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In Search Of... Rocket Robin Hood
By Gary Radice

Date of Article: 30th August 2015

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There is simply no explaining the appeal of Rocket Robin Hood. Many of the stories were silly tipping over into ridiculous, the animation was cut rate at best, the whole premise was largely preposterous, and yet it is one of those programs that indelibly imprints itself on the young mind, a fond memory of television cartoons of days long past.

IMdb

Let me take you back to a television time in my life when I was young and foolish enough to believe that I would be able to sit back and watch all the new colour programmes that were being launched...in colour.... on our old black and white TV set. This was a time when the Test Card appeared to have a channel all of its own and when the weather maps on TV consisted of lots of black dots, half dots, triangles and wavy lines. I remember with much fondness many cartoon series that aired on UK TV from that time: 


The Flintstones (166 episodes made in USA that first aired between 1960 - 1965)

Frankenstein Jnr  (18 episodes  made in USA that first aired between 1966 - 1968)

The Impossibles  (18 episodes  made in USA that first aired between 1966 - 1968)

Shazzan (36 episodes made in USA that first aired between 1967 - 1969)

Spider-Man (52 episodes made in USA / Canada that first aired between 1967 - 1970)

Marine Boy (78 episodes made in Japan / USA  Dubbed series first aired between 1968 - 1969)

Journey To The Centre Of The Earth (17 episodes made in USA that first aired between 1967 - 1969)

Scooby Doo, Where Are You? (25 episodes and first aired between 1969 - 1971)


- And last but not least:


Rocket Robin Hood  (52 episodes made in Canada and USA that aired between 1966 - 1969)

For those of you who don't remember the series:

"Rocket Robin Hood, the happy outlaw of outer-planetary space is a direct descendant of Robin Hood of old. He's fast with a joyful laugh, a ready jest, and a quiver full of futuristic arrows. Robin robs from the cosmic rich to give to the astral poor. He's fun. He's fantastic. Rocket Robin Hood - merriest of the Merry Men in the astounding year 3000."

..and for those of you who are still reading this and think that they might remember Rocket Robin Hood -  but would like a prompt to jog the memory anyway - here's the musical introduction..

"Come gather around me. Space travellers surround me.

Hark now to the ballad of Rocket Robin Hood.

I may well confound you, astound you, spellbound you,

with heroes and villains, the bad and the good.

Watch now as our rockets race here from afar.

For now, with our Robin, we live on a star.

Three. Two. One. Blast off!


Band of brothers, marching together.

Heads held high in all kinds of weather.

With fiery blasts, our roaring rockets rise,

beyond the Earth, beyond the skies!

At the sight of Robin, take your stand,

with the gallant leader of our band.

Send a joyous shout throughout the land!

For Rocket Robin Hood!"


Quite why I remember this series so much baffles me. Of all the great cartoon series I watched back then why does this cartoon stand out? The idea of space must have definitely appealed and I was familiar with the characters I suppose. 

Set in the year 3000, Rocket Robin Hood was a decendant of the the original Sherwood outlaw and together with his Merry Men  battled weekly with the forces of Prince John and Sheriff of N.O.T.T. (National Outer-space Terrestrial Territories) The 53 episodes made were spread over 3 series. Rocket Robin Hood was animated and voiced by Trillium Productions, an animation studio that was part of the Guest Group which was a creative group of companies owned by producer Al Guest  

Al Guest and Jean Mathieson-Guest

The really awesome thing about Rocket Robin Hood is that it was one of the most high profile Canadian shows animated by legendary pair of producers Al Guest and Jean Mathieson, pioneers of the Canadian animation industry. 


Trailblazer Jean Mathieson was very likely Canada’s first independent, non-National Film Board animator. While working for the CBC she helped pioneer CG animation on what was then the largest mainframe computer in Canada at the National Research Council. With her partner Al Guest, Mathieson helped found the Canadian Animation Producers Association.

Canimation Blog




Steve Krantz (pictured left)   worked as a comedy writer for Milton Berle and Steve Allen and  later went on to produce animated cartoons in Canada including Rocket Robin Hood.  He headed Krantz Films, Inc. from 1966 to 1974. After firing Shamus Culhane  from the animator's supervising director job on Rocket Robin Hood , Krantz  brought in Ralph Bakshi (director).  Bakshi would later become a well known animation producer responsible for the animated versions of Fritz the Cat and The Lord of the Rings. The changes didn't stop there.

Background designer Richard H Thomas  joined the group late in the second season and brought a dark, almost psychedelic feel to the production under Ralph Bakshi. Third-season episodes were animated at Ralph's Spot in New York City, although voices continued to be recorded in Toronto.

Wikipedia

Jean Mathieson-Guest

Steve Krantz was a piece of work.  Al's mother died during the production. Krantz promptly phoned him and said:  'I hope this won't affect production!' He (Krantz ) stopped paying for the delivered and telecast films, then, when it looked like Al would have to stop production because of the huge sums owed, Krantz convinced Ralph Bakshi to steal all the art he could and take it to New York to finish the series there leaving Al's studio no choice but to close...Ah, the good old days...

.. ...Ralph Bakshi wrote an account of this period in a series of AWN interviews. He said that Steve Krantz convinced him that Al was cheating him to get him to take the art. It was only later after Ralph  tried unsuccessfully to get his own money that Krantz owed him for Fritz the Cat did he realize that Krantz habitually breached his contracts, keeping all the money for himself.

Jean Mathieson-Guest

Rocket Robin was voiced by  Len Birman (born 1932) -  a Canadian-born television, film, stage, radio, and voice actor whose career spanned four decades although former athlete and regular voice actor Len Carlson (born 1937, died 2006) substituted for him in some of the episodes during the third series. 

