Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

Cinema Junkie by Beth Accomando

The Sword in the Stone: 45th Anniversary DVD

The Sword in the Stone
The once and future king... The Sword in the Stone (Walt Disney)

Although Disney tends to incur more wrath than praise from me these days, I have always had fond memories of its animated film The Sword in the Stone (1963). I think it was the last animated film from the studio that I fully embraced. I had always been interested in the legend of King Arthur so the film was immediately appealing to me as a child. Today (June 17) a new 45th anniversary DVD and Blu Ray Disc come out and they are well worth picking up. Artist, writer and longtime Disney employee Bill Peet found inspiration for the film in the 1938 T.H. White novel The Once and Future King . White's book provided all the necessary ingredients for a classic children's tale - a young hero, knights, magic, and the stuff of legends. Peet could have stayed a little truer to White's book to deliver a richer tale, but Peet's adaptation is appealing nonetheless.

The story focuses on Arthur before he becomes king, when he was a scrawny lad known only as Wart. As the story begins, England is without a king, and is living in a dark age. The prophecy promises that whoever can pull a sword that has been embedded in an anvil will become the next king. But so far no one has been able to do it. Then along comes Wart, and Merlin, a magician, senses that he is destined for greatness. So Merlin takes it upon himself to educate the boy and his lessons make up much of the film.


I know that people have complained about the animation style of The Sword in the Stone , and while it may not be as lush as such early Disney films as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves or Fantasia , it has a charm all its own. Earlier Disney animated features were made either by multiple directors or by a team of sequence directors working under a supervising director but The Sword in the Stone was helmed by one man, veteran animator Wolfgang Reitherman (one of Disney's famed "Nine Old Men"). The animation style of this 1963 feature reveals some of the cost-cutting techniques that were now being implemented after the 1959 Sleeping Beauty failed to deliver the kind of box office returns the studio was hoping for. The characters in The Sword in the Stone are rather angular and there's not a lot of detail in the frame, plus Merlin is animated in a more comic manner than one might have liked for this great wizard -- yet despite all this, I enjoy the film and the character of young Wart. I love the way Wart is allowed to be such a kid but not in a smartalecky or cute way. He's curious, a bit goofy, a good but sometimes reluctant student, and visually his youthfulness is emphasized by clothes that leave the lad swimming in the excess space. But the clothes that are too big also foreshadow what Wart will eventually grow up to be, a King.

I've never been a fan of the musical interludes in the Disney films (live action or animated) but at least the songs here are minimal and not too annoying. You can, if you choose, watch with the lyrics on screen -- if you feel the need to sing-a-long. Surprisingly, a bonus feature about the song-writing brothers Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman proves quite interesting. Their discussion of how they approached writing the songs and the inclusion of two songs that were cut from the final film is well worth checking out. One of the deleted songs is called Magic Key and has Merlin explaining how knowledge is the key, now there's a lesson people could still learn from.

Most of the other bonus features are unimpressive. A gallery of sketches and concept art is enjoyable to scan through but the "All-New Merlin's Magical Academy Game" is pretty lame as it tries to be fun, educational and not to labor intensive for the studio to have produced. There are a pair of shorts included: the so-so Knight for a Day with Goofy and the delightful Brave Little Tailor with Mickey facing a giant (I love the sign at the beginning that warns "Giant at large").

The Sword in the Stone 45th Anniversary Edition (rated G for all audiences) remains a charmer and I'm glad to replace my old VHS with this new edition.

Companion viewing: Excalibur, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Camelot, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court


Boukisan from atlanta
October 22, 2008 at 07:12 PM
"whoa-what!" "um... hocketa-pocketa?" I can't believe people would complain about this animation. It's so warm and alive - like a moving drawing. I agree with you about Disney, Sword in the Stone is the only Disney cartoon or film that I still watch - and I've played it hundreds of times. I find it to fit well with Triplets of Belleville and Miyazaki films. BTW, is Sword in The Stone really available in Blu-Ray? I can't seem to find it, but I want it!