- “This crown gives me a feeling of power! POWER! Forgive me a cruel chuckle, heh-heh-heh..."”
- ―Prince John
Prince John is a coward and a crybaby, who after his brother King Richard is brainwashed, thanks to Sir Hiss, into going on a crusade, assumes the crown and becomes somewhat of a dictator, leaving his subjects in poverty. He is based on the real-life King John of England. Peter Ustinov also did Prince John's German-language voice and played the similar character of Emperor Nero in the Christian epic Quo Vadis.
Little is known of Prince John's past, other than the fact that he is the younger brother of King Richard. He seems to have had a love/hate relationship with his deceased mother Eleanor of Aquitaine, who he claims favored Richard over him but cries out in agony whenever he insults her memory. He also has a very bad habit of sucking his thumb intensely at the most inappropriate times, making him appear childish and immature but also making him a tragic character because of his flaws.
Prince John is greedy and loves money more than anything else in the world, perhaps even more than his own life, and continually finds ways to rob and swindle his people in the pursuit of wealth. He is also very possessive of whatever gold he owns as seen when Robin Hood robs him. As Robin Hood enters his castle he hears his voice, but fortunately, the sleepy Prince turns over and is seen to be clutching tightly on a bag of coins. However, in one of his rages, he declared that he would give all his gold if he could 'just get [his] hands on [Robin Hood]'.
John also has an extremely short temper, often being set off at the slightest criticism, or when he is humiliated and lashes out at anyone nearby. This is especially evident with his treatment of his majordomo, Sir Hiss.
Prince John also seems to be ticklish, as when Sir Hiss's snoring causes his tongue to wiggle across John's foot, he is shown to be laughing. He is also shown to be a cheerful character according to Sir Hiss who at one point said he "wasn't his usual cheerful self". When it comes to taxes, Prince John is just as unsympathetic as the Sheriff and merely says on the people's poverty "Rob the poor to feed the rich". He is also seen in his first scene in front of a large bag of coins bringing them up and dropping them saying "Taxes. Taxes. Beautiful lovely taxes!" and laughing. When pushed to the end of his rope he ordered the Sheriff of Nottingham to "double the taxes, triple the taxes" and squeeze every last coin out of the townspeople and didn't care about what would happen.
Ultimately, Prince John is something of a coward, as seen in the battle after the archery tournament, when he tries to attack Robin Hood, but immediately begs for mercy and hides behind a barrel upon being disarmed; however, he has been threatened by Little John's dagger from behind only moments before, so it could explain his sudden panic. Later on, while clinging to the edge of his bed chamber balcony, he calls on his guards to save his gold rather than him.
Despite his cowardice and immaturity, he can clever at times, coming up with ways to bring Robin Hood out of hiding.
After tricking King Richard, into partaking in a crusade beyond England, Prince John becomes the acting monarch of England and quickly asserts his authority over the kingdom. Surrounded by a very large army of henchmen, he easily robs the people of England of all they have, causing misery and despair among the population. He was known for his harsh and unjust taxes, and would gladly tax the people continually until they didn't have a scrap of silver or gold left. He was not above imprisoning his people if they failed to pay their taxes even after they gave up everything they had. By the time of the film, he had set his sights on the wealthy village of Nottingham and proceeded to assert his rule over the city.
Unfortunately for Prince John, his scheming ways caught the attention of famed robber Robin Hood, alongside his faithful companion Little John, robbed the rich to give to the poor. During his journey to Nottingham, Prince John ran across two fortune tellers (actually Robin Hood and Little John in clever disguises) and eagerly accepted their offer to tell him his fortunes (despite Sir Hiss warning him of the possible danger). As Robin Hood distracted him by complimenting his more regal features, he and Little John robbed Prince John's caravan of the gold they had been carrying and escaped into Sherwood Forest right under the noses of the fooled guards. Robin Hood added further insult to the injury by making off with John's royal robe, leaving him in nothing but long underwear (so that he couldn't do anything to deter Robin Hood and Little John). John gave chase but fell out of his carriage (Little John made off with the golden hubcaps on the wheels, again so that Prince John couldn't deter them). Utterly humiliated, John swore revenge on Robin Hood, labeling him a wanted man in Nottingham.
