The Sword In the Stone appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Some controversy surrounds this aspect ratio. It has been difficult to find out whether some Disney movies originally appeared as 1.33:1 releases or if they were 1.75:1, as indicated on IMDB. Assuming that ratio is correct, the question then revolves around the issue of the original frame; does the fullscreen picture represent a pan and scan version of the film or is it simply an “open matte” transfer that reveals additional information not seen theatrically?
In the case of Sword, I have the feeling we found a mild pan and scan affair. For the most part, the framing seemed adequate, but at times I thought the sides appeared a little cramped. Examine the scenes in which Wart and Merlin are squirrels; when Wart is chased by the female squirrel, their tails looked a bit cropped, and I saw what seemed to be some artificial panning at times. Frankly, if this is a pan and scan job, it’s a mild one; any lost information seemed to be minor. Nonetheless, if Sword doesn’t appear in its original aspect ratio, I really wish Disney would just give us everything as intended.
Whatever the case may be, Sword provided a solid image that usually looked much better than one would expect of such an old movie. Sharpness appeared nicely crisp and detailed throughout most of the film. During a few wider shots, the picture could seem a little soft and fuzzy, but these occasions were rare. As a whole, the image came across as distinct and well-defined. I saw no examples of moiré effects or jagged edges.
Sword boasted a nicely varied palette, and all of its bright and vivid hues looked terrific. The movie featured a wide array of tones and they seemed wonderfully accurate and tight at all times; I saw no signs of bleeding or noise from these rich and lively colors. Blacks looked deep and solid, and shadow detail was similarly well-rendered.
As one might expect from a 45-year-old movie, print flaws caused the greatest concerns during Sword. However, the detection of these became more complicated than usual due to some weak artwork. It looked like the filmmakers did an occasionally poor job of cleaning up the animation, as characters and effects often didn’t integrate well with the backgrounds. A variety of streaks and marks accompany many movements, and it seemed clear that these weren’t the fault of defects on the print itself; they looked like they’d always been part of the movie.
Otherwise, flaws seemed minor. I witnessed a modest array of speckles and grit, and there also was a nick or two. The messiness of the original image could be annoying, but I couldn’t blame the transfer for problems that always existed. As such, I thought The Sword In the Stone usually presented a good picture.
In regard to the sound of Sword, the original monaural mix has been gently reconfigured into a Dolby Digital 5.1 affair. I say “gently” because the audio was really nothing more than a glorified one-track piece. This was what I call “broad mono” because although sound indeed came from all five speakers, it did not create much of an engaging environment. Instead, the audio from the side and rear channels really seemed to just echo the center speaker’s sound.
Frankly, I almost never detected any non-musical activity that stemmed from anywhere but the center; it sounded to me as though all dialogue and effects emanated from that channel. As for the score and the songs, they indeed appeared in all five speakers, but as I noted, the effect was modest. The music presented a minor stereophonic presence at times, but I was hard-pressed to detect any form of discrete localization of voices or instruments. This isn’t really a complaint, as I often prefer 5.1 remixes that don’t stray too far from the original material, and the soundtrack of Sword simply provided a mild extension of the source information. Nonetheless, I thought I should comment upon the lack of dimensionality.
As far audio quality, it seemed fine for its era. Dialogue appeared a little thin at times, and I detected some edginess to lines spoken by Sir Ector, but as a whole the speech was acceptably distinct and relatively natural. Effects were also somewhat drab and lifeless, but they were decent for the period, and we even got a little bit of bass from them at times. For example, when the drawbridge of Sir Ector’s castle dropped, it landed with a nice thud. Music offered a modicum of bass as well, but as a whole the tunes seemed acceptably bright but without much dynamic range. Slight bass response could be heard on occasion, but it didn’t add much depth. Ultimately, the soundtrack of The Sword In the Stone seemed perfectly decent for the time frame in which it appeared, but it lacked any special qualities.
How did the picture and audio of this “45th Anniversary Edition” of Sword compare to those of the original DVD from 2001? Both looked and sounded virtually identical to me. If any variations occurred, I couldn’t discern them.
