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    BLU-RAY REVIEW: Three Disney Anniversary Editions

    The Sword in the Stone, Robin Hood & Oliver & Company Hit Home Video...



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    There's something awesome about three classic animated Disney films hitting the home video shelf at the same time. It takes me - and no doubt many others - back to their childhoods when we watched these same three classics - The Sword in the Stone, Robin Hood & Oliver & Company - on VHS. Each of these holds a special place in our hearts as we grew up watching a young boy become a king with a wizard's help, a fox with a bow an a bear in a tunic defend England and a musically inclined orphan kitten belt out a tune.

    While each of these decade's old classics has its place in Disney's catalog and fills a much-needed gap, each isn't equal - in quality or modern presentation.

    The Sword in the Stone

    The 1963 classic tells the age-old story of twelve year old Arthur, the orphan son of the dead king Uther Pendragon. The throne to England sits empty and the land is in turmoil. After what seems a random encounter with Merlin the Wizard, Arthur begins his quest to claim his rightful place as the country's king and rightful heir. Of course, to do so means to draw The Sword in the Stone. And before he can do that, he has to be raised right and, with Merlin's help, Arthur will survive Sir Ector and Kay as well as a swell of misadventures.

    While not nearly as engaging or well developed as many Disney favorites, The Sword in the Stone is a fun, short film that'll keep young boys entertained and old boys (like me) nostalgic. While it might be hit and miss with most of its action and now, 25 years after I first saw it, the film seems somewhat hollow and lackluster, it still reminds me of everything I wanted to be when I grew up to be a king.

    The video here is harsh and shows its age as well as the digital remastering, which has seemingly made the film worse. Colors are bright and bold and lines are deep and strong, though they often seem out of focus and soft to such a degree, one wonders if they're not smudged. Audio on the film - 5.1 DTS-HD - comes through much better, though isn't nearly as impressive as most modern features. A front-heavy, dialogue driven soundtrack provides clear listening, though nothing here will jump out or impress. All that said, for a film that's now 50 years old, it's still doing better than most films the same age.

    Special features here are sparse, though there are a few,including an alternate opening scene; an 8-minute "Music Magic: The Sherman Brothers," which shows the pair discusing their work; the 7-minute "All About Magic Excerpt" hosted by Walt Disney; two short animated classics, "A Knight for a Day" and "Brave Little Tailor" and a short Disney Sing-Along that'll make kids smile.

    While maybe not considered one of Disney's finer moments in animation, The Sword in the Stone is a classic that deserves a second look today, five decades after it was originally released and some 25 years after most of us probably saw it on VHS. While it lacks a lot of what we like in more family-oriented movies today, it will more than make up for this with the emotions and nostalgia you'll feel watching it again.

    Robin Hood

    The story of Disney's Robin Hood follows the mythos fairly consistently, with Robin, Little John and their merry band robbing from the rich and giving to those in need. Finding themselves on the wrong side of the law, they soon discover without their help, the evil Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John will take the throne from the brave King Richard, who's away on the Crusades. So the story itself has been captured on film countless times; it's hard to not at least be a bit entertained by Disney's animated attempt here.

    Personally, when I was growing up, I wasn't much of a fan of Disney's Robin Hood. Sure, I'd seen it a few times when I was young, though I was never really as excited to watch the personification of animals on the big screen or on TV as I was say a film like The Sword in the Stone or the live-action Star Wars. Call it strange, but seeing the animals talking and dressing like humans simply wasn't as entertaining to me as it was other children. That said, today, nearly 30 years after first seeing the movie, it's a different experience. Enjoying this with my 4 year old daughter makes for an enjoyable experience. So re-watching Robin Hood was surprisingly fun and the characterization of the animals - to include the sly fox, the fierce lions, the brave bear, the sneaky snake and others - made for an entertaining treat.

    While showing its age - it's 40 years old - the film does a good job of being a kid's movie. Sure, it - like The Sword in the Stone - shows a rushed effort on the part of the creators, with questionable plot devices and pacing, not to mention other issues. That said, it's a kids movie and most kids will enjoy this one just as we enjoyed it nearly 3 decades ago.