Upon arriving in Nottingham, Prince John decreed a series of harsh taxes on the villagers, driving them out of their homes and leaving them starving. Those unable to pay were sent to the stocks. Aiding John in his efforts was the cruel Sheriff of Nottingham, who had no shame in robbing the people on behalf of the prince. During John's rule, Robin Hood, Little John, and Friar Tuck of the local Church did everything they could to keep hope alive in the town, secretly distributing money among the starving population. The people viewed Robin Hood as a hero, so he was never turned in for his crimes against the prince despite the offer of a huge reward.
Prince John also set up his residence in his mother's castle in Nottingham where Maid Marian, Robin's former love still resided. Maid Marian had no love for the prince and desperately wished to see Robin again, while at the same time fearing that he had forgotten all about her.
Prince John eventually set up a trap for Robin Hood by hosting an archery tournament and offering up a kiss from Maid Marian as the winning prize. Unable to resist this opportunity to see his lost love again, Robin eagerly enrolled in the tournament, disguised as a stork while Little John disguised himself as a duke. Although falling for Little John's disguise, the prince expected Robin to be in disguise and took note of the stork's superior archery skills. When Robin won the tournament as Prince John had planned, after recognizing him when shaking his hand, he unmasked his enemy in front of the crowd and had him arrested and sentenced to "immediate death." Maid Marian pleaded him to show mercy, but her pleas fell on deaf ears, even after Robin proclaimed his undying love for Maid Marian. John labeled Robin a traitor to the crown, but was openly insulted by Robin, who shouted alongside the villagers, "Long Live King Richard!" Outraged, John threw a fit and immediately ordered Robin to be executed, but was forced to let Robin go when Little John held him hostage from behind with a knife. The Sheriff discovered this and when Little John got distracted, John ordered his minions to do away with Robin. In the fight that followed, John tries to attack Robin from behind with a sword, only for Robin to quickly knock his sword out of his hand, forcing John to cower behind a barrel of ale and Robin and his friends defeated John's minions and destroyed the tournament grounds. Robin and his allies then fled into Sherwood Forest, much to the embarrassed prince's outrage. When he found Sir Hiss inside the same ale barrel (having been forced in there by Friar Tuck to prevent the latter from exposing Robin Hood's true identity), due to his anger at being humiliated as well as Sir Hiss supplying information about the stork's true identity that he by that point already knew, vented his rage by tying him to a knot on a pole and daring him to get himself out of it if he can.
In the days that followed, John was further insulted to learn that the villagers were mocking him with the song "The Phony King of England". Pushed to the end of his rope, he placed even harsher taxes on the people and arrested dozens of helpless villagers who were unable to pay. The town was driven into poverty and everybody was losing hope. Although John now had all the money left in the village, he still wasn't satisfied and longed to kill Robin Hood. One stormy night, John sat silently seething in his throne, ignoring the mountains of gold that now surrounded him, until Sir Hiss attempted to cheer him up by informing him of Friar Tuck's arrest. At first, John snapped and flew into a rage, screaming that it was Robin Hood he wanted to hear had been apprehended, but then realized that he could use this to his advantage. He sentenced Friar Tuck to the gallows in an attempt to lure out Robin Hood, hoping to use the opportunity to capture Robin Hood and finally do away with him for good. Sir Hiss is shocked that Prince John would go so far as to hang a member of the Catholic Church as bait to lure Robin Hood out. However, Robin caught on to this plan by eavesdropping on the Sheriff and his two vulture assistants, Trigger and Nutsy, and he and Little John agreed to trigger a jailbreak that night to save the Friar's life.