Len Birman and Len Carlson

Chris Wiggins (born 1931)  voiced several characters in Rocket Robin Hood but most noteably that of Will Scarlet. Chris, born in Blackpool UK moved to Canada in 1952 and worked in newpaper and  radio advertising before auditioning for an amateur theatre group which required an English voice. Friar Tuck's character was voiced by native Romanian Paul Kligman (born 1923 died 1985)  He emigrated to Canada where he spent his youth in Winnipeg and studied at the University of Manitoba. Paul Kligman moved to Toronto in 1950 and established his career there.

Chris Wiggins and Paul Kligman

Kligman also voiced the character of J. Jonah Jameson in the cartoon version of Spider-Man - and who could forget that character? Many a time I remember as a kid shouting back at the TV wanting him to shut up shouting at Peter Parker in the way he did.

During the late second and third seasons, the show (Rocket Robin Hood) shared a lot of animation and background music with Spider-Man (1967). Two episodes of the series ("From Menace to Menace" and "Dementia Five") had almost all their animation recycled for episodes "Phantom from the Depths of Time" and "Revolt in the Fifth Dimension" of Spider-Man (1967) by simply substituting Rocket Robin Hood with Spider-Man on the animated cels...The dialogue from these episodes was reused too..

IMdb

Image: (c) Krantz Films

Did anyone ever die in Rocket Robin Hood? Perhaps they did, but I don't ever remember. 

Fight scenes often consist of Little John's fist moving toward "the camera", a starry effect denoting impact, and a helmeted N.O.T.T. soldier falling to ground or floor..

Kevin McCorry

In addition to Kevin McCorry's beautifully articulated observations above, most fight scenes that I remember often featured knockouts courtesy of a leg of mutton over the head, a sack of flour to the midrift or villains bouncing off Friar Tuck's stomach. Never fear though because each twenty-two minute episode tended to end with everyone invariably laughing...But then most cartoon series tended to back then didn't they?

It's interesting now to read people's views and memories (courtesy of IMDb) of a series that wasn't shown too much outside of its native Canada:

What we remember most about this classic series is the constant re-use of vignettes for the various characters, especially Friar Tuck - remember him taking one bite of a huge turkey leg, then throwing it away, then an apple and throwing it away, then some grapes, etc?

Extremely crude, terribly animated, eminently watchable series from the late sixties. Ralph Bakshi again shows his imaginative hand, even if the other is tied firmly behind his back. 

I really loved the earlier episodes, done by Shamus Culhane. They were stories, the animation was pretty good, and they made "sense" in that the story resolved itself by the end of the episode. Later when Ralph Bakshi took over, he did the same hack job he did on Spiderman, Cheap acid inspired ink stain on paper backdrops, and missing cells on scenes that often left a character without a mouth, and stories didn't always get resolved or make sense. 

This had to be one of the worst, poorly made cartoons ever. The lip-syncing was almost always completely off, the plots were stupid and and the dialogue wasn't much better. Even for the sixties, it was poorly animated. I am shocked that something this bad could come out of Canada. Maybe part of it is also the setting. You have all the original characters from Robin Hood, like Maid Marion, Prince John, etc living a thousand years in the future fighting off a bunch of robotic enemies and other futuristic creatures. Not worth watching at all. I can't believe they stop airing the Flintstones on Teletoon Retro for the sake of this.

IMdb

Image: (c) Krantz Films

Rocket Robin Hood went through three phases in as many seasons. It started as a Canadian program, voiced and animated in Toronto, but the animation came under increasingly strong American influence over the course of the show. The first phase covers all of Season 1 and part of Season 2. The stories try to blend wacky humor with suspense...The animation shows signs of ambition at times, but often is poorly drafted...The second phase begins with Episode 25: Who’ll Kill Rocket Robin? The stories become more focused on adventure and suspense from this point on, and the art improves somewhat. These changes reflect the arrival of Ralph Bakshi..


The third phase covers Season 3... Bakshi moved back to New York City and recruited some skillful comic book illustrators including James Steranko and Gray Morrow (See Below). Together they crafted the show’s most eerie episodes. From Menace to Menace features a humanoid locust named Dr. Manta, who uses a sonic organ to animate rocks.. The Living Planet has the best-thought science in the series, plus effective animation of the hideously wrinkled villain. 


Dry wit highlights The Solar Sphinx in which three of the Merry Men are carried off to a desert world. Dementia Five - considered by many as the show’s outstanding episode - kills a whole civilization and puts Robin and Little John through genuine terror while letting the artists paint their most vivid graphics (reportedly while stoned on LSD). Bakshi had trouble with the budget and the schedule - 20 minutes of new footage had to be made each week at a unit cost of not more than $14,000. This drove him to re-use a lot of animation; toward the end, clumsy ‘cheater’ eps such as The Storm Makers and Return Trip became dominant. Like the poorer episodes of the first phase, they dragged down the reputation of the whole show.

TV.com

James Steranko and Gray Morrow

"James F. "Jim" Steranko (born 1938) is an American graphic artist, comic book writer/artist, historian, magician, publisher and film production illustrator. His most famous comic book work was with the 1960s' superspy feature Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. in Marvel ComicsStrange Tales and in the subsequent eponymous series."


"Dwight Graydon "Gray" Morrow ( born  1934, died  2001) was an American illustrator of comics and paperback books. He is co-creator of the Marvel Comics' muck-monster Man-Thing and of DC Comics' Old West vigilante El Diablo."

Rocket Robin Hood had its fair share of fans and detractors. Love it or hate it, (and I loved it) with its crudely drawn characters, crazy stories and trippy backgrounds, Rocket Robin Hood was typical of a multitude of cartoon series that were created and dished up in the sixties to a generation of mesmerized kids like me. And once viewed, they were never forgotten!

gR 2015