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To be sure, there’s never been a shortage of movies about the tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Perhaps no legend carries such a universal knowledge in pop culture, as in the category of cinema alone, film interpretations on various facets of the story stretch as far back as 1904 with an adaptation of Richard Wagner‘s opera, Parsifal, leading all the way to 2007’s The Last Legion. Varying degrees of success with film versions abound, with masterpieces of storytelling like Excalibur or riotous farces like Monty Python and the Holy Grail unfortunately being the brilliant exceptions amongst the plethora of mediocrity to be found, exemplified by 2004’s big budget failure King Arthur. This is what makes a film like Disney‘s 1963 classic The Sword in the Stone such a rare treat.
Told from the point of view of Arthur as a young child, nicknamed Wart, this animated film is perhaps the most accessible version of this story ever told. Covering the section of Arthur’s life that features his introduction to Merlin (Karl Swenson), to the time of his coronation as King of England, what we end up with is a delightful film about coming of age and empowerment, told with beautiful hand drawn Classic-era Disney animation. If only Disney had kept making films like this one, maybe they wouldn’t have had to shut down their 2-D animation department.
While not as high in stature as many of the Disney cannon, The Sword in the Stone ends up being about as entertaining as any that came before it or after. Sequences such as the “Wizard Duel” and the sequences where Arthur leans how life is for fishes and squirrels are at times both hilarious and heartbreaking. The entire tale is told with a breezy pace and humor that never seems forced like some later pictures, such as Mulan. Most wonderfully, the music within the movie feels like an organic portion of the picture, and doesn’t bring the proceedings to a halt like the Broadway-style numbers of the 90’s pictures could do. The songs by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman are catchy and fun, and are used to highlight terrific comedy sequences rather than be the whole sequence by themselves.
Where the movie does come up short is in the villain department. Where Martha Wentworth’s Mad Madam Mim is a memorable piece of horrible worthy of Cruella De Ville, she’s not given nearly enough screen time. Otherwise we’re kind of stuck with meanies Kay (Norman Alden) and Sir Ector (Sebastian Cabot), both of whom are more neglectful than evil. This is really just a small complaint amongst the strong entertainment value to be found here.
The Sword in the Stone is a terrific piece of family entertainment, and stands tall as any of the animated films of its era. Focusing on an era of Arthur’s life rarely told, this opens up the legend’s life and makes him more human. This is classic Disney on a level that they have rarely reached, other than Pixar films, in the last three decades.
The movie is presented in 1.33:1 Fullscreen, which according to IMDB.com is not the original aspect ratio for the movie. Still, the print is nice and cleaned up and looks pretty wonderful overall. The sound on this disc is also really nice, with those wonderful early Disney sound effects and music coming in nicely.
Merlin’s Magical Academy Game – This is an interactive game for kids where they try to earn shields.
Bonus Movie Shorts: A Knight for a Day and The Brave Little Tailor – These are the crown jewels of the Special Features on this disc. Both of these shorts are amazing pieces of entertainment and show just how magical Disney used to really be. A Knight for a Day is a hilarious Goofy story, where the character appears as the lowly Cedric, a squire at a jousting tournament who ends up filling in when his master, Sir Loinsteak, accidentally gets knocked out before he is take on the local champion, Sir Cumference. The Brave Little Tailor is an awesome re-telling of the famous “Seven with One Blow” fairy tale, with Mickey standing tall against a hungry giant. Both of these shorts are wonderful.
Disney Song Selection – This feature allows you to go straight to your favorite song in the film.
Music Magic: The Sherman Brothers – This is a nice Featurette with the Sherman Brothers, the songwriters who would go on to compose for many of the Disney Classics we know today. This was actually their first collaboration with Disney and this Featurette is a neat look at this initial foray into making these wonderful songs.
Backstage Disney:All About Magic – This is a black and white short with Walt Disney goofing around with magic tables and 1000lbs weights. This is actually pretty funny and makes you yearn for those early days of the Disney Channel.
The Sword in the Stone is a wonderful, nostalgic trip to the days when Disney put out intelligent and beautiful pieces of 2-D Animation. The songs and the story are terrific and the voice-work from all involved is spot on. The disc itself could have used more extras, but this is more for kids, so they probably wouldn’t be into too many behind the scenes extras anyway.
Disney presents The Sword in the Stone (45th Anniversary Special Edition) . Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman. Starring Rickie Sorensen, Karl Swenson, Sebastian Cabot, and Junius Matthews. Written by Bill Peet and T.H. White. Running time: 79 minutes. Rated G. Released on DVD: June 17, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.