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|Kevin Krock, editor|
The Movie...Ah, the legend of King Arthur. I'm sure everyone is familiar with at least one version of the story, but I like Disney's version, which tells the story of Arthur as a young, awkward squire- in- training. I know this isn't a widely held opinion, since the movie really isn't as strong or memorable as other Disney films from the same era. I think the reason for this comes down to the lack of a strong villain, and generally forgettable characters. However, the movie does have kind of a "guy" charm about it and it's simply fun to watch.
The highlights of this telling of the story lie with the adventures of Arthur (also called Wart), with the wizard Merlin. Several of these adventures involve fun and catchy musical numbers written by the Sherman Brothers, which provide enough punch to make parts of the movie quite memorable. I'm sure that most people probably remember Merlin singing "Higitus Figitus" as he packs his entire cottage into his suitcase. You may not know or remember all of the words, but it's a great sequence with some wonderful animation. My other favorite sequence is the Duel of the Wizards between Merlin and Madame Mim. Ah, the malagalitaloptirosis trick--I wish I could do that sometimes! The creative animation and gags that flow through this sequence are a joy to watch. My two-year-old also seems to like it, since he can name all of the animals that the two wizards turn into. I actually enjoy watching this sequence more now with him watching!
So it may not be on the same level as Sleeping Beauty or The Jungle Book for achievement in graphic design or storytelling, but The Sword in the Stone certainly has its merits and memorable sequences. The music is very enjoyable, and typical of the fun numbers that the Sherman Brothers have provided over the years.
As I mentioned in the Bedknobs and Broomsticks review, I wasn't convinced that I needed to upgrade my VHS tape collection after last year's Gold Collection DVDs. However, things are seriously looking up for 2001!
As with many of Disney's DVD releases, this DVD includes a couple of classic animated shorts that are a treat to have. Mickey's "Brave Little Tailor" and Goofy's "Knight for a Day" are perfect fits for the theme of the disc. Two sing-along versions of "Higitus Figitus" and "That's What Makes the World Go Round" are also included on the disc. There is a short Film Facts section that is a text description of the behind-the-scenes development work, complemented with a nice still-frame gallery that includes a lot of concept art.
On top of that, there are two other great additions. The first is a "Music Magic" featurette with the Sherman Brothers discussing "Higitus Figitus," as well as storyboard reconstructions of the deleted songs, "The Magic Key" and "Blue Oak Tree." This short (as was the one that appears on Bedknobs and Broomsticks) was produced for the Disney Channel's Vault Disney series, and complements the feature perfectly.
The second addition is my favorite bonus on the disc: a 1957 black- and- white episode of Walt Disney Presents called "All About Magic." It has a neat sequence with Walt doing magic tricks and talking about magic. There are also three animated segments: One with Mickey, one with Donald, and the third is the transformation scene from Cinderella. See if you can catch Walt burning his hand. Both of these are great additions to the disc, and I'm glad Disney put together a solid set of bonus material for this DVD.
One other quick point to mention: Disney used to force you to watch or skip through movie previews one by one on all Gold Collector's Edition discs. While they still automatically play if you put the disc in the player and don't do anything, you can now hit the menu key to quickly bypass them! It's a compromise I can live with, since I don't think Disney will eliminate them altogether.
The Video, Audio and Interface...
You may hear that there's a hubbub about anamorphic widescreen transfers on DVD, you have to remember that some old movies were never filmed in a widescreen format, and The Sword in the Stone is one of those. So, what you're seeing is what the production team originally intended the viewer to see. Also, this movie was fully restored, and the DVD transfer looks great. The picture is clean throughout, the colors are vibrant, and the dark scenes are nicely detailed. I was surprised at how bright the reds and blues were after almost 40 years. They did a nice job on spiffing up this film, and this is the best looking that Iíve seen this movie, especially relative to the old VHS version.
Even with all of the bonus material, there was enough room on the disc for three different audio tracks! There is a remastered English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound track, which plays nicely on a normal stereo or Dolby Surround system. Additionally, there are Dolby Digital 2.0 (stereo) surround sound tracks in French and Spanish. The English 5.1 audio is clear, but most of the audio comes from the center speaker. The music is in stereo, but the surrounds are pretty limited. Granted, I wouldn't really expect a lot of dynamic audio from a 1963 film, but the restoration of the audio still sounds good.
Regarding the interface: Holding true to the 2001 Gold Collection releases, the menus open with an introductory animation of the sword rising from the bottom of the screen with audio playing in the background. After the animation is complete, the menu selections appear. A cute animated poof and sparkles appear with corresponding audio plays when most menu selections are made, making for an enjoyable and well-themed menu system. The selections are easy to read, and the hierarchy is laid out clearly. This makes moving around the disc and finding items of interest easy for all family members.
The Final Evaluation...As I mentioned earlier, Disney's 2001 DVDs are turning out to be pretty good; let's hope that they keep up the good work. With the restored audio and video, a bunch of bonus material, and the convenience of DVD, The Sword in the Stone makes a great replacement for that old VHS copy sitting on your shelf.
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