Robin Hood, Revisited: Legend, Fairy Tale, or "Ocean's Eleven" Revamp?

Robin Hood, Revisited: Legend, Fairy Tale, or "Ocean's Eleven" Revamp?
Daniel Maclise’s “Robin Hood and His Merry Men Entertaining Richard the Lionheart in Sherwood Forest” (1839)
(© Nottingham City Museums and Galleries)

Robin Hood and his Merry Men – fairy tale heroes? Not when we last looked (despite certain affinities with the English folklore figure Robin Goodfellow, or Puck). Nor is Lewis Carroll’s Alice. Nor is L. Frank Baum’s Dorothy Gale.

Just what constitutes a fairy tale seems to be causing some confusion in the Hollywood press. Last Friday, Deadline reported:


“As New Line today opens ‘Jack the Giant Slayer’ and Disney readies next week’s ‘Oz: The Great and Powerful,’ Hollywood’s infatuation with revisionist fairy tales shows no sign of abating. Dreamworks jumped into the fray last night by closing a mid-six figure against seven-figure deal for ‘Merry Men,’” apparently “a tentpole reimagining of the Robin Hood legend… an ensemble piece centered around the supporting characters Little JohnFriar TuckMaid Marian, and Will Scarlet.”

Variety had announced on Thursday that Disney’s “Cinderella” is “the latest fairy tale the Mouse House is getting into the megaplex after Tim Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ Sam Raimi’s ‘Oz: The Great and Powerful,’ and [the] Angelina Jolie vehicle ‘Maleficent,’ based on Sleeping Beauty’s villainess.”

Identifying Carroll and Baum’s dense, neo-mythic fantasies of shifting consciousness with the tales of Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm isn’t without some validity since all have been subject to Freudian and Jungian interpretations. Oz, with its witches and lost princess, showed Baum’s obvious debt to the Grimms and Hans Christian Andersen.

However, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” is a strictly American fable (possibly an allegory of the late 19th-century populist movement). Wonderland and the 12th/13th-century England of Robin Hood have entirely different typologies and atmospheres to those of such classic European fairy tales as “Snow White,” “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” and “Hansel and Gretel.” The alignment of the upcoming Robin Hood movie with Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” (2010), Raimi’s “Oz” (opening Friday), and the current crop of bona fide fairy tale movies strongly indicates how Hollywood is currently wedded to refashioning iconic storybook characters and refracting them through the CGI prism while weighting them with such positive (and mass-demographic-pleasing) phenomena as the kick-ass young heroine and social equality.

Robin Hood is a legend about resistance to political oppression, though it has sometimes been rendered as an Anglo-Arcadian myth. Wikipedia’s entry Fairy Tale nicely explains the distinctions between the two story forms while allowing that they can converge.

The various movies and television series featuring Robin Hood, which I wrote about here, often honor different aspects of the original ballads. The new movie that’s being scripted by Brad Inglesby and will be directed by Scott Waugh could well co-opt English medieval robbery and realpolitik and transform it into Hollywood action blah. That’s if the Deadline report proves accurate: “There is a high-concept revenge angle that tonally is reminiscent of ‘The Dirty Dozen’ and ‘Ocean’s Eleven.’”

Does this mean Robin Hood is going to be killed at the outset? And/or does it mean there’s going to be a Sherwood tale more perplexingly Southern Californian than “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”? Don’t bet against either proposition.