ANIMATION ANECDOTES
February 21, 2020 posted by Jim Korkis

Rocket Robin Hood

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”.

Original production cel – courtesy of David Pietila

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.”

13 Comments

  • Great glowing galaxies! I grew up close enough to the border to get Canadian TV, so how in the cosmos did I miss out on this star-shattering adventure? It appears to have inaugurated the cartoon trend of sending established characters into outer space (e.g., Josie and the Pussycats, The Partridge Family, Gilligan’s Island). I must have all 52 episodes on home video! Any cartoon that contains such brilliant lines as “There’s nothing more dangerous than a gun in the hands of a fool,” or “Don’t cook up any schemes where I have to bend over,” is worth examining more deeply.

    One thing we need to get straight: The streets in the Sherwood Forrest (sic) subdivision of Mississauga are just named after characters in the traditional Robin Hood legend: Maid Marian Place, Will Scarlett Drive, Friar Tuck Court, etc. Even the main road is called “Robin Drive”, not “Robin Hood Drive”, let alone “Rocket Robin Hood Drive”. The cartoon had nothing to do with it. I believe this claim originated with a certain Canadian cartoon blogger who makes a lot of errors in fact, and it should not be perpetuated.

    (On the other hand, you may already know about the Disney Streets neighbourhood in Dallas, built in the 1950s, with Snow White Drive, Dwarfs Circle, Cinderella Lane, etc. I knew an Auschwitz survivor who lived on Pinocchio Drive. There’s even an Aladdin Drive, although Disney did not make that film until many years after the street was laid out. But I digress.)

    Questions: If Rocket Robin Hood and his cohorts are direct descendants of the legendary heroes, then is Prince John descended from the present-day Mountbatten-Windsor clan? Is the Goritang a direct descendant of Cousin Itt? Did I really get a glimpse of Maid Marian’s space-cleavage? And why is Friar Tuck shooting futuristic carving forks with Alan-a-Dale’s atomic lute? It should only be used for playing cosmic lays and astro-chansons de geste! Pluck the wrong string, and you’ll blow the universe wide open! Great gobbling galaxies, I feel a fanfiction coming on….

    • Always great to get comments from you Paul and you certainly seem to have led an interesting life.

      Yes, I too questioned whether those streets were named after the Rocket Robin Hood series but found at least three sources that mentioned it so I assumed it might be some sort of publicity stunt. However, I would agree with you that it was much more likely that it was named after the original characters. I was always a fan of Robin Hood in general especially the Errol Flynn film (and how many know that the horse in that film later became Roy Rogers’ Trigger?) Liked the Disney live action film as well with Richard Todd AND the British television series with Richard Greene (and I can remember that theme song to this day: “Robin Hood, Robin Hood riding through the glen. Robin Hood. Robin Hood with his band of men. Feared by the bad, loved by the good. Robin Hood. Robin Hood….”) that ran originally from 1955-1959.

      No, I had NO idea about the neighborhood in Dallas with Disney street names. And I’ll bet most of the readers here hadn’t heard of it either. That is one of the reasons I love seeing people comment to all the columns here at Cartoon Research because I learn so much.

      Yes, sending cartoon characters into space seemed to be the big thing like the animated feature film Pinocchio in Outer Space (1965).

      Thanks again for your comments. Wanted to let you know I appreciate and enjoy them.

    • Thanks, Jim. Life is always interesting when you watch cartoons every day!

      Delighted to be the one to tell you about Disney Streets! I haven’t been back to Dallas since I lived there in the early eighties, but it was a nice neighbourhood then and probably still is: very family-oriented, as you’d expect, with good schools, parks, etc.

      I didn’t know that Trigger was in the 1938 Robin Hood film. I saw it again just a few months ago, for at least the dozenth time. I also love that movie, for its Korngold musical score, its action, its Technicolor, and of course Olivia de Haviland, a great star of the thirties who’s still with us in the ’20s!

      I never saw the British Robin Hood series, but I remember Monty Python’s parody of it: “Dennis Moore, Dennis Moore, riding through the land! Dennis Moore, Dennis Moore, without a merry band! He steals from the poor, and gives to the rich! Stupid b***h!”

      As for Mississauga’s Sherwood Forrest (sic), it’s a nouveau riche neighbourhood of McMansions that’ll set you back $1-2 million each; but they’re built too close together for my taste, with tiny back yards dominated by swimming pools (in a country where you can go swimming outside maybe two months out of the year). That, the age of the trees, the multi-car garages and the general architectural style all indicate that the subdivision was developed no earlier than 1980, by which time “Rocket Robin Hood” would have been long forgotten by practically everybody. The three sources you found that connected the cartoon to the subdivision must have all cannibalised the same erroneous misinformation (and as I said earlier, I have a good idea of its ultimate origin). It’s not quite as preposterous as claiming that the Rocky Mountains were named after Rocky the Flying Squirrel, or that Pearl Harbor was named in honour of Pearl Pureheart from the Mighty Mouse cartoons, but it comes close.

      Looking forward to your next post!

  • When I was young, we used to get CJOH from Canada if the atmospheric conditions were just right and the antenna in our attic was pointed toward Lake Ontario. As a kid, I looked forward to trying to see Rocket Robin Hood, sometimes with “snow” :static” and “ghosts.” And often the reception would cut out in the middle of the program and I would miss the resolution of the cliffhangers and the stories.
    All of this made the program seen exotic to me and increased its appeal.

  • Apparently this series was animated in Australia by Artransa, one of the first instances of outsourcing to that country.

  • Excellent post !! I watched Rocket Robin Hood as a child. Here in Brazil he was called Super Robin Hood, and was shown on TV until the early 1980s. He was a relative success here.

  • The headshot cel of RRH from your article is hanging in my living room. The background painting is a sky card from Care Bears. I am going to assume it was pulled from Comicartfans, Instagram or my RRH facebook page.

  • Ralph Bakshi sneaking across the border from Canada to the U.S. in the name of cartoon animation? I never knew that the history of animation could have such intrigue!

    So Ralph Bakshi replaced Shamus Culhane in two places, Paramount and Krantz. Interesting. (Steve Krantz was married to the famous novelist, Judith Krantz.)

    • That story could make a great caper movie!

  • A number of episodes were subcontracted to Artransa Film Studios in Sydney, where I worked at the time. Artransa had previously been selected to make episodes of the King Features “Beetle Bailey” and “Krazy Kat” shows via Paramount/Famous Studios, which was in its last days. These were the first series to be subcontracted to Australia, and many more followed, prompting Hanna Barbera to set up their Australian studio.

  • Artransa had previously done work for Al Brodax, specifically some Krazy Kat and Beetle Bailey episodes, using animators like Peter Gardiner and Cam Ford.

    • They also worked on ABC’s Beatles cartoon in 1965.

  • I remember RRH appearing on a UHF channel in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was one of those things were the idea was pretty cool and you kept hoping the show would be better than it was.

    Recently found a DVD with a bunch of episodes; they apparently released a series of discs. It didn’t hold up on revisiting.

    The bumper they ran in every show laid out the premise that Prince John’s goal was to add Earth to his empire, and Robin Hood was his only obstacle; alone it suggested a better show. The actual episodes centered on John’s plots against Robin personally; oddball visitors; and occasional attempts to marry off Maid Marian, sometimes his ward/prisoner and sometimes not. I’m guessing the show bible was little more than character designs.

    Also remember those Bakshi episodes of “Spider-Man”, which managed to look cheaper and more ambitious at the same time.

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