Anyone familiar with “The Sword in the Stone,” the 1963 Walt Disney animated feature (the last one released before Walt’s untimely death) based on the T.H. White novel, knows that it begins with a storybook opening, accompanied by a wonderful Sherman Brothers song recounting the turbulent recent history of very old England, and the legend of the miraculous sword in the stone (“Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil is rightwise king born of England,” ya dig). We are then introduced to Merlin (Karl Swenson), who is more annoyed by the Dark Ages than anything else. But originally, there was a very different opening to the animated classic, one that is finally being revealed thanks to the new Blu-ray release.
In this new opening, courtesy of USA Today, we are immediately introduced to Madam Mim, the powerful witch and main villain of “The Sword in the Stone.” In this early version she doesn’t look like she does in the final movie, a rounded, somewhat oafish (but still pretty scary) sorceress. Here she is all sleek angles and dark clothes. Mim immediately starts searching for young Arthur (Wart as he’s known in the movie), “sending ravens” after him. The raven immediately identifies Wart as Arthur, the apprentice to a young knight. Wart borrows the knight’s bow and arrow and shoots an arrow, which is swooped up my Mim’s raven. The knight sends Arthur after it, causing him to go deeper and deeper into the primordial woods and right into the hands of Mim. Until, of course, Merlin comes in and saves the young Wart.
It doesn’t quite work, for a number of reasons, most notably for its decidedly darker tone (gone are the introductory scenes with Merlin talking to his pet owl Archimedes) and lack of humor. The mysticism of the original’s opening, and it’s philosophical views on destiny and fate, are also missing. Instead, it’s an opening with much more plot and much less charm. Still, as a fascinating relic from a beloved Disney classic, it’s close to priceless.
“The Sword in the Stone” Blu-ray comes out on Tuesday.