That night, Robin and Little John broke into the castle. Little John proceeded to free Friar Tuck and all of the prisoners, mostly residents of Nottingham who were locked up for defaulting on taxes. Meanwhile, Robin sneaked past the guards and found the Prince sleeping in his royal quarters with Sir Hiss, surrounded by all his ill-gotten gold. Keeping quiet, he recovered all the gold in the room and gave it back to the overjoyed prisoners, who prepared to make off with what was rightfully theirs. Unfortunately, Sir Hiss awoke to find Robin escaping, and the Prince also woke up to the scene when Sir Hiss dragged his bed after him as he tried to stop Robin Hood himself. He ordered his minions to kill Robin, causing a large fight to break out within the castle. Robin and Little John defended the prisoners as they fled, and opened the gates to Sherwood Forest. Unfortunately, Robin was left behind after rescuing one of the children who nearly got left behind, and found himself pursued by John's guards and the Sheriff. The Sheriff trapped Robin in a tower by setting fire to the castle, forcing Robin to jump in the moat, where he was shot at by archers. John watched gleefully as he waited to see if Robin was dead, and was overjoyed when he did not resurface.
Unfortunately for John, Robin swam underwater back to the shore, uninjured and mocking the foolish prince with Skippy, once again calling him the "Phony King of England". John began whining like a child again when he realized he had lost again. Sir Hiss criticized him for his failure with John threatening to hit him with a wooden stick if he didn't shut up. When Sir Hiss mentioned that John's actions had destroyed his mother's castle, John finally snapped and flew into a violent rage. He chased the snake around the castle with the stick, all the while sucking his thumb, and calling Hiss various, derogatory names.
Eventually, King Richard returned home and found out about the terrible deeds, Prince John (and the Sheriff of Nottingham) had inflicted on the people of England. Richard immediately reclaimed his throne from his brother and repealed all of the unjust taxes John had imposed on the people, allowing Nottingham to return to happiness and prosperity. Richard also pardoned Robin Hood for his past crimes and honored him for his efforts to help the people. Meanwhile, John was sentenced to jail along with Sir Hiss and the Sheriff of Nottingham for their crimes against poor people, and now spends his days working in the royal rock pile, being watched over by Trigger and Nutsy. John howls in pain when his foot gets crushed by a rock fragment, much to Sir Hiss' amusement.
Prince John makes numerous appearances in this series. He is usually seen with Sir Hiss. He has speaking roles in the episodes "House of Crime" and "Pete's House of Villains". He apparently runs a stock company called "Prince John's Savings and Loan" as seen at the end of the episode "House of Scrooge". One notable appearance was in "Gone Goofy" when he was asked by Iago if he could kiss Abu awake after eating a poisoned apple. In "Mickey's House of Villains", Prince John joined his fellow villains to take over the House of Mouse while singing the song "It's Our House Now!". In the end, he and the other villains flee as Mickey Mouse traps Jafar in a lamp and restores the house to normal with the help of Mickey's pals and Aladdin.
In the "Disney's Magic Reading" series, Prince John's design was utilized to represent the titular Emperor in the story. Overall, his personality was the same, although clothes were the thing he loved most instead of gold. He ends up getting tricked by the con artists, represented by J. Worthington Foulfellow and Gideon, and parades through the kingdom in his long johns, only realizing his mistake when a girl points out the truth.
It should be noted that most of the cast was human, making John, Foulfellow, and Gideon the only ones to actually be portrayed by anthropomorphic animals.
Prince John makes an appearance in the series installment, Power Play, as one of the Overtakers. Both him along with Gaston and the Horned King in Fort Langhorn on Tom Swayer Island in the Magic Kingdom.
Prince John makes rare, occasional meet-and-greets at various Disney theme parks. He mostly, however, appears in places meant for entertainment purposes, and most of his appearances involve an even centering the Disney Villains franchise, among other things. To date, he meets often at Tokyo Disneyland like the other Robin Hood characters.
In 2013, Prince John took part in "Long Lost Friends Week" at the Magic Kingdom. That same year, he was featured alongside other Disney villains in Unleash the Villains. He would return for the same event in 2014.
