Classic Disney animated films usually bring to mind epic fairy tale romances like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Sleeping Beauty with brave princes, beautiful princesses, and animation that is still breathtaking today. The Sword in the Stone does not fall into the typical model of the classic Disney film. There are no princesses and only the most fleeting of romances between a boy and a squirrel, and while the animation is fun and fits the material well, it is more whimsical than epic. In my opinion, though, this doesn't make The Sword in the Stone any less of a classic, but I believe it is helpful to go into The Sword in the Stone with the proper expectations so the viewer can appreciate it for what it is rather than comparing it to other Disney animated films from that same era.
Wart (Rickie Sorensen) is an orphan at the mercy of Sir Ector (Sebastian Cabot) and his brutish son Kay (Norman Alden). Sir Ector dreams of his son Kay becoming a knight and making them rich, and neither Sir Ector nor Kay think much of Wart at all. Instead, Wart usually gets stuck cleaning the castle or washing the dishes. After a chance encounter with the wizard Merlin (Karl Swenson) and his comically irritable owl Archimedes (Junius Matthews), however, Wart is taken on as a student to Merlin and goes on a series of adventures, all of which teach him a larger lesson about life. These lessons will become more important as fate has bigger plans for Wart, a destiny tied a magical sword in a stone.
The story of The Sword in the Stone is really quite creative. There are so many stories told about King Arthur as this great wise ruler, but The Sword in the Stone is all about a kid getting the foundation for greatness which is a practical education. Merlin is not content to let Arthur read and contemplate on broad ideas like knowing one's place in the world, figuring out one's strengths and weaknesses, and formulating strategies based on that information. Instead, Arthur is thrown into exciting and often dangerous scenarios such as being turned into a fish and then escaping a much bigger and hungrier fish. With each adventure, he learns something new, and the sneaky part is that the audience gets that lesson too without it ever getting preachy or being anything except light-hearted fun.
Unfortunately, I feel like many people write off or forget The Sword in the Stone when talking about the Disney animated classics because it is so light-hearted. True, there isn't the emotional heart of something like Cinderella where the audience breaks down in tears because the step-sisters ruined Cinderella's dress or Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs when the dwarfs shed a tear for Snow White. Probably the closest the film ever gets to true heartbreak is an adorable squirrel becoming smitten with Wart transformed as a squirrel and then the squirrel being completely confused and saddened to discover Wart is actually a human boy. Part of the brilliance of The Sword in the Stone is how it puts the audience in the same position as Wart and teaches all kinds of valuable life lessons in such an entertaining fashion.
By far, the outstanding scene of the film and the reason to revisit The Sword in the Stone on Blu-ray, though, is the Merlin vs. Madame Mim wizard battle. While it might not have the same stunning beauty as some of the animations in Sleeping Beauty, this battle is very clever, very well-drawn, and a joy to watch at any age. The punchline of a certain microscopic creature destroying a towering dragon only gets better with age.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
Special features on the Blu-ray release include a sing-along version of the film, an alternate opening of the film, a featurette on the music of the Richard and Robert Sherman, the “All About Magic” feature hosted by Walt Disney, and two shorts “A Knight for a Day” and “Brave Little Tailor.”
"The Sword in the Stone" is on sale August 6, 2013 and is rated G. Animation. Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman. Written by Bill Peet. Starring Rickie Sorensen.