Saturday, May 5, 2012

D52 - Week 18 - The Sword in the Stone

---Declaration of Kevin The Page---
I usually don't explain my previous experience with these movies because most would be "I think I remember seeing it as a kid but not the whole thing maybe." But here is an exception, because I do remember watching TSITS twice or thrice or maybe even more because it would regularly be shown on weekend mornings on TV when I was a preteen. And I do remember liking it at the time. Merlin's a lovable old coot (though not in the way that you would actually want to hang around him in real life) with a lovable old curmudgeon of an owl (all cartoon owls must be either grumpy, stuffy, or both!) and, forces combined, they succeed at making it a fun trip through the story. This is important, seeing as how the story itself, if you were to break it up and study it, is frankly a mess. Later on in Disney history there would be straight-to-DVD sequels of beloved classics, some of which could be called "midquels," because they show previously unseen events that (SUPPOSEDLY) happened during the course of the original film. The Sword in the Stone feels like a midquel to another movie that doesn't exist! I realize the point is to show what life was like for Arthur before he became king, turns out [this version of] his story wasn't interesting enough for it to have needed be told at all! Maybe it would've worked better to have broken up the story into the different stages of his pre-adult life (since this movie is very episodic anyway). I'll gather that the Three Animal Stages Wart undergoes are already symbolic, but imagine if he started, as a child, as a mere lowly fish...learned in the trees about love as an adolescent...then graduated by literally spreading his wings, as a bird. As it is, anyway, the movie ends with Arthur pulling the sword from the sto....uh, anvil. Stone anvil? Sword in the Anvil in the Stone? Anyway, you would think it ends there, but then there's the awkward scene afterward that exists for some unclear reason. Just to establish that Merlin eventually returns? Well, at least I can be thankful that we don't get a shoehorned-in love interest for Wart (we know he will find a wife eventually anyway), despite the squirrel scene seeming to give the impression that it's setting it up.
As a kid, none of that really mattered though. What really made me love The Sword in the Stone was the magical fight scene between Merlin and Madame Mim. Yes, it's unnecessary plot-wise and pure padding. But it's damn-entertaining filler! Nowadays I still love it. Whereas with Alice in Wonderland I would start off enjoying the movie immensely only to experience a sharp dip in interest near the end, with The Sword in the Stone it's the opposite. I find myself just waiting for the dueling scene. Maybe it's that I'm a sucker for fights where someone uses what seems like a disadvantage cleverly to get the upper hand. But it plays out so entertainingly that, really, if it instead existed only as a short, I would easily rank it as one of my favorites of all time. And it ends on a satisfyingly genius twist.

Favorite character: Artemis is my favorite fictional owl. Can you think of a better one?
Least necessary character: We don't even actually even see Hobbes, do we?
Trivial thing: Merlin, you go through most of the picture relying on spoken incantations for your spells, but for your battle with Mim you didn't need to say anything to transform into various creatures. Can you explain that for me?
Overall: The fun characters and their engaging episodes do, I think, win out over any loss of sense that you're actually seeing a story being told.

---Something of Amanda the Something---
This is one of those movies that I liked very much as an adolescent and now that I'm grown, I'm not sure what was so exciting about it.  Of course we all know the basic gist of the story.  A young boy from a lowly upbringing is destined to be the King of all England.  He is taught as a child and advised as a man by the wizard Merlin and thus thanks to wisdom and compassion becomes the most beloved King England has ever known, many adventures to follow.

I feel that this movie would have been a great deal better and perhaps even more successful if it were made during the time of the Disney Afternoon and instead of a movie each one of Wart's lessons as an animal could have been an episode of "Merlin's Many Magical Lessons."  As it is, it feels very much like watching three episodes of just such a thing. It could be perhaps that the lessons of life can't really be condensed into something that is a mere one movie long.  The three lessons of Wart seem rather trite and without reason in the grand scheme of things. The thought that there would be another lesson in a coming episode would certainly increase the moral weight of the story and would even open up the opportunity to show more of the delightful magical fights between Merlin and the only obvious villian Mim.  I suppose Wart's family could be considered slightly antagonistic, but it's a bit of a stretch.

My biggest gripe is certainly the stilted ending.  If we could open the movie with a book, why couldn't we close the movie with a book and perhaps a quick fanning through the pages to establish the many adventures to come (Take a look, it's in a book).  At least that would be a little less abrupt.

Fave Character: Definitely Archimedes!  His histerical laughter at Merlin's failed airplane launch is without a moment's doubt the funniest 30 seconds of the entire movie.

Least Favorite Character: Can Kay possibly get any jockier or dumber... or Uglier? Yikes.
Overall: Pretend that this is a set of shorts and you'll really enjoy it.  All together, it might start to feel tedious or confusing.

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