Reinaert the fox snuck into Walt Disney Studios


Around 1250, one 'Willem die Madocke maecte' wrote the satirical animal story Van den Vos Reynaerde, a highlight of Middle Dutch literature and one of the most influential texts of the time in Europe. The world-famous Walt Disney Studios in California transformed the villain from the Land van Waas into the English folk hero and knave Robin Hood in the 1973 animated film of the same name.

All the animals in the 13th-century satire act and speak like humans, but are portrayed according to their specific animal nature. The whole of medieval society gets a thrashing: the nobility, the clergy and the people. Even knightly literature is taken to task.

The 13th-century satire
King Nobel, the lion, has his heralds declare a court day in the animal kingdom on a 'Sinksendag'. All the animals show up, except for ‘den fellen metten roden baerde’, namely the intelligent and unscrupulous Reinaert. Guiltily, he is left in his safe castle Malpertuus. Only after several futile attempts to summon him, Reinaert voluntarily comes along. He gets the gallows, but manages to exonerate himself by cleverly playing on the faults of the others, such as the stupidity and greed of lion Nobel, the unwieldiness of bear Bruun, the gluttony of wolf Isengrijn, the cowardice of tomcat Tibeert ... At the end, he makes a few more victims. He triumphs. The entire court is left defeated.

Walt Disney's Robin Hood, a friendly version of Reinaert
Of the Reinaert adaptations, a dozen or so animated films were made, of which Robin Hood, the 1973 Walt Disney production, is undoubtedly the best known. Yet the king of animation and the founder of the world studio was already toying with the idea of filming the original story in the late 1930s. But bringing up a criminal as the main character was difficult. All the ideas, sketches and gags, some of which were very successful, ended up in the drawer for decades. There they were allowed to mature until they were finally incorporated into Robin Hood.

First, the book with the story swings open and the protagonists are introduced. The classic history of Robin Hood of Nottingham is told through anthropomorphic animal characters. Unlike in the original story, in this film Robin Hood and his beloved Marian are friendly foxes, fighting tyrants and injustice. Alongside the honourable hero Robin, characters reminiscent of the unsung 13th-century original perform.

Other Reinaert derivatives
The number and variety of other derivative products of Van den vos Reynaerde is uncountable. The epic has been re-translated several times in verse and prose, adapted for the stage, scripted, set out in literary walking, cycling and car routes through the Land van Waas... There are statues, murals, scrapbooks, radio plays ... and if you have had enough, you can even eat the villain as a pastry. That is, if he doesn't outwit you ...