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The 30 year period between Disney’s Golden Age (which ended in 1959 with Sleeping Beauty) and the Disney Renaissance (The Little Mermaid (1989)) is often, I feel, unfairly marginalized as a period of sub-par films that aren’t worth remembering compared to what came before and after. Now, I’m not saying every film in this period is a masterpiece, but there are some genuinely good animated films that deserve their just due. And one of these films is Disney’s Robin Hood (1973), an underrated film if ever I saw one.
The story is presented as the “true” version of the Robin Hood story as the residents of the animal kingdom remember it. To that end: Robin Hood (Brian Bedford) and Maid Marian (Monica Evans) are foxes; Little John (Phil Harris) is a bear; Friar Tuck (Andy Devine) is a badger; King Richard and the conniving Prince John (both voiced by Peter Ustinov) are lions; the Sheriff of Nottingham (Pat Buttram) is a wolf; and Alan-a-Dale (Roger Miller) is a singing rooster.
The film has a great soundtrack with some memorable songs,one of my favorites being “The Phony King of England” (lyrics written by Johnny Mercer and performed by Phil Harris). The song takes place after our heroes have escaped from the archery tournament where Prince John attempted to capture and kill Robin Hood. Practically the entire population of Nottingham is gathered in Sherwood Forest to celebrate humiliating the prince and Little John leads the festivities with a whimsical song describing exactly how the people really feel about their would-be king.
Oh the world will sing of an English King
A thousand years from now
And not because he passed some laws
Or had that lofty brow
While bonny good King Richard leads
The great crusade he’s on
We’ll all have to slave away
For that good-for-nothin’ John
Incredible as he is inept
Whenever the history books are kept
They’ll call him the phony king of England!
A pox on the phony king of England!
To say “a pox on…” somebody means you’re basically cursing that person saying “I hope that person shrivels up with a pox and dies” And for someone to curse their ruler that way, well…you’re doing a pretty bad job if your subjects think THAT about you. While Little John leads the singing, some of the others put on a puppet show in the hollow of a tree, mocking Prince John and his advisor Sir Hiss (Terry-Thomas).
He sits alone on a giant throne
Pretendin’ he’s the king
A little tyke who’s rather like
A puppet on a string
And he throws an angry tantrum
If he cannot have his way
And then he calls for Mum
While he’s suckin’ his thumb
You see, he doesn’t want to play
Too late to be known as John the First
He’s sure to be known as John the worst
A pox on that phony king of England!
Throughout the film, there’s a running gag of Prince John bursting into childish whining whenever his mother his mentioned (“Ooohhhh, Mommy!!!”). This is a reference to the problems the real Prince John had with his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine. It was no secret that Eleanor favored Richard and John resented it for most of his life. Also, the line “too late to be known as John the first, he’s sure to be known as John the worst” refers to the fact that John is, to this day, regarded as one of the worst (if not the worst) kings that England ever had, so much so that there’s never been a John the Second.
While he taxes us to pieces
And he robs us of our bread
King Richard’s crown keeps slippin’ down
Around that pointed head
Ah! But while there is a merry man
In Robin’s wily pack
We’ll find a way to make him pay
And steal our money back
A minute before he knows we’re there
Ol’ Rob’ll snatch his underwear!
The villagers all dance during this song with animation that is (quite noticeably) reused from The Aristocats (1970), The Jungle Book (1967) and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). It’s actually fun to watch and see just how many pieces of animation are borrowed pieces from earlier films (it feels like I find a new example every time I watch).
The breezy and uneasy king of England!
The snivellin’ grovellin’,
Prince John, that phony King of England!
I’ve loved this song since I was little. It’s a fun, quirky song that makes you want to smile (and hopefully sing along). I hope you enjoy listening to “The Phony King of England.” Let me know what you think of the song in the comments below and have a great day!
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For more Disney songs, see also: Disney Films & Soundtracks A-Z
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