The Sword in the Stone (1963)
Jungle Book 2 (2003)
This week Disney rereleases two middling adaptations to DVD. One is worth catching; the other, not so much.
Loosely based on the first part of T.H. White’s classic Arthurian opus The Once and Future King, Disney’s The Sword in the Stone is one of the weaker links in the classic Disney lineup, despite amiable songs by the Sherman Brothers (“Higitus Figitus,” “That’s What Makes the World Go Round”) and the inherent charm of one of White’s best conceits, Merlyn’s magical pedagogy of the young Arthur, which includes transforming him into various animals.
The storyline meanders, as does White’s original, but White’s piercing wit and thematic depth is replaced with genial Disney nonsense. The progression of the animal transformations in White, in which Arthur experiences life first as an ant, a fish, a bird and a badger, is lost in Disney’s retelling, which involves a fish, a squirrel and a bird. Similarly, the pedagogical points White’s Merlyn was trying to make have been replaced by typical Disney themes, notably boy-girl attraction (see Bambi, etc.).
Merlyn’s magical showdown with the villainous Madam Mim might strike some White fans as Disney revisionism, but the episode actually comes from the original version of White’s Sword and the Stone, though he edited it out for the collected Once and Future King.
Though not top-drawer Disney by a long shot, The Sword in the Stone is pleasant, passable family entertainment. It’s got enough charm that you won’t feel you wasted your time.
The same can’t be said for The Jungle Book 2, a minor latter-day sequel from Disney’s home-animation division that, like Return to Never Land, got a theatrical release — a mark of Disney’s desperation in the collapse of the post-Little Mermaid renaissance.
Unlike similar lightweight sequels of the period, which at least had new stories to tell, Jungle Book 2 is largely a retread of the original, far superior Jungle Book.
Once again, Bagheera and Baloo argue about whether the man-cub belongs at the man-village or in the jungle with his papa-bear. Once again, Shere Khan squeezes Kaa for information on Mowgli while Kaa makes another abortive attempt to enthrall the tiger.
Once again, Colonel Hathi and his elephantine Dawn Patrol stamp and crush through the underbrush in a military style, and the four mop-headed British buzzards come around to pluck you up when you are down. And once again — and again, and again — Baloo and Mowgli sing about the Bare Necessities, those simple bare necessities, forget about your worries and your strife.
At least like other Disney home-animation features from that period, Jungle Book 2 offers a positive depiction of family, with none of the negative parental stereotypes or politically correct attitudes of many 1990s-era Disney cartoons. Beyond that, though, there’s not much here to recommend.
Content advisory The Sword and the Stone: Mild animated menace; fantasy magic. Okay family viewing. The Jungle Book 2: Mild menace. Unproblematic.