THE SWORD IN THE STONE
Review by Michael Jacobson
Voices: Sebastian Cabot,
Karl Swenson, Rickie Sorensen, Junius Matthews, Martha Wentworth
Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.75:1
Studio: Walt Disney
Features: See Review
Length: 79 Minutes
Release Date: August 6, 2013
“They might even make a motion picture about you!”
“Oh, well...that’s something like television. Without commercials.”
Ah, The Sword in the Stone. Alas…poor film.
Ages ago, my family owned one of the first video stores in my hometown right when VHS was the new thing (yes, I’m old). All our customers were clamoring for Disney animated classics to own on tape. The first one the studio released was Robin Hood. It did fair business. The second was Pinocchio, which was a phenomenal hit. The third was The Sword in the Stone…and few cared.
While Disney has been famous for releasing classics for limited amounts of time and ceasing production, The Sword in the Stone has always seemed permanently available. And to be honest, I’ve never known whether the title has just always been produced or has actually gone into moratorium and simply stayed on shelves because of lack of interest.
Why is that? I think the primary reason is the weight of the Disney name. Had another studio released this film, it might have garnered more praise. But the moniker of Walt Disney brings with it high expectations, which I don’t think this 50 year old classic has ever quite met.
That’s not entirely fair…it’s not a bad film by any stretch. But one can’t help but compare one Disney classic to the rest, and that’s where The Sword in the Stone suffers. The characters don’t have the same lasting impact. The songs are far from memorable. And it’s an Arthurian tale that never gets us close to the legend…the best parts of the story were essentially left as epilogue.
Most can remember Merlin (Swanson), the eccentric magician who travels through space and time and makes young Arthur (Sorensen) his new project. Arthur is a plucky kid nicknamed “Wart”, who works as an apprentice to a promising but slow knight, and doesn’t imagine what his future has in store.
With the help of Merlin and his droll owl companion Archimedes (Matthews), young Arthur begins a magic-based education to learn about life and the world. But there is conflict afoot, at least at the end, when the delightfully off-center rival wizard Mad Madame Mim (Wentworth) arrives to challenge Merlin for supremacy in a zany wizard’s duel…the best part of the movie for me. And Mim is probably my most quoted character...almost every morning I utter her funny line "I hate horrible, wholesome sunshine!"
There is imagination and comedy, but the film lacks the polished spectacle of the prime Disney once had and would again in the future. Many like myself could never quite get around legendary British hero Arthur sounding so American and so anachronistic. Lines like “I shouldn’t have popped off” not only date the picture, but kind of take you out of the moment.
Still, every so often, I get to view this overlooked classic from the studio, and although I never count it amongst my favorites, I always have a good time watching it. I smile a lot. But unlike many of Disney’s proudest offerings, I tend to start forgetting about it as soon as it ends.
Perhaps the message is that there’s more to all of us than even we realize sometime. Our destiny may not include a throne, but we can still make a difference. It’s not a bad moral. And not a bad movie. But lessons, like some films, can sadly be a little too easy to overlook.
Disney has done a terrific job in bringing this half-century old film into the high definition world. I've seen many incarnations of this movie, and I dare say, this is the finest. The colors are bright, rich and beautiful throughout, and the print looks quite pristine.
The uncompressed 5.1 audio is a treat, particularly in the classic wizard’s duel at the end. The crazy action and magic make for a more dynamic listening experience. Dialogue is clean, but sounds a little more thin compared to the effects and music. Overall, though, a solid effort.
The disc includes some good extras, starting with an alternate opening conceived for the film (in storyboard format), plus two classic shorts, "The Brave Little Tailor" and "A Knight for a Day". There is also a sing-along, the documentary “Music Magic” about the wonderful Sherman Brothers, plus a new game for the kiddies: Merlin’s Magical Academy.
The Sword in the Stone is still a picture looking for respect, which it may never find given the large looming shadow of Disney’s animated classics catalog. If you haven’t seen it in a while, this terrific new Blu-ray release is a prime opportunity to do so.