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Click to buy The Sword in the Stone: 45th Anniversary Edition DVD.

On June 17, 2008, Disney re-issued The Sword in the Stone in a 45th Anniversary Edition DVD. Offering minimal improvement (mostly aesthetic), the new disc nonetheless replaces the now-discontinued Gold Collection DVD.
Click here to buy The Sword in the Stone: 45th Anniversary Edition DVD from Amazon.com, click here to read our complete review, or read on for our full original critique of Sword's out-of-print Gold Collection disc.

The Sword in the Stone: Gold Collection DVD cover art Details
Movie - 1963, G, 79 minutes, Disney; IMDb entry
Genre - Animation, Family
Cast - Voices of Sebastian Cabot, Karl Swenson, Rickie Sorensen, Junius Matthews, Ginny Tyler, Martha Wentworth, Norman Alden, Alan Napier
Director - Wolfgang Reitherman
DVD - 1.33:1 fullscreen (original ratio), Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), 2.0 Mono (French, Spanish); subtitles - English; single-sided, dual-layered disc; $29.99 SRP, Released 3/20/01

Review

Movie - In the tradition of adapating classic works of literature to the screen, Disney brought to life the first in T.H. White's series of King Arthur stories, The Sword in the Stone. First published in 1938, Disney brought it to the screen as one of just three animated features from the 1960s. It was during this decade that Disney began relying heavily on live-action fare,
and they found themselves much success with such hits as Swiss Family Robinson, The Parent Trap and later, Mary Poppins. Of the three 1960s animated features, The Sword in the Stone chronologically falls between 1961's 101 Dalmatians and 1967's The Jungle Book. However, The Sword in the Stone bears little resemblance to both the film it followed and the one that followed it. In this case, it is unfortunate, as The Sword in the Stone pales in comparison to the other animated films from the 60s, or the decades that preceeded for that matter.

In fact, The Sword in the Stone is one of the less memorable animated Disney films, which is not to say it's bad, but rather it seems misguided. One of the biggest problems is the story. I'm sure there are very few people who do not know the general story of The Sword in the Stone. But the film meanders, relying heavily on slapstick visual gags (one of the staples of the studios' 1960s live action pieces, which seem heavy-handed and quite dated today). There is the character of young King Arthur, or as he's referred to as The Wart. Arthur is an orphan and has to endure a rough life. Arthur is awkward physically, but oddly enough the voice of the boy seems to be done by an actor who is a few years too old. Consequently, the voice doesn't seem to match the boy and not just in a something to notice fashion, but in a distracting manner. What carries the film is Merlin, the eccentric soothsayer who can conjure up magic of all sorts and even see some things in the future, but he has trouble remembering everything. It somewhat plays more as the magical adventures of master wizard and the squire-in-training than as a full-length feature. There is a villain thrown into the mix, but in general, this film feels as though it's lacking the Disney magic and has less of the adult appeal that makes so many of Disney's animated films timeless and classic. The Sword in the Stone provides some general amusement, but not the first-rate entertainment that most of the animated Disney features provide.

Disney used to open certain animated features with a live-action book, as seen here on "The Sword in the Stone."

Video - Some issue was made regarding the aspect ratio for The Sword in the Stone. This DVD is presented in 1.33:1 Fullscreen and the packaging contains the standard "This film has been modified to fit your screen" warning that is often put on Pan & Scan DVDs. Well, fortunately, this is not a Pan & Scan transfer. The 1.33:1 frame presented is the full frame of cell animation. Some theaters likely matted this film to a ratio of 1.75:1 or so, but like The Jungle Book and 101 Dalmatians, the DVD provides the entire cell animation which just happens to be in Academy Ratio. While some may still cry foul at this, I believe this DVD presentation is fine, as 1.33:1 is the ratio in which the film was created in and intended to be seen. Disney has released all of their animated classics in original aspect ratio on DVD, and there is no reason to believe that the films of the '60s, '70s, and early '80s (whose 1.33:1 DVD aspect ratios are often called into question) are an exception to this practice.

