The Sword in the Stone: 45th Anniversary Edition
June 25, 2008
While not regarded as one of Walt Disney’s animated masterpieces, The Sword in the Stone (1963) is the 18th animated feature in the Disney animated features canon and still a highly regarded film in its own right. This film is the Disney-fied version of T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, the legend of King Arthur starting when he was just a young boy. It also has the distinction for being the last Disney animated feature released while Walt Disney was still alive.
The King of England had died and his legendary sword is stuck in an anvil. Whoever can removed it will become the new king. No one is able to remove it and the country is plunged into chaos. Along comes a young boy named Arthur, a squire-in-training who is mentored by an old wizard named Merlin and his own Archimedes who school him in the subjects of math, science, history and literature while he trains to be a knight.
In this version, Merlin comes across as something of an absent-minded professor who does crazy things, like transform Arthur and himself into squirrels, but he means well and is always looking out for the young boy. This is contrasted by the more sensible Archimedes who scoffs at Merlin’s predictions for the future and teaches Arthur to fly when the wizard transforms him into a bird.
In this day and age where computer animation dominates, it is refreshing to see a hand-drawn animated film. All of the characters have wonderfully expressive faces that convey a whole range of emotions. The backgrounds aren’t incredibly detailed but come across as rather Impressionistic takes on a forest, a castle, Merlin’s bookcase-filled home or a reed-infested moat.
There are some truly fantastical scenes, like when Merlin transforms Arthur and himself into fish and are chased by a bigger fish in a moat that anticipates Finding Nemo (2003) by a few decades. Another nice bit is when Merlin uses his magical powers to clean his dirty dishes a la the sorcerer’s apprentice in Fantasia (1940).
For a 45-year-old film it is in remarkably good shape. The Sword in the Stone is a fun ride as we follow the misadventures of Arthur and Merlin where the young boy learns how to achieve his full potential.
“Music and More” features “Music Magic: The Sherman Brothers” which takes a look at the two men who composed the songs for the film. They talk about how one of them originated and their working methods in general. “Disney Song Selection” allows you to jump to a specific song in the film with optional lyrics visible.
“Merlin’s Magical Academy” is a series of games related to the film.
“Background Disney” starts off with “All About Magic,” a vintage featurette with Walt Disney taking us through the studio’s magic prop room which allows him to indulge his magic bag of tricks. “The Sword in the Stone Scrapbook” is a gallery of concept art, behind-the-scenes photographs, and publicity stills. “Film Facts” is a small collection of trivia related to the film.
Finally, there are two bonus short films – “A Knight for a Day,” featuring Goofy, and “The Brave Little Tailor” featuring Mickey Mouse.