My boy/girl twins were only six when I showed them their first genuine classic made during Hollywood’s golden age, but if their many requests for repeat showings — always heeded — are any indication, it’s been one of my better parenting decisions.
Warner Bros.’ vividly hued, gorgeous early technicolor version of THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938), starring the rakish Errol Flynn (Robin Hood), the dastardly Basil Rathbone (villain Sir Guy of Gisbourne), and the unfailingly pretty Olivia De Havilland (Maid Marian), is the kind of rare classic that appeals equally to boys and girls. It’s got sword fights and horses, daring feats with bow and arrow, and a girl in sumptuous, princess-y dresses. Kids are gripped by the action and amused by the physical comedy. Then there’s that rousing, get-the-blood-pumping, Academy Award (TM) – winning score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, that’ll have the kids on the edge of the couch.
Generations of kids grew up on Robin Hood legends and tales, long before this movie was hatched on the Warner Bros.’ backlot, and since its making, there’s been a nearly endless progression of Robin Hood movies (and even some TV series) in every era, some good, some bad, some forgettable. The animated Disney version is probably the most small-kid-friendly, and certainly worth your kids’ while.
But the Errol Flynn movie stands out above them all. It’s the gold standard: suitable for everyone in the family age six or seven and up, hands down the most entertaining. It grips kids even though it lacks today’s elaborate special effects and faster-paced storytelling style. And it’s also a gorgeous thing to look at, with magnificently elaborate sets and costumes.
With older kids, you can use the context of the movie to open up a discussion of English history (Saxons versus Normans — can’t they all just get along?), unjust taxation, medieval social inequities, freedom versus tyranny, the redistribution of wealth. But unlike sitting through a dry middle-or-high-school social studies class, this is way more fun.
If you have a younger kid or two and want them to dip a toe in the ROBIN HOOD water before immersing them in the whole movie, start with the vintage Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes cartoons that come with the 2003 two-disc “The Adventures Of Robin Hood” special edition: RABBIT HOOD, starring Bugs Bunny, and ROBIN HOOD DAFFY.
These hilarious gems directed by the greatest of all the Warner Bros. cartoon talents, Chuck Jones, will quickly get your kids acquainted with some Robin Hood basics: he steals from the rich, gives to the poor, lives in Sherwood Forest, swings through the trees on vines, wears green tights, and is the Sheriff of Nottingham’s nemesis. Don’t be surprised if kids start repeating some of the lines (“Don’t you worry/nevah feah/Robin Hood will soon be heah!”). You can — and will likely be obliged to — show the cartoons endlessly after kids have seen the movie. There are worse parental fates.
Adults Should Know:
Say & Do:
THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938), directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley, original screenplay by Norman Reilly Raine and Seton I. Miller, based upon ancient Robin Hood legends, music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. With Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains.
RABBIT HOOD (1949) directed by Chuck Jones, written by Michael Maltese. With Mel Blanc.
ROBIN HOOD DAFFY (1958) directed by Chuck Jones, written by Michael Maltese. With Mel Blanc.