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Featured Blu-ray Review: Disney Triple-Shot

August 4th, 2013

Disney Triple-Shot
Oliver and Company - Buy from Amazon
Robin Hood - Buy from Amazon
The Sword in the Stone - Buy from Amazon

This week three Disney animated movies are coming out on Blu-ray for the first time, one from the 1980s, Oliver and Company; one from the 1970s, Robin Hood; and one from the 1960s, The Sword in the Stone. We will be starting with Robin Hood, because it is the only one of the three that I haven't previously reviewed. Have these three films aged well? And are the Blu-rays worth the upgrade?

Robin Hood

Robin Hood is, as you might has guessed, an animated retelling of the Robin Hood myth, but with anthropomorphic animals in the leads. It begins as many Disney animated films do, with a book opening up. The book tells of the legend of Robin Hood, but soon we heard from a rooster, Alan-a-Dale (Roger Miller ), who tells us that there are numerous versions of the Robin Hood tale, including one the animals tell. In their version, Robin Hood (Brian Bedford) is a fox, while Little John (Phil Harris) is a bear. The evil Prince John is a lion, while his cohorts are Sir Hiss (Terry-Thomas), a snake, and The Sheriff of Nottingham (Pat Buttram), a wolf. Prince John is the ruler while his brother, King Richard, is away. But he's a corrupt ruler stealing from the poor to feed the wealthy, as he puts it. On the other hand, Robin Hood and Little John rob from the rich, or in Robin Hood's words, "borrow" from the rich, to feed the poor.

The first heist involves Robin Hood and Little John dressing up as women, because why not? Actually, they dress up as fortune tellers to get close enough to their target, who just happens to be Prince John. It's a rouse that you would think only an idiot would fall for, but Prince John is an idiot, so he falls for it, despite the protests of Sir Hiss. Prince John is so humilated by Robin Hood that he puts out a £1,000 reward for his capture. Fortunately for Robin Hood, the folks at Nottingham are so grateful for his generosity that they don't turn him in.

They don't turn him in, because the taxes are so high and the tax collector, The Sheriff of Nottingham, is so corrupt that without Robin Hood they would surely starve. We witness this when the Sheriff follows Friar Tuck (Andy Devine), the pious Badger, as he heads to Otto (J. Pat O'Malley), the dog blacksmith. Friar Tuck is there to give him some gold from Robin Hood, but as soon as he does, The Sheriff takes it all in Taxes. The Sheriff then heads to the Rabbit home and takes Skippy's (Billy Whittaker) birthday gift, a farthing. He even steals from a blind beggar on his way out. However, the blind beggar is actually Robin Hood in disguise. He gives Skippy a bow and arrow, and his own hat. While the kids go out and play, Robin Hood gives the mother rabbit some gold.

The kids go off to play with Skippy's new bow and arrow, but on his first shot, Skippy loses his arrow over the castle wall, Prince John's castle wall. Skippy sneaks into the back yard looking for his arrow and fortunately Prince John isn't home. However, he does bump into Maid Marrion (Monica Evans) and Lady Kluck (Carole Shelley), a fox and a chicken. Maid Marrion and Lady Kluck are a lot nicer than Prince John and invite the other kids into the castle grounds. She then tells the kids the story of her and Robin Hood. They were friends a long time ago, but they haven't seen each other in years. She's worried Robin Hood won't even remember her.

That's not an issue, as Robin Hood not only remembers her, but is madly in love. However, he doesn't think he can marry Marrion, because he's an outlaw and he can't offer her a real future. Even Friar Tuck's assertion that they will be remembered as heroes, not outlaws, isn't enough. However, when Friar Tuck tells Robin Hood and Little John that there will be an archery tournament, and that the winner gets a kiss from Maid Marrion. That's enough for Robin Hood to dismiss all of his suspicions and get excited again. Of course he will participate in the tournament. It's almost like this was Prince John's plan. (Even a dummy like him can have a brilliant plan once in a while.)

Robin Hood is widely considered one of the weaker Disney movies, but I've always liked it. Granted, this has a lot to do with nostalgia, as this is one of the earliest films I can remember watching. It is colorful and energetic and generates a lot of laughs. It doesn't have an epic scope like some of the classics, but it is a funny, if smaller, film. This film cost just $1.5 million to make, while the previous film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series, The Aristocats, came out three years earlier, but cost $4 million to make. You can tell that this is the cheaper film. In fact, one of the dance numbers in this movie was borrowed from The Aristocats to save money.

