SUSPENDED ANIMATION #255
“Come gather around me. Space travelers 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 side of Robin, take your stand,
with the gallant leader of our band.
“Send a joyous shout throughout the land!
For Rocket Robin Hood!”
If you don’t recognize that animation theme song, sung by a male chorus as if it were some old traditional English ballad, I don’t blame you. I only vaguely remember it myself from watching it on KCOP (Channel 13) in Los Angeles.
Rocket Robin Hood was animated and had voice work by Trillium Productions in Toronto, Canada, an animation studio owned by Al Guest.
It debuted in syndication in Canada in October 1966 and in the U.S. in January 1967 and ran for 52 episodes over three seasons. Each half hour episode was divided into three roughly seven minute segments that had a cliffhanger ending in segments one and two and a recap occurring at the start of segments two and three. In addition, there were short vignettes spotlighting each of the characters.
The executive producer was Shamus Culhane who made the shows at a cost of approximately eighteen thousand dollars an episode and they were distributed by Steve Krantz Films who was also handling the work of Grantray-Lawrence on The Marvel Superheroes and Spider-Man animated television series. Krantz financed and owned the shows.
While the show featured medieval castles and clothing, it was meant to be an updating of the classic Robin Hood legend set in the year 3000 with an odd overlay of science-fictional elements. Rocket Robin Hood was a direct descendent of the familiar and popular hero who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. In the pilot episode he wore a mask and a space helmet but those accessories were abandoned for the rest of the series.
He was assisted by his Merry Men (Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet, Alan-a-Dale and camp cook Giles) and his girlfriend Maid Marian who were implied to also be descended from Robin Hood’s original band. They soared about on jetpacks, had individual spacecrafts that usually flew in formation and wielded “electro-quarterstaffs” among other similar weapons like a quiver full of “futuristic arrows”.They all lived on New Sherwood Forest Asteroid, “that futuristic headquarters of that swashbuckling, cosmic highwayman of the 30th Century” and spent much of their time trying to thwart the evil plans of Prince John and his inept lackey, the Sheriff of N.O.T.T. (National Outer-space Terrestrial Territories).
Other menaces also popped up including an army of cat shadows, robot mummies and a huge, flying sphinx controlled by a descendant of King Tut as well as an evil scientist using a device to turn plants, craters, and volcanoes into devouring monsters.
Krantz had several problems with Trillium Productions including poor overall quality and missing deadlines. After Paramount closed its animation department, Ralph Bakshi was sent over to Krantz who hired him to go to Toronto to fix things.
Bakshi hired comic book artists in New York like Gray Morrow, Wally Wood and Jim Steranko to create some layouts to send up to the Canadian studio. The popularity of the series increased and with stronger layouts, the cartoons were being made quicker.
“I was getting the episodes done at about fourteen thousands dollars each, four thousand dollars cheaper than before,” Bakshi told writer Michael Eury. “Krantz fired Culhane and put me in charge. I needed a job and I loved running a studio.
“Every penny I saved went in Krantz’s pocket. I tried to do the show without putting money in my own pocket too. I was trying to show that you don’t need all that money to make a decent film.”
However, both Krantz and Guest began suing each other over various issues. Krantz decided he could make the cartoons in New York so he asked Bakshi (who was commuting to Canada every weekend by plane) to pick up some of the production material like model sheets on his next visit and bring them back.
As Bakshi told animation historian Michael Mallory in 2011, “I said goodbye to Guest, and I went to my hotel, and I saw the police are waiting for me, the Canadian Mounties. The word’s out to arrest me because I ‘stole’ Guest’s material!”
Bakshi figured that Guest wanted him arrested to use as leverage against Krantz. Bakshi decided to send his friend and background artist Johnny Vita to the airport and to tell police that Bakshi will be coming there soon so they don’t look for him anywhere else.
Bakshi jumped into a cab and made a mad dash for the border which was over two hours away. Vita was detained at the airport but there wasn’t a warrant out for his arrest. He was detained for two days but eventually let go because there was no warrant.
At the border, Bakshi got out of the cab and saw that the Canadians were not paying attention and he ran for the border with the suitcase full of artwork. He got to the American side where two military policemen were standing with pointed rifles.
“I get there out of breath,” Bakshi told Mallory “and I said, ‘Will you let me back in my own country? They’re schmucks in Canada!’ The guys broke up and parted. Most Americans were trying to run into Canada to escape the Vietnam draft. Nobody was trying to run into America.
“When Steve’s lawyers called Guest and told him I was safe back home in this country, he didn’t believe it. I told Guest on the speaker phone that his Canadian Mounties sucked, and that they couldn’t catch anybody from Brooklyn if they wanted to!”
The third season episodes for the series were made in New York at a makeshift animation studio called “Ralph’s Spot” that Bakshi set up although the voice work continued to be done in Canada. Bakshi also took over the Spider-Man television series as well.
Two episodes of the Rocket Robin Hood series (“From Menace to Menace” and “Dementia Five”) had almost all their animation recycled for the episodes “Phantom from the Depths of Time” and “Revolt in the Fifth Dimension” of Krantz’s 1967 Spider-Man series by simply substituting Rocket Robin Hood with Spider-Man on the animated cels and using the same dialog.
Believe it or not, a housing subdivision in Mississauga, Ontario, a Toronto suburb, has the distinction of streets named in honor of the Rocket Robin Hood characters. That may not even be the strangest thing about the story of “Rocket Robin Hood, outlaw defender of right, in the astounding years to come.”