The Sword In the Stone appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.75:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. This was a flawed presentation but not a terrible one.
Sharpness was the primary area of weakness. While much of the movie showed good delineation, periods of softness occurred, mainly due to the overuse of digital noise reduction. That technique left wider shots with a lack of definition, and fine detail suffered as well.
This impacted some shots more than others. For the transfer’s nadir, go to chapter 13 and view the shots of birds – these lost the dark edges, as the noise reduction scrubbed away significant amounts of art. The picture doesn’t normally suffer to that degree, but clearly a more subtle use of noise reduction techniques would have been preferred.
Other aspects of the film fared better. I saw no examples of moiré effects or jagged edges, and print flaws remained absent.
Sword boasted a nicely varied palette, and all of its bright and vivid hues looked fine. Blacks looked deep and solid, and shadow detail was similarly well-rendered. The movie could’ve looked better, but I thought the image remained acceptable most of the time.
In regard to the sound of Sword, the original monaural mix has been gently reconfigured into a DTS-HD MA 5.1 affair. I say “gently” because the audio was really nothing more than a glorified one-track presentation.
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 rarely detected any non-musical activity that stemmed from anywhere but the center, so it sounded to me as though most 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 as 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 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 without much dynamic range. 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 Blu-ray compare to the 45th Anniversary DVD from 2008? Audio was a little warmer but not substantially altered from the prior Dolby 5.1 mix.
Picture quality was a different story, partly because the Blu-ray used a 1.75:1 image versus the 1.33:1 of the DVD. Many have debated which is “correct” and no one seems to have a firm answer.
Visuals were a contrast because the Blu-ray was considerably cleaner than the DVD – and also usually sharper, though the noise reduction meant the level of improvement suffered. Even with its flaws, I’d still take the Blu-ray over the DVD.
The Blu-ray includes some – but not all – of the DVD’s extras. We find two classic Disney shorts. This set features a Goofy vehicle from 1946 called A Knight For a Day (7:06), and it also includes a Mickey Mouse program from 1938 entitled Brave Little Tailor (9:01).
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 period.
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!
Music Magic focuses on the work of the famed Sherman Brothers. Apparently part of a series shown on the Disney Channel, this eight-minute piece looks at their work for Sword.
Robert and Richard Sherman 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 disc includes an excerpt from a 1957 TV show called All About Magic. In the seven-minute, 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.
Apparently new to the Blu-ray, we find an Alternate Opening. A mix of narration and storyboards, it runs four minutes, two seconds and indeed gives a different beginning to the film. It proves to be moderately interesting.
Sing Along With the Movie works as expected. During songs, the lyrics show up at the bottom of the screen. Since “Sing Along” adds no text the changes colors as the tune progresses – or other way to highlight specific lyrics – this feature seems pointless. Just turn on the subtitles and it works as well.
The disc opens with ads for The Little Mermaid, Planes, Super Buddies and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Sneak Peeks adds clips for Jake and the Neverland Pirates, the Lion King stage production, The Muppet Movie and Return to Neverland. No trailer for Sword shows up here.
Compared to the 2008 DVD, the Blu-ray adds the alternate opening and the “sing-along”. However, it drops still galleries, production notes and a game.
Note that the original 2001 DVD boasted a much longer version of the “All About Magic” program; it ran 37 minutes vs. the seven-minute excerpt found on the BD and the 45th Anniversary DVD.
A second disc provides a DVD copy of Sword. It offers a literal duplicate of the 45th Anniversary DVD. It’s too bad Disney didn’t toss in the 2001 DVD so we could see the longer version of “All About Magic”.
After more than 50 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 Blu-ray offers erratic visuals and audio as well as minor supplements. This isn’t a terrible presentation but it could use a reworking.
To rate this film, visit the DVD review of SWORD IN THE STONE