- In Prince John's early design, Milt Kahl considered making the villain a tiger. But his brother King Richard "The Lionheart" obviously had to be portrayed as a lion, so the tiger idea was dropped. Interestingly, it seems that when they decided to drop this idea, they just removed the stripes from the model sheets of the character, without making further changes. This could explain why he has no mane.
- His lack of mane may also represent how real life male lions with a lack of testosterone, such as from being neutered, lose their manes: a fitting imagery for him who is weak and cowardly as opposed to the noble and mighty King Richard.
- The real life Prince John/King John I/John Plantagenet is indeed considered one of the worst european kings of all time, some historian going so far to call him "the worst king that ever sit on England's throne". John's offences are almost too numerous to list. Like his Disney counterpart, he was treacherous and greed: when his older brother Richard was away on crusade, John attempted to seize the throne by plotting with the king of France, Philip Augustus, prompting contemporaries to damn him as "a mad-headed youth" and "nature's enemy". He was also lecherous: several nobles are reported to have taken up arms against him because he had forced himself on their wives and daughters. Most of all, John was shockingly cruel. In a chivalrous age, when aristocrats spared their enemies, capturing them rather than killing them, John preferred to do away with people by grisly means. On one occasion, for example, he ordered 22 captive knights to be taken to Corfe Castle in Dorset and starved to death. Another time he starved to death the wife and son of his former friend, William de Briouze. In 1203 he arranged the murder of his own nephew and rival for power, Arthur of Brittany (whome Richard chosen as the heir to his throne). He was also a terrible military leader, responsable for losing all english continental territories to Philip Augustus. Contemporaries called him "Soft-sword" because of that. "No man may trust him," sang the troubadour poet Bertran de Born, "for his heart is soft and cowardly". King John’s loss of England's continental inheritance was deeply shameful, and he was determined to win it back hence the huge taxation rise in order to raise massive armies. Like his Disney counterpart, real life John taxed the people to pieces: John’s reign saw the greatest financial exploitation of England since the Norman Conques. And it was all in vain. When John finally launched his long-planned continental campaign in 1214, it was a disaster. John shied away from battle when challenged by French forces, and his allies in the north were defeated in a decisive clash with Philip Augustus. He returned to England that autumn with his treasury empty and his dreams of re-conquest in tatters.
- In the movie, John had Friar Tuck arrested and sentenced to death which would have been unthinkable at the time since no king would have dare imprison or execute a man of the Catholic Church. Except Prince John himself who confiscated the lands of the Church and forced priests to pay the taxes.
- While Prince John childlish behaviour is exaggerated for the purpose of comedy, John's attitude in real life was far from rational: he was a binge eater and alcoholic and like his Disney counterpart, had a savage temper. He is also alleged to have lost his mind in old age and begun crawling on the floor, chewing the legs of chairs. He is also alleged to have suffered from epilepsy.
- Like his Disney counterpart, Prince John grew up in the shadow of his older brothers and, for the most part, neglected by his parents. At various times, John was destined for the Church, for an Italian marriage and for piecemeal lands that belonged to his brothers (and which they refused to give him). His own father gave him the disparaging nickname 'Lackland' (because his elder brothers inherited all of the lands) and it was not until the death of his oldest brother, Henry the Younger, that John began to figure in King Henry II's plans. Prince John later obtained his father's trust, however, when he refused to aid his brothers in overthrow him and was almost chosen as heir to the throne. However, he eventually betrayed him and gone over to Richard's side.
- It is shown in the scene where Robin Hood robs John while he and Hiss are sleeping that he is a very noisy sleeper. He talks in his sleep, he makes groan-like sounds, and sucks his thumb loudly while sleeping (much to Hiss' disgust).
- Prince John lacks a villain song. The closest thing to an actual villain song was "The Phony King of England", which he never actually sang.
- This is the only incarnation of the character to ever be the main antagonist of any Robin Hood adaptation. Most other versions of the story have the Sheriff of Nottingham as the main antagonist instead, with Prince John, if he actually appears, as a secondary or minor antagonist.
- Peter Ustinov, his voice, also plays his older brother, King Richard, but in a more noble-like tone as opposed to John's cowardly-like tone of voice.
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