- ―Prince John crying out for his mother before childishly sucking his thumb
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.
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 flew into a rage, as it was Robin Hood he wanted, 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. However, Robin caught on to this plan, 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. Meanwhile, Robin sneaked past the guards and found the Prince sleeping in his royal quarters. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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 Lion Hearted" 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 was, in fact, a highly capable and intelligent monarch who signed the Magna Carta (although he was forced by the Pope). Like the fictional John, he was overlooked by his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine in favor of Richard, but he was his father's favorite son because of his intellect. The youngest son, he was nicknamed "Lackland" because his four elder brothers inherited all of the lands. Because he was his father's favored son, he became Prince Regent and assumed control over England while his brother Richard was away fighting in the Holy Lands. Ironically, the Crusades and Richard's involvement in them were the reason why the huge taxations that John was hated for occurred: Richard's war put a heavy drain on the treasury meaning that John had to raise taxes greatly, making him a very unpopular monarch and leading to him being depicted as a villain in the Robin Hood myth. Nevertheless, while Richard was a military genius and a poor politician, John was an excellent politician but a poor military leader, hence the nickname "Softsword". John was not without his flaws, however. 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. Another trait that was rare in his day was John's emphasis on personal hygiene, believing (correctly) it helped ward off infections. It was said he made sure to take a bath at least once every three weeks. John was also responsible for losing English possediments on French, one of the reasons he is remember as a terrible king.
- 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 he even laughs when Sir Hiss's snoring with his tongue tickles his foot. He even sucked his thumb loudly while sleeping (much to Hiss' disgust).
- Prince John is one of the few characters to lack a villain song. The closest thing to an actual villain song was "The Phony King of England", which he never actually sang, but intact felt insulted.
- 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. However, he is considered by some to be a secondary 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.