With the release of Walt Disney’s The Sword in the Stone in 1963, the studio initiated an unfortunate series of uninspired animated titles which, with the occasional exception, seemed to stamp its once unmatched animated features with a new label of mediocrity. It wasn’t until The Little Mermaid in 1989 that the Disney name reclaimed its glorious title as the hallmark in animation, but by then, there was a quarter of a century of damaged reputation to undo. On its own, The Sword in the Stone isn’t a terrible animated feature so much as it’s a forgettable one. With no memorable characters or take-away songs from the music score, the movie (which did acceptable but inauspicious business as Disney’s 1963 Christmas attraction) lacks magic and surprise, something none of its animated classics from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were ever guilty of.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.75:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD, English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 2.0 DD, French 5.1 DTS
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Run Time: 1 Hr. 19 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copykeep case with slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 08/06/2013
The sorcerer Merlin (Karl Swenson) knows that the young, fumbling page Wart (Rickie Sorensen) will one day rule England as King Arthur, but in order to get him ready, he subjects the lad to a series of experiences turning him into various animals in order to teach him valuable life lessons. With Merlin’s wise owl Archimedes (Junius Matthews) as an assistant, Wart makes some progress in his lessons though his foster father Sir Ector (Sebastian Cabot) and foster brother Kay (Norman Alden) are none too happy to be losing their assistant as Kay prepares for a jousting tournament in London which will determine the new king since no one has yet been successful at pulling the enchanted sword from the stone which legend says will signify the rightful king of England.
The Production Rating: 3/5
With such magical story material, the Disney animators have done precious little to instill their own brand of enchantment on the proceedings. Merlin’s rather antic household magic is played strictly for laughs (the slapstick inherent in these sequences mirrors what was going on in Disney’s live action comedies of the time). The three experiences where Wart is changed into a fish and a bird (both of which are used to teach him lessons about brain over brawn and contain a fair share of action and excitement) and a squirrel (where he learns the powerful lure of sensual attraction) are animated well but without the real depth of background and vibrant color that distinguished earlier masterpieces. The showdown between Merlin and the evil Mad Madame Mim (Martha Wentworth) perhaps contains the closest thing The Sword in the Stone possesses to Disney’s earlier brilliance in imagination and execution, but even its brain-over-brawn theme is repetitive after the previous animal-transformation sequences. And the Sherman Brothers’ score, their first for a Disney animated feature, contains no memorable tunes. “That’s What Makes the World Go Round,” the ditty used to teach the fish sequence lesson, is the most tuneful of the lot, and “Higitus Figitus” shows them coining their own words long before they arrived at Mary Poppins’ famous magic word. “Mad Madame Mim” gives the evil witch her own expository melody while the title song, the most period appropriate of their efforts, might have been outfitted with additional sets of lyrics to comment on the story throughout the film and add a touch of dignity to the often lowbrow proceedings (the jokes about Bermuda shorts, movies, and television seem awfully cheap and easy).
As Disney did with Peter Pan, an American actor, in this case Rickie Sorensen, has been cast to voice one of the most famous English characters extant, and it seems a dubious choice. He acts the role of the inexperienced, gangly lad Wart/Arthur just fine, but his vocal presence seems anachronistic in a Dark Ages-set story. Karl Swenson plays his absent-minded professor-like Merlin with the proper befuddlement, and Junius Matthews as the starchily efficient owl Archimedes makes a perfect polar opposite companion. Martha Wentworth has loads of fun as the cackling witch Mim while Sebastian Cabot and Norman Alden are just right as the thoughtless foster father and brother who treat Wart with uncommon indignity.
The film is being presented in a 1.75:1 transfer at 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Sharpness is not always consistent throughout; occasionally in long shots the sharpness becomes momentarily soft and there also seems to be some motion blur which may or may not be related to Disney's digital tampering which is part of their customary treatment of their animated features on Blu-ray. Color is nicely under control and is rich enough without any fear of blooming (though some orange/salmon backgrounds come close). There is a slight bit of banding to be seen, but it’s never overpowering, and the line structures of the animation show no evidence of aliasing but do display a lack of fine detail due to the digital manipulations of the transfer. The film has been divided into 17 chapters.
Video Rating: 3.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is quite definitely frontcentric with very little going on in the rear channels. Dialogue has been expertly recorded and resides in the center channel. The music and sound effects never obfuscate the dialogue but are mixed skillfully to complement the animation. There is very little bass in this sound mix.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Alternative Opening (4:02, HD): a different opening for the film is presented in slightly animated pencil drawings
Special Features Rating: 2.5/5
Music and Magic: The Sherman Brothers (8:00, SD): Robert and Richard Sherman talk briefly about the songs in the score and play bits of two songs written for the movie but which were later dropped.
All About Magic (7:19, SD): an introductory excerpt to Walt Disney Presents as Walt Disney wanders around a magical storeroom on the studio lot.
A Knight for a Day (7:06, SD): the 1945 Goofy cartoon
The Brave Little Tailor (9:01, SD): 1938 Oscar-nominated Mickey Mouse cartoon
Sing Along With the Movie: places the subtitled lyrics to the songs on the screen whenever a tune in the movie begins.
DVD/Digital copy: disc plus a code pamphlet for the digital copy
Promo Trailers (HD): Super Buddies, The Little Mermaid, Planes, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
The Sword in the Stone is a perfectly pleasant but unremarkable animated effort from the Walt Disney Studios. The Blu-ray offers a picture which will please some but definitely annoy purists of Disney animation and with sound that's quite above average. The disc also ports over the unremarkable extras from the previous DVD release, but this is definitely at best a second tier Disney animation effort.
Overall Rating: 3/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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