Sunday, December 19, 2010

Robin Hood

While shopping the other day, I happened by the movies section of the electronics store at the mall. And, for whatever reason, I quickly gravitated toward the animated shelf. Perhaps I was looking for some comforting reminder of my childhood, back when I could watch a movie more earnestly, even if it happened to star talking cartoon animals. I passed by a number of older titles that I could remember liking—An American Tail, The Rescuers, The Fox and the Hound—though I could not otherwise remember anything about them, so long had it been since I’d seen them.

One that caught my eye was Disney’s version of Robin Hood. It had been a particular favorite of mine growing up, though again I cannot remember it well enough now to determine where it would stack up against more recent pictures. But I remember, back when my parents, who used to work days and nights, would drop me off at the daycare, Robin Hood was one of the handful of VHS tapes on hand to entertain the kids.

I probably watched Robin Hood at least a dozen times there, yet somehow the twelfth time was as engaging as the first. I suppose, being a child, maybe I was just easily diverted. It has now been many years since I last saw it, but there is still one scene that I can vividly recall.

I believe it came near the end of the movie. I don’t even remember the exact context, but Robin Hood was attempting to flee Prince John’s burning castle. All avenues of escape were cut off, however, and he was forced to turn from one dead end to another, meanwhile having to evade relentless guards and arrows fired from all directions. Although Robin Hood had been a charismatic and cocksure hero up to that point, the panic and desperation were now clearly drawn on his expression, as though he were for the first time confronting a situation he wasn’t sure he could get out of. And as his seemingly futile escape attempt stretched on for interminable minutes, it became all the more agonizing to watch him get boxed in, his options shrinking along with his chances, until he was driven to flee deeper inward and upward into the castle (which, in my five-year-old experience, was never a good idea).

The climax came when finally Robin Hood dove (or fell) into the moat. He sank beneath the surface of the water almost upon landing, a hail of arrows following immediately behind, while both Prince John and Robin Hood’s own merry band looking on waited expectantly for him to rise again. But there was no stirring in the water, and as the bubbles stopped floating up to the surface, what followed was only his hat, an arrow running through it. Prince John was exultant, while Robin Hood’s friends were in disbelief, then pained resignation, the depth of their grief itself, more than anything else, serving as seeming proof of the cruel fate handed upon their heroic leader.

Of course that wasn’t the end of the movie, and Robin Hood did survive, and there was much rejoicing as good triumphed over evil. Yet somehow that whole sequence was, every time I saw it, as vital to me as though I were seeing it for the first time. Even though I knew he would make it out okay—in fact, I probably knew that even the first time I watched it—somehow it was still terrifying for me every time Robin Hood sank beneath the water. Somehow I got anxious every time waiting for him to surface. And the anguish of his friends, as they believed him perished, especially tore me up inside every time.

Anyway, that was Robin Hood to me.

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