A tradition that has transcended generations of filmmakers is using familiar talent. A specific director or studio will turn to actors who already have experience with them to cast in new roles. This not only helps add some momentum to publicity (the voice of “_____” is now voicing “_____”), but also allows the filmmakers to use what they already know about working with that person to make their new character even better.
From Hayley Mills being Walt Disney’s go-to gal in the ’60s to Pixar employing John Ratzenberger in every feature, re-using successful talent and establishing actors as veteran performers associated with a particular brand—across live-action and animation old and new—has been seen time and time again.
This Friday’s episode of The Animation Addicts podcast will have the Rotoscopers discussing Disney’s 1973 feature, Robin Hood. In preparation for the episode, all week long here on the blog we’ll be celebrating the film. Let’s kick things off with a look at how Robin Hood serves as a prime example of re-using successful and familiar voice talent.
Robin Hood was created as Disney Animation experienced a difficult state of change. Walt Disney had passed away in 1966, and the studio still struggled to make masterpieces like they once had. That’s not to say Robin Hood doesn’t hold up; it does. But I think we can all agree it’s not at the caliber of brilliance and wonder that audiences were used to from a Disney animated film during Walt’s time. It’s a different mold of a Disney movie, and that’s ok.
While I don’t have any official proof to back it up, it seems only logical that Disney would turn to actors they already knew to work with them again as they continued to find their bearings following Walt’s death. It made one less hurdle to jump through in figuring out the animation process.
And a visit to Disney Wiki makes it clear of just how much the studio wanted to stay with voices they were familiar with. Almost all of Robin Hood‘s cast is comprised of voices that can be heard elsewhere in the Disney universe. Here they are, compiled for your convenience:
Maid Marian is played by Monica Evans, fresh after her voicing Abigail the goose in the preceding Disney feature, 1970’s The Aristocats.
Abigail’s goose sister, Amelia, was voiced by Carole Shelley, who played Lady Kluck in Robin Hood. Over 25 years later, she would return to Disney to voice one of the Fates in Hercules.
Phil Harris provided the voice of Little John, making three consecutive Disney Animation films he had a role in, following Baloo in 1967’s The Jungle Book and Thomas O’Malley in The Aristocats.
Yet another Aristocats alumni is found in Robin Hood with Pat Buttram as the Sheriff of Nottingham. Buttram voiced Napoleon the dog in Aristocats, and Disney went on to use him again as Luke the mouse in 1977’s The Rescuers, Chief the dog in 1981’s The Fox and the Hound, one of Eddie Valiant’s bullets in 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and an employee at Lester’s Possum Park in 1995’s A Goofy Movie. Phew!
Trigger the vulture is none other than George Lindsey, best known for Goober on The Andy Griffith Show. Lindsey’s other Disney voice work included Napoleon’s sidekick Lafayette in The Aristocats (I know, shocker) and Deadeye the rabbit in The Rescuers.
Otto the dog was voiced by J. Pat O’Malley, someone with a long and storied history with Disney. His credits include Toad’s horse in 1949’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, voices in the “Walrus and the Carpenter” scene of 1951’s Alice in Wonderland, Jasper in 1961’s 101 Dalmatians, and Colonel Hathi in 1967’s The Jungle Book. He also held a role on the 1950s Disney TV show Spin and Marty.
The mice in Robin Hood were played by true Disney veterans. Sexton Mouse’s voice is John Fiedler, best known for voicing Piglet for nearly 40 years until his death in 2005. Fiedler also did voice work for The Rescuers, The Fox and the Hound, and, years later, The Emperor’s New Groove. (“Beware the groove…”)
Little Sister the mouse was performed by Barbara Luddy, a Disney leading lady (see what I did there) who previously played Lady in 1955’s Lady and the Tramp, Merryweather in 1959’s Sleeping Beauty, and Kanga in the Winnie the Pooh featurettes of the 1960s.
That’s quite a roster! It leaves very few characters left in the cast (including Robin himself) who were not part of Disney’s existing, well-established stable of go-to actors. What do you think of Disney’s decision to use so many returning voices in Robin Hood? Do you like when studios use recurring performers?