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Toon Talk: Sword in the Stone 45th Anniversary DVD
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by Kirby C. Holt
The Sword in the Stone
45th Anniversary Edition
Stuck in-between 101 Dalmatians and The Jungle Book on the Disney animated feature list is The Sword in the Stone, easily the most uninspired of those produced during Walt Disney’s lifetime. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that it was indeed released in 1963, one could easily mistake it for another example of the fallow, “after Walt” years known as the 1970’s.
Newly re-released on DVD as a “45th anniversary edition” (available today), the film, based on the King Arthur legend as retold in T.H. White’s book of the same name, plays like a set-up for the inevitable wackiness of Jungle Book, regardless that the subject matter certainly calls for a different approach. On the other hand, the only time the film truly comes alive is in the raucous “wizard’s duel” between the daffy Merlin and the loony Mad Madame Mim. Only in this sequence, with the two practitioners of magic imaginatively transforming from one creature to another in a bid of prestidigious one-upmanship, does the film truly exploit the medium of animation to the fullest.
Otherwise, we are confined to the rather pedestrian story of Wart, who, regardless of the fact that he is the once and future king, is without a doubt the blandest protagonist in all of the Disney canon. No wonder Merlin, winningly voiced in a most befuddled way by Karl Swenson, steals the movie, lock, stock and magical barrel.
Granted, the story of King Arthur has, before and after The Sword in the Stone, been told and retold on stage and screen so many times (see sidebar), that even at the time of this film’s release it was old hat. However, the angle of telling it from the perspective of Arthur as a boy should have generated something a bit more interesting. Or maybe he just needs a few knights and a round table to make his tale worth telling.
ARTHUR and MERLIN
These two iconic characters of history, literature and legend have made many appearances, together and apart, on film throughout the years. Here are a few of their more famous portrayers: