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Sword in the Stone, The: 50th Anniversary Edition
Release Date(s)1963 (August 6, 2013)
Studio(s)Buena Vista Home Entertainment
The Sword in the Stone is one of those animated features from Disney that was long overdue for a proper DVD release and when it came along, Blu-ray was just right around the corner. Unfortunately, what’s been handed over is definitely a mostly disappointing release of what many consider to be one of their personal childhood favorites, as far as Disney films go.
And I say childhood favorite because, looking at it today, The Sword in the Stone is much more of a children’s film than it is for any other audience. It doesn’t really have much in the way of a narrative, which I suppose would be a bit clichéd in the grand scheme of things. Had this film been made in the early to mid 1990’s, it probably would have been more about King Arthur rising to power and the adventures that he goes on with Merlin, or something along those lines. I doubt very much that it would have been about Arthur being visited by a Merlin as a child and being magically turned into different creatures, which is really what people remember the most about this film, I think. Even Arthur’s antagonists aren’t really antagonists. They don’t really get in his way, and they’re mostly likable and lovable anyway. They don’t really pose a great threat in the story. This is the reason why children latched onto this film more than adults. It never really gets very serious.
Arthur doesn’t even become King until the end of the film when he (spoilers) pulls the sword out of the stone, and then the movie just kind of ends. It’s an all around strangely-structured film that’s structured around these whimsical set pieces of Arthur becoming a fish, then a squirrel and then a bird. He runs into trouble here and there, mostly from Mad Madam Mim (and a broken-hearted lady squirrel, which guts me every time I see the film), but it’s just some lighthearted fun in the grand scheme of things. That’s not entirely a bad thing though. I still enjoy the film, even though I can see its flaws a little more clearly now than I did when I was a child, but I still think it’s a worthy animated film, and one that today’s kids should enjoy just as much as we did.
And now comes the bad news. Disney’s most welcome Blu-ray release of one of my childhood favorites is one of the most disappointing releases that I’ve come across in a while. The transfer is pretty abysmal, but let’s start with the good things first. All of the colors, which are a little darker to reflect the period, are all quite strong. Shadows and some of the darker backgrounds appear very strong with the ink used to color them in with. The brightness and the contrast of the images are virtually perfect, giving us a very clear presentation. Unfortunately, that precision doesn’t carry over into the other aspects of the image. First of all, Digital Noise Removal has been applied quite egregiously, to the point of the images appearing way too smooth and soft. Disney is known for the massive clean-up jobs that they do with their animated films, but most of the details in the images are usually left intact. That’s not the case with The Sword in the Stone. The images are incredibly soft, with clear evidence of macro-blocking, soft edges and indistinguishable detail. It’s almost as if the animation cels themselves are out of alignment at times. The lines on the characters appear blurry and very soft-looking. The worst evidence of this is during the scenes in the daytime when Arthur is transformed into a bird and flies with Archimedes the owl across the sky. Those images are unbelievably soft and look out of focus at times, with massive amounts of image detail missing because of the digital scrubbing. I’m sure that the film elements used to restore the film were in pretty rough shape as this was a film released in 1963 after all, but digital restorations of older animated films should not warrant this kind of treatment. All of the work done by the original animators has been altered to make it look better in high definition. What we’re left with are clear but blurry and soft images that sacrifice the original artwork itself in the hopes of perfection. The soundtrack is only marginally better, but not by much. It’s an English 5.1 DTS-HD track that’s been culled from the original mono soundtrack, so as you would expect, it’s a front heavy presentation. It doesn’t sound bad, but for a 5.1 mix, the rest of the speakers don’t have much to do. It’s pretty clear and dialogue is nice and audible, but it doesn’t impress in the least. It’s just merely adequate. I would have preferred to have had the original soundtrack restored much more, but given that the video presentation leaves a lot to be desired, it wouldn’t matter that much anyway. There are also audio tracks in French 5.1 DTS-HD High Resolution, as well as English, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian 2.0 Dolby Digital. And for those who need them, there are also subtitles in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian.
As for the extras, there are a few things to dig through and find. There’s an Alternate Opening entitled Where Wart Meets Merlin, the featurette Music Magic: The Sherman Brothers, an excerpt entitled All About Magic and two animated shorts: A Knight For a Day and Brave Little Tailor. There’s also a Sing-Along with the Movie subtitle track and an insert with a Digital Copy code on it. The DVD that’s included has English, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks, as well as subtitles in English SDH, French and Spanish. It also contains all of the Blu-ray extras, minus the Sing-Along subtitle track and Alternate Opening, but it also contains a Disney Song Selection option, Merlin’s Magical Academy Game, The Sword in the Stone Scrapbook (an art gallery) and a Film Facts segment. The only things missing from the previous DVD releases are the Sing-Along versions of “Higitus Figitus” and “That’s What Makes The World Go Round.” So there’s not much in the way of new extras, but pretty much all of the old material has been carried over. That’s a positive thing at least, especially for a release that needs all the positivity it can get.
Overall, the Blu-ray release of The Sword in the Stone is a mostly disappointing release that I can’t say I’d recommend picking up, or even upgrading to if you have either of the previous DVD releases. The fact that both the widescreen and full screen versions of the film aren’t included in this set isn’t even a factor to me. The video presentation is just insulting, to both high definition fans and Disney film fans alike, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a good reason for picking this one up.
- Tim Salmons