I always loved the Robin Hood story when I was a little kid. The little guy struggling against injustice whatever the cost, the transgression of the formal law in service of a greater good, the critique of inequality and royal power. I don't particularly remember when or where I saw the Disney version of Robin Hood, but the foxes and the archery contest are clear in my head, so my guess is that the movie was the start of a long passion for the story, one that would end even in the publication of a book on social change philanthropy, Robin Hood was Right.
Given this history, I certainly wasn't expecting the movie that Helena has been watching over the last couple of weeks. Yes, it's the same movie it always was. It's just that in the current political context, it seems to mean something very different than I ever took it to mean.
The movie, I saw only now, transforms the story into one only about taxes. Injustice is not exploitation, repression, or the exclusion of the saxons by the normans. Though Prince John, Hiss, and the Sheriff of Nottingham are clearly bad guys, the only way they express this evil is by charging high taxes. The voiceover that tells and retells this story is a supposed "folk-singer" who "tells it like it is."
Though I was offended by the interpretation of the movie, it goes a long way to understanding the political confusion in the United States, where working class populism almost always ends up supporting exactly the people who want to screw the working class. The Tea Party is the perfect contemporary manifestation of this problem, where (legitimate) anger at the way that the rich and businesses control the US government becomes a way for the rich and corporation to cement their control over government. The supposed injustice of taxes (really lower in the US than in any other industrialized country) is the tool that the unscrupulous right way uses to engage in this political judo.
The movie first came out in 1973, a time when an honest movie about a social bandit (Eric Hobswawm's term for criminals who gain social legitimacy from their moral and financial support of oppressed or marginalized groups) would have been interpreted as support for communism. Nixon was president (soon to be expelled). But the film might also have worked in the 1950s or in the 1920s. America has to re-interpret popular struggle as against taxes, and not against an unjust economic system.
Here, however, is the irony. I don't remember the movie this way. Helena doesn't seem to care in the least for the story line about taxes. Kids, after all, don't pay taxes: that part of the story doesn't touch them. What they like is the idea of cute animals and little kids standing up against oppression: not understood as the Tea Party or the John Birch society (mis)understands oppression, but as little kids experience it. Helena likes the movie, and I hope that will be one little step on her way to care about making a world that is a little less unjust. Just like it did for me.
More comments on kids films in the Children's Media Critic.