The Extras

There is a good selection of extras on the Blu-ray. Up first is a deleted storyline, Love Letters, done in a storyboard / motion comic form. They don't call it a motion comic, but I think that's the best way to describe it. There is also an alternative ending, done in storyboard form, like before, but without the animation. Up next is Disney Song Selection, where you can jump to one of the four songs in the movie. Or you could use the scene selection. There is a nine-minute featurette about the art in Robin Hood, from the concept art to final product. Robin Hood Storybook is a 14-minute featurette / read-along storybook version of the story. There is a sing-along version of the movie, or you could use the captions. There is a separate, standard definition version of "Oo-de-lally". Finally, there is a 1933 short film, Ye Olden Days, in which Mickey Mouse plays a Minstrel in Medieval times.

Like I said, this is one of the cheaper Disney Animated films and on the Blu-ray you can tell by the technical presentation. Don't get me wrong, it sill looks amazing, given its age and the production budget, but it isn't as vibrant or as sharp as some of Disney's other releases. There are absolutely no signs of print damage or compression issues, so this is likely as good as the film will look on the home market. The audio is clear, but uncomplicated. The film was originally released in mono, so it should come as no surprise the audio on the Blu-ray is dominated by the front center speaker. There are some sounds in the surround sound speakers, including music and crowd noises, but it isn't an active track.

The Blu-ray costs $25 on, which is an acceptable price for this type of release.

Oliver and Company

I previously reviewed this movie just four years ago and my opinion has not really changed since then. It is one of the weakest films from the Walt Disney Animated Classics series. The animation isn't as good at the earlier classics or the films from the studios renaissance. Although I do like some early use of computer animation. The songs are weak, for the most part. The voice acting is mixed. The characters are mostly forgettable. There have been 52 films in this series, and this film is in the bottom five.

The Extras

The extras are not as good as the previous Blu-ray. There is a short featurette that was made while the movie was still in production. There is an even shorter featurette on some of the animals in past Disney movies. Up next are two short films, Lend a Paw and Puss Café. There are some trailers and TV spots and a sing-along version of the movie.

The film doesn't look as good as Robin Hood does on Blu-ray. The colors are vivid, but it lacks the detail of the earlier films. The transfer has a little too much DNR applied and the contrast is too high. The audio is better with ample activity in the surround sound speakers, especially compared to the other two releases coming out this week

This is the cheapest of the three movies at $20. It is also the weakest movie and has the weakest set of extras, so it is not much of a deal.

The Sword in the Stone

I previously reviewed this movie five years ago and there's not a lot more to add. It is a good movie, for the most part, but feels like a collection of shorts than a comprehensive whole. Merlin turns Arthur into a fish. Merlin turns Arthur into a squirrel. Merlin turns Arthur into a sparrow. Merlin and Madam Mim have a magic duel. Etc. Many of these segments are very fun, especially the duel, but the episodic nature is clear. This prevents it from having a bigger scope and a more epic feel, but I still really like the movie.

The Extras

There are not a lot of extras here. The first is a four-minute look at an alternative opening, while there is also an eight-minute featurette on the music. Walt Disney hosts a seven-minute featurette on magic and fantasy. Finally, there are two shorts, A Knight for a Day and Brave Little Tailor. (There is also a sing-along version of the movie, but you can always do that with subtitles.)

The technical presentation is mixed. The film is 50 years old and in order to clear up the print, a little too much DNR was used. The colors are still vibrant and the contrast is great, but in too many instances the level of details has been swept away by overuse of digital noise reduction. The audio is better, especially since it was originally released in mono. There's not a lot of activity in the surround sound speakers, but enough. The dialogue is clear, which is more important.

Like Robin Hood, this Blu-ray costs $25.

The Verdict

Of the three movies on this list, Oliver and Company is the weakest and the Blu-ray is light on extras, but it is also the cheapest. Robin Hood is an underrated film, in my opinion, and the Blu-ray has plenty of extras. The Sword in the Stone in generally considered the best of these three films, but the Blu-ray has light extras and the decades have played havoc with the video quality. If you are a fan of Disney's animated films, then all three are worth picking up with Robin Hood being the best value.

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Filed under: Video Review, Oliver & Company, Robin Hood, The Sword in the Stone, Peter Ustinov