Walt in Sherwood, or the Sheriff of Disneyland: Disney and the Film Legend of Robin Hood

  • Kevin J. Harty
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


No place would seem farther from the Hoodian greenwood than Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland or Cinderella Castle in Walt Disney World. If anything, Disney’s castles suggest the world of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Indeed, when Walt Disney died, the Atlanta Journal ran an editorial cartoon with the caption “Childhood’s ‘Camelot’” featuring a despondent young boy sitting cross-legged on a hill and looking off into the distance at a drawing of Disneyland labeled “The Legacy of Walt Disney.”1 While Disney enterprises produced an animated film version of The Sword in the Stone directed by Wolfgang Reitherman (1963) and a rather improbable made-for-television film version of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court entitled A Knight in Camelot directed by Roger Young (1998), with Whoopi Goldberg as a race-and gender-bending Hank Morgan, they also produced four very different examples of cinema robiniana with rather mixed agendas—and results: The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men directed by Ken Annakin (1952),2 the animated Robin Hood directed by Wolfgang Reitherman (1973), The Rocketeer directed by Joe Johnson (1991), and the made-for-television Princess of Thieves directed by Peter Hewitt (2001).


Film Version Young Audience Disney Film Walt Disney Company Atlanta Journal 
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  1. 3.
    Certainly the case can be made that Allan Dwan’s silent Robin Hood starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. (1922), the Flynn film, and Richard Lester’s Robin and Marian (1976), although the last was not a commercial success, have set a standard for cinema robiniana still rarely approached by other examples of the genre.Google Scholar
  2. See Kevin J. Harty, “Robin Hood on Film: Moving beyond a Swashbuckling Stereotype,” Robin Hood in Popular Culture, ed. Thomas Hahn (Cambridge: Brewer, 2000), 87–100.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Rudy Behmler, ed., The Adventures of Robin Hood (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1979), 11, 38–39.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    For details on each of these films, see the appropriate alphabetically arranged entries in Kevin J. Harty, The Reel Middle Ages: American, Western and Eastern European, Middle Eastern, and Asian Films about Medieval Europe (1999; Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2006).Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    John West, The Disney Live-Action Productions (Milton, WA: Hawthorne & Peabody, 1994), 182.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Walt Disney’s Robin Hood and His Merrie Men: The Story of the Film Based upon the Screen Play by Lawrence Edward Watkin and Adapted by Edward Boyd (London: Wm. Collins Sons, 1952). episodes of the 1950s’ television series, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and she is also a character in the The Zany Adventures of Robin Hood (1984), in the BBC Robin Hood television series (2006–2009), and in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood (2010), where, as played by Eileen Atkins, she is once again an intimidating presence. The necessity of depicting women in film versions of the Hoodian legend has sometimes been debated; for instance, it was suggested that the character of Maid Marian be eliminated from the 1938 Flynn film (Rudy Behlmer, Adventures of Robin Hood, 17).Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    A discussion of Disney’s personal politics, the writers’ strike, and the red scare is beyond the scope of this essay; see Neal Gabler, Walt Disney: The Biography (New York: Knopf, 2007), 364–71. Interestingly, a number of black-listed writers penned episodes of the 1950s’ long-running Robin Hood television series in which characters often refuse to name names.Google Scholar
  8. See Steve Neale, “Pseudonyms, Sapphire and Salt: ‘Un-American’ Contributions to Television Costume Adventure Series in the 1950s,” Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 23.3 (2003): 245–57;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. and Rebecca Prime, “‘The Old Bogey’: The Hollywood Blacklist in Europe,” Film History 20.2 (2008): 474–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 12.
    See Alan Lupack, “An Enemy in Our Midst: The Black Knight and the American Dream,” Cinema Arthuriana: Twenty Essays, rev. ed., ed. Kevin J. Harty (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010) 64–70, and “Valiant and Villainous Vikings,” The Vikings on Film, ed. Kevin J. Harty (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011), 46–55. Kim Newman notes that, in yet another example of cinema robiniana, the Rogues of Sherwood Forest (1950), the Prince John character sounds “a lot like Senator [Joseph] McCarthy” (“The Robin Hood Collection,” Video Watchdog 160 [January to February 2011]: 68).Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    Concern for the so-called “boy problem” most famously led to the formation of the Boy Scouts in England and then soon after in the United States. The leader of the American branch of scouting teamed up with Thomas Edison to produce an Arthurian film in 1917, which tells parallel stories of two groups of boys, one made up of n’er-do-wells and the other of scouts. Also in America, William Byron Forbush founded a rival group to scouting, the Knights of King Arthur, which, in the early twentieth century, was immensely popular across the country. For details about the Edison film, see Kevin J. Harty, “The Knights of the Square Ta bl e : The Boy Scouts and Thomas Edison Make an Arthurian Film,” Arthuriana 4 (1994): 313–23. For a discussion of Forbush’s Arthurian youth group,CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. see Alan Lupack and Barbara Tepa Lupack, King Arthur in America (Cambridge: Brewer, 1999), 60–68.Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    Stephen Knight remains the most authoritative and comprehensive source for all things Hoodian. See his Robin Hood: A Complete Study of the English Outlaw (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994) and his Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003).Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    See John Grant, Encyclopedia of Walt Disney’s Animated Characters (New York: Harper & Row, 1987), 269–70; and Ken Anderson, “Walt Disney Productions’ All Cartoon Feature Robin Hood,” Official Bulletin of IATSE (Winter 1973–74): 24–26. Anderson was responsible for the film’s story and character conception.Google Scholar
  15. 19.
    Mark Pinsky, The Gospel According to Disney: Faith, Trust, and Pixie Dust (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 94.Google Scholar
  16. 22.
    For the complete text of the comic series, see Dave Stevens, The Rocketeer: The Complete Adventures (San Diego: IDW, 2009). For further details on the film version, which takes generous liberties with its source, see The Rocketeer Official Movie Souvenir Magazine (Brooklyn: Topps for Buena Vista Pictures/The Walt Disney Company, 1991).Google Scholar
  17. 24.
    Charles Higham, Errol Flynn: The Untold Story (Garden City, NJ: Doubleday, 1980), 32–89, 118–19.Google Scholar
  18. Higham’s allegations were effectively refuted by Tony Thomas, Errol Flynn: The Spy Who Never Was (Secaucus: Carol Publishing, 1990).Google Scholar
  19. 25.
    Pat Jankiewicz, “The Two Rocketeers,” Starburst 156 (August 1991): 12.Google Scholar
  20. 28.
    Richard’s legitimate heir was Arthur of Brittany, the posthumous son of his older brother Godfrey, and therefore Richard and John’s nephew. But Arthur was denied the succession because he was only twelve years old and had never set foot in England. John succeeded to the throne upon the death of his brother Richard, but Arthur would later besiege his grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, until his capture by John, who had him imprisoned. Arthur then disappears and is generally believed to have been executed by John. Shakespeare tells a literary version of Arthur’s demise in his play King John. For an overview of John’s life and contentious reign, see Bryce Lyon, “John, King of England (1167–1216),” Dictionary of the Middle Ages, ed. Joseph Strayer (New York: Scribner’s, 1996), 129–30, at 7.Google Scholar

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© Tison Pugh and Susan Aronstein 2012

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  • Kevin J. Harty

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