Don’t expect many changes in terms of extras, either, as most of the “45th Anniversary” DVD’s supplements already appeared on the old disc. We find two classic Disney shorts. This set features a Goofy vehicle from 1946 called A Knight For a Day, and it also includes a Mickey Mouse program from 1938 entitled Brave Little Tailor. The Goof’s cartoon runs for seven minutes, while Mickey’s short lasts nine minutes.
I expected to like “Tailor” since it’s a fairly well known and highly regarded clip, and indeed I did think it was fun. The story pits Mickey against a giant with amusing and inventive results. However, I was surprised by the quality of “Knight”. I’m not fond of Goofy, and since he plays all of the roles in this short - even Princess Penelope! - I really thought it’d be a dud. Instead, it was easily one of the best Goofy offerings I’ve seen, and I thought it was among the top Disney shorts that involve any character. Here we watch a medieval battle, the prize for which is the affection of the princess. It’s a clever, witty and just darned goofy affair that I really enjoyed. Maybe the old Goof’s not so lame after all!
In addition to these shorts, the DVD tosses in some behind the scenes materials. One of these is called Music Magic and it focuses on the work of the famed Sherman Brothers. Apparently part of a series shown on the Disney Channel, this seven-minute and 59-second piece looks at their work for Sword. They discuss what they wanted to do with their songs, and we also hear two tunes that didn’t appear in the finished film. The featurette combines modern interviews with the Shermans and a mix of production stills and film clips. All in all, it’s a fun and informative program.
This DVD includes an excerpt from a 1957 TV show called All About Magic. In the seven-minute and 19-second clip, Walt takes us into the studio’s “magic room”, shows us some tricks, and introduces us to the Magic Mirror from Snow White (depicted here by Hans Conried, who played Captain Hook in Peter Pan).
As originally broadcast, this was an introduction to a collection of animation. The show included two shorts - “Magician Mickey” from 1937 and “Trick or Treat” from 1952 - and some snippets from 1950’s Cinderella. This excerpt ends before we see any animation. That makes it a curiosity and not much more.
Film Facts provides eight screens of text production notes, while the Sword In the Stone Scrapbook includes a bunch of still frame images. Presented in a true “scrapbook” format, we find two to five stills per “page” for a total of 62 pictures. These encompass production shots, character sketches, and advertising concepts plus a few other images for a nice little package.
Disney Song Selection is a staple for the studio’s DVDs. It allows you to jump to any of the film’s tunes and watch them with Karaoke-style lyrics. I think the feature’s pretty useless, but its inclusion doesn’t harm us.
For the “45th Anniversary” DVD’s sole new feature, we go to Merlin’s Magical Academy. This sends you through a mix of three trivia questions and three button-mashing games. None of them are much fun, I’m afraid, and the directional games become especially tedious.
Lastly, we find some ads at the DVD’s start. Here we get clips for Sleeping Beauty, WALL-E, 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure, The Jungle Book 2 and Disney Movie Rewards. These also appear in the DVD’s Sneak Peeks area along with promos for Phineas and Ferb, The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning, TinkerBell, The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Secret of the Magic Gourd and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.
Does the DVD drop any extras from the prior release? Yes. We lose two “Sing-Along Songs”, and we also get a shorter version of “All About Magic”; the original platter showed a 37-minute cut of that show instead of this set’s seven-minute excerpt. I have no idea why Disney cut that program for this disc.
After 45 years, 1963’s The Sword In the Stone remains one of Disney’s most ordinary animated films. Although the movie seems to boast few serious detractors, it also fails to excite many fans, and it maintains a status as a bland but mildly enjoyable offering. The DVD provides good picture plus decent sound and a minor complement of extras. Ultimately, The Sword In the Stone will make a good addition to the collections of serious Disney fans, but those who are less wild about the studio’s output may not be as interested; it’s a decent movie but not one that deserves much praise.
Does this “45th Anniversary Edition” merit an “upgrade” for fans who have the prior release from 2001? Nope. It adds nothing interesting and provides the same picture and audio as the earlier disc. Indeed, the 2000 DVD is preferable because it offers a longer version of the TV show excerpted here. This new disc is a disappointment.