.

Physically: This is a thoroughly lovely package. Housed in a small book-shape packaging, the booklet goes into great detail about the history and context of the film and its music, with plenty of promotional art, early sketches and brand new artwork (in line with that lovely cover) gracing its pages. It feels suitably celebratory for a "deluxe" re-release.

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