Throughout the 80s Burbank Films Australia made a number of animated adaptations mostly under an hour of numerous literary classics. This output is definitely very interesting, but it's a bit of a mixed bag, most ranging between average and good. Though there are some that have fallen into very good and really quite bad extremes, 'The Wind in the Willows', 'Peter Pan' and 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' being examples of the former and 'Don Quixote', 'The Odyssey' and 'The Prisoner of Zenda' being examples of the latter.
Burbank's adaptation of 'The Black Arrow' is somewhere in the high middle from personal opinion. As a book, 'The Black Arrow' is a pleasant enough read (personally think that it is better than its reputation, which is not high with Stevenson himself being the first critic) but is not among the best work of Robert Louis Stevenson, falling short of the classic status of 'Treasure Island' and 'Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde'. Burbank adapted both of those, as well as 'Kidnapped', and there is a preference for all three of those over this. On its own terms though, this 'The Black Arrow' is still quite good, not a completely straight up faithful adaptation (none of the Burbank animations are, though 'The Wind in the Willows' comes the closest in detail and spirit as an adaptation) but enough elements are recognisable and the spirit is relatively there.
'The Black Arrow' is a little uneven in the animation quality, though mostly it's not bad at all. There is atmosphere in the colours, nothing is too flat or garish here, and meticulous background detail, though some of the drawing and character designs could have been smoother and had more finesse.
Like other Burbank animations, with condensing the source material into 50 minutes or so, 'The Black Arrow' inevitably does feel too short and some of the storytelling is erratic in pace, some events feeling rushed.
However, 'The Black Arrow' does do a good deal right. The humour is sharp and witty. The adventurous elements are exciting and makes one feel a lot of affection and nostalgia for the action seen in other historical/adventures novels and adaptations. There is a good deal of charm in the chemistry between Richard and Joanna while the conflict is suspenseful without getting too dark.
Music fits nicely with the action and the atmosphere, it may not have enhanced what was going on but it certainly was not discordant with it. The writing flows well and is nicely balanced while most of the pace is slick and good natured. The characters are engaging, if not complex, and avoid being too genre-archetypal. The voice acting has personality while not going overboard.
So overall, not bad at all. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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