    The 1080p video is solid throughout with boosted colors and sharp, deep lines and blacks. Unlike people, whose character and life is written in the wrinkles, spots and marks, Robin Hood's wrinkles, spots and marks here only show its age. While not entirely unimpressive, young children will indeed wonder why it's not "bright and clear" like the modern releases (that's a direct quote from my 4 year old). The film's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track provides plenty of pop and, like The Sword in the Stone, relies on a front heavy, dialogue driven track that's been remastered from the film's original mono mix.

    As for special features, Robin Hood has a solid variety, including a Disney Vault release of the deleted storyline "Love Letters" (in storyboard form); a 5-minute alternate ending, four subtitled songs from the film in a "Disney Song Selection," an art gallery, a read-along storybook (which children should enjoy!) and two sing-alongs: the Disney Sing-Along and Oo-De-Lally Sing-Along. Lastly, the classic black and white Mickey Mouse short "Ye Olden Days."

    Like The Sword in the Stone, Robin Hood - forty years ago - told a classic tale in a new and exciting way. Nowadays, watching as an adult, it's hard to look at it through the same uncritical eyes. That said, if you've a young one in your house and they've watched every modern animated film available, Disney's Robin Hood is sure to delight.

    Oliver and Company

    Oliver Twist was never a favorite of mine. While I understand the story's importance as an original work by Charles Dickens, it never really impressed or entertained me. That said, when I was 9 years old, Disney's Oliver and Company was a lot of fun, especially because the music and voice acting. Now, while it too shows its age, it still impresses and entertains if not sheds a bit of light on what Disney was up to in the late 1980s.

    A very loose adaptation of the Oliver Twist tale, Disney's Oliver and Company tells the story of orphaned kitten Oliver (an impressive Joey Lawrence) and the hard-knocks pup Dodger (Billy Joel). Dodger's owner, the crooked Fagin (Dom DeLuise) owns a number of stray dogs who work for him, including a bulldog, a Great Dane, a chihuahua and others. Each of the dogs run scams which soon finds Oliver wondering where his life is heading. Enter the innocent and wealthy girl Jenny (Natalie Gregory), whose family is away. Jenny's spoiled poodle Georgette (Bette Midler) isn't really the type of pet Jenny likes and soon Jenny falls in love with Oliver, who soon finds himself kidnapped by Fagin. And when Jenny goes to rescue Oliver, Jenny is kidnapped by the evil loan shark Sykes (Robert Loggia).

    So it's a big convoluted and confusing for a young one to understand and the story is a bit flat and lackluster compared to many other Disney films. That's not to say there's nothing enjoyable here. The voice acting is fun and the music is entertaining. Likewise, the personification of the characters - like in Robin Hood - is well done and should keep most young children at least enjoying the film for its short 73-minutes.

    The video - like both The Sword in the Stone and Robin Hood - shows its age, though colors are bright and bold. The film - like the others reviewed here - has been remastered and this has brightened up Oliver and Company so much so that some scenes seem to be almost washed out. It's not often, but noticeable enough. The audio here thankfully is pretty impressive considering the film is 25 years old. The use of the rear speakers in this new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 impresses more than the other two films, with some solid use during city scenes with busy streets. The dialogue is clear in through the front speakers as well.

    As for special features, Oliver and Company includes only a few. The disc includes a short 6-minute "Making Of" featurette, two classic short films from the Disney Vault, "Puss Cafe" and "Lend a Paw" (which won an Oscar in 1941), a short 2-minute featurette called "Disney's Animated Animals," the film's theatrical trailer and the film's re-release trailer from 1996 as well as a TV promo spot. Finally, the disc also includes a Sing-Along.

    While Oliver and Company may show its age, it - like both The Sword and the Stone and Robin Hood - should be welcome additions to Disney fan's home video libraries. Sure they show they were made in a different time in Disney's long history; sure they all show shortcomings which we - as fans - didn't notice until now, some 25 years after we first saw them...that's no reason not to get nostalgic and fall in love all over again with a young boy who becomes a king, a fox with a bow an a bear in a tunic defending England and a musically inclined orphan kitten belting out a tune.

    The Sword in the Stone, Robin Hood & Oliver & Company are available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Copy now wherever fine home video is sold.

    - Jess C. Horsley


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