As for the video quality itself, the full animation frame looks quite nice on this DVD. While the film does not provide particularly impressive animation, the DVD conveys the mixture of bright colors with little problems. There is some grain here and there, but sharpness is generally consistently good and this is the best the movie has looked.

Arthur (Wart) and Merlin take a look at the bubble room.

Audio- Disney has done a 5.1 Dolby Digital track, and while the audio does not always sound of the highest quality, the sound mix is adequate. There isn't too much surround usage, as the film is primarily dialogue, but there is some life to the tracks particuarly in climactic sequences. Although I don't consider the music of The Sword in the Stone on par with the songs of other Disney animated films from the era
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such as The Jungle Book and 101 Dalmatians, fans of this film will be pleased with the audio mix here.

Extras - Disney has put together a rather packed disc for The Sword in the Stone. While there is not particularly a lot of content directly related to the making of this film, there is a lot of supplemental material nonetheless. Most significant is the original Walt Disney TV Show "All About Magic". This 36-minute episode starts off strong thanks to irresistible charm of Walt Disney himself, but devolves into a collection of short cartoons and a sequence from Cinderella. The connection to Sword in the Stone is the element of magic, which prevails through the special. It is a pretty neat bit of classic television, and a nice addition to this DVD.

More relevant to the film itself is the 8-minute "Music Magic" featurette on the Sherman Brothers, whose music has been an integral part of so many beloved Disney films, such as Mary Poppins, The Parent Trap, and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Sword was the first animated project the brothers did for Disney and this featurette allows the Shermans to look back on their experience and even reminisce about a few songs that were not used in the final film.

The Sword in the Stone scrapbook provides sixteen pages of artwork related to the film, from conceputal sketches to publicity materials and behind-the-scenes photos.
Designed as a scrapbook, the layout provides for easy access to go through the book or to enlarge individual stills.

There are two Sing-Along Songs: "Higitus Figitus" (2 minutes, 35 seconds) and "That's What Makes the World Go 'Round" (2 minutes, 38 seconds). These provide the songs from the film with animated text of the lyrics, admittedly not the most exciting special feature.

"Film Facts" provides eight pages of interesting notes on the story, the film, and the people who brought the story to the screen.

Finally, there are two animated shorts: Knight For a Day (7 minutes) featuring Goofy and Brave Little Tailor (9 minutes) starring Mickey Mouse.

Worth noting is that the menus are a bit more lively than the static screens that Disney had given to many animated classics' DVDs. Music from the film accompanies subtle animation...well-done, nice looking menu screens and with neat, brief transitions and introductions.

Included in the typical Disney Sneak Peeks section are trailers for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, 102 Dalmatians, and The Emperor's New Groove. These trailers, while just a little over a year now, already make the disc seem a little dated, though not as much as Disney's 2000 releases, which were notorious for disabling the function to skip the trailers altogether. On this DVD, one can skip all the trailers, or one at a time, as Disney has been doing for a while now. The trailers are individually accessible from the menu as well.

Merlin throws his hands up in the air for a little wizardly magic.

Closing Thoughts - The Sword in the Stone is not widely considered one of Disney's most enduring animated films, but it certainly has a following. This DVD release, while not overflowing with content specifically related to the film, is certainly a worthy presentation of the film. Fans of the film and those trying to put together a DVD collection of Disney's feature animation should certainly not be disappointed.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

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Complete Animated Classics List

Related Reviews:
The Sword in the Stone: 45th Anniversary Edition (1963) 101 Dalmatians: Platinum Edition (1961)
The Jungle Book: Platinum Edition (1967) The Aristocats: Special Edition (1970) Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)
Robin Hood: Most Wanted Edition (1973) The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: Friendship Edition (1977)
The Fox and the Hound: 25th Anniversary Edition (1981) Saludos Amigos & The Three Caballeros: Classic Caballeros Collection

Reviewed September 3, 2002.

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