The Sword in the Stone
3-Disc Blu-ray/DVD/Digital l DVD/Digital
Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman
Starring Karl Swenson, Martha Wentworth, Junius Matthews, Sebastian Cabot, Rickie Sorenson, Richard Reitherman, Robert Reitherman
Walt Disney Home Entertainment
Release Date: August 6, 2013
Wart, the protagonist of The Sword in the Stone, pulls out a shining treasure for his kingdom, but unfortunately Disney isn’t extracting anything extraordinary from the vault in releasing this 1963 feature on Blu-ray.
Bring in the storybook opening with a narrative song. England lay in the midst of the Dark Ages, as no individual has been able to pull the title sword from the stone. Who will reverse the curse? Merlin, the blue-caped wizard with a Santa Claus-like beard, has someone in mind. Cue pre-teen Wart, otherwise known as Arthur, a moppet who literally falls into Merlin’s cottage as he searches for an arrow in the forest. The ancient force soon enlists Wart in magical tutoring sessions that encompass much of the movie.
The Wart character, a meticulous and curious boy/fish/squirrel/sparrow, nicely differs from the less-grounded, eccentric wizard. If you watch the film you will understand Wart wears many hats, or rather possess many forms, hence the long description. Other personalities, including uptight Archimedes the Owl, power the picture into the evocative Disney direction we remember from our childhood and appreciate even more in our adulthood.
The problem with the fantasy is two-fold: the first act that sets up the objective is rushed, unclear and abstract; and the film requires material that it unfortunately does not have. This leads the film to feel more lacking than contained. Whereas the fanciful objects in a film like Beauty and the Beast push its creativity and charm, in Sword in the Stone the dancing flatware just keep the audience occupied for a minute and you soon forget its purpose.
The film moves at a slow pace, but fault that on the lack of gripping storytelling than the other attributes that actually work to advance the feature’s quality. The humor plays well on multiple levels, for both nostalgic adults who appreciate the sharpness and also children who may find the animals’ antics as amusing. Like other Disney animated features of the era, the animation may not possess the wonder of the greatest like Bambi or Dumbo, but its deep layout, special effects and characters’ expressions are solid nonetheless.
The songs, among the Sherman Brothers‘ first works for Disney animation, show their signature lyrical quickness and liveliness. “Higitus Figitus” stands out as a favorite, notably because of its intense wordplay and cleverness. George Bruns‘ playful score drives the film to manic velocity with more than a hint of heart. Solid music can help one overlook a movie’s flaws, and Stone benefits from the Sherman inclusions and Bruns’ quirky instrumentation.
Karl Swenson provides a zestful vocal performance as Merlin, as well as fellow cast-mates including Martha Wentworth as Madam Mim and Sebastian Cabot as Sir Ector, perform their roles with equal frenzied passion. The fun voice acting and merriment are perhaps the finest components of a film that does not have many reasons to exist. No tension equals no movement. No movement equals no cause. No cause equals disappointment.
Alternate Opening – Where Wart Meets Merlin focuses on a varying introduction, demonstrated in an animated storyboard sequence with emphatic narration, detailing how the soon-to-be-king kid discovers the wizard.
Music Magic: The Sherman Brothers, a carry-over featurette from an earlier release, shows the late Robert Sherman with brother Richard Sherman talking about how they created the wonderfully-odd wording behind the timeless tunes.
All About Magic Excerpt takes a snippet from a Walt Disney television special on the enchanting subject matter, complete with 50s-era sound effects and whimsy.
Classic Animated Shorts contains two Disney shorts, the Goofy-starring Knight for a Day and the ageless Mickey Mouse piece Brave Little Tailor.
Disney Sing-Along gives children the platform to chant their take on “Higitus Figitus” and other songs.
The Sword in the Stone is deficient of the Disney Blu-ray animated feature touches that characterize most of the studio’s home releases. Like Robin Hood and Oliver & Company, the other animated films debuting this August on Blu-ray, Stone lacks the sparkle and sizzle in its visuals and audio. Moreover the picture jumps more often than the bouncing personalities on screen. That proves discouraging, considering this 50th anniversary edition should serve as a specialty, not a run-of-the-mill presentation.
Bonus Features: C
Overall grade: C
I am not one to bash a film, and I would not even knock on this stable piece of entertainment. Regrettably I could not remember the plot points or set-pieces some hours after watching the movie. That should not represent anything negative about the film, but rather its unevenness, its mediocrity. I respect the creative process behind Stone, and even more so the various elements at work, but together it feels like a long sword-fight with no end or point. Nothing that goes on and on without a compelling rationale feels worthwhile and I regret to say that Stone falls into that category.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth on Geeks of Doom!