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Monday, December 26, 2016

THE SWORD IN THE STONE (1963)

Generally considered the runt of the litter in a weak period of Disney animation, this soggy adaption, from the once (if not so future) T. H. White version of Arthurian legends, covers the adolescent years of kingly tutoring with eccentric wizard Merlin. The visual gimmick, which should have fit like an animated glove, has sorcery transmogrify young Arthur into various animals for life-lessons in unique POVs (fish, squirrel, bird). Yet there’s little magical about them: colors tasteful & dull; comedy tacked on or generic; songs unhummable; lots of talk/little action; and unimaginative smoke bombs for the transformations. Even the famous sword pull goes for little. And the DVD makes it easy to see exactly what’s missing by including a great late-‘30s Mickey Mouse short, BRAVE LITTLE TAILOR/’38. Vivid TechniColor, pacey excitement, richly comic action with a winning narrative push, and Fred Moore’s superb iteration of the pre-refined Mickey (see sketch sheet - click to enlarge).

With Walt Disney himself doing far more (falsetto) vocal work as Mickey than usual, it's a one-reel tour-de-force.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: King Arthur & Co. show up in too many disappointing films to keep track of. Best bet remains Jon Boorman’s EXCALIBUR/’82, a sort of hippy-commune take on Camelot, studded with Wagnerian motifs. Or there’s Robert Bresson’s severe LANCELOT DU LAC/’74, a Knights of the Round Table for intellectual cine-masochists.

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