Last August, a couple of Disney movies I watched a lot when I was a child were released on Blu-Ray, and I recently checked them out from the library to see if they are as great as I remember them being.
The first is "The Sword and the Stone". This is a Disney-fied retelling of the King Arthur/Merlin/sword story from old English mythology. This version has the sword miraculously appearing in a courtyard, upon the death of the rightful King. We meet Arthur, who is growing up in the court at Camelot as a 12-year-old orphan called "Wart", trying to be a squire, and failing miserably. Into Wart's life comes Merlin, who is a time-traveling wizard who takes him on as his pupil, so he can teach him all about the world and science and such. Entertaining hijinks occur, as Merlin changes himself and the boy into various animals including fish, birds and squirrels. They meet a wicked witch named "Madame Mim" and there is a wizard's duel, and eventually Wart finds himself as squire to Kay in a big tournament that has been declared to find a King. Having forgotten Kay's sword, Wart runs to find one and pulls the sword from the stone. The rest... is history. Though this film was never my favorite, I did like it a lot, but I have to say it did not hold up as well as I expected, and I actually dozed off while watching it. I hardly ever fall asleep during movies, especially short movies with musical numbers. Needless to say, I'm disappointed. It's still fun, and small children might enjoy it, but it is not as charming or entertaining as I remembered.
The second is "Robin Hood", with all the characters played by various animals. Robin is a fox (as is Maid Marion, conveniently), Little John is a bear (voiced brilliantly by the same guy who plays the bear, Baloo, in "The Jungle Book"). This is also from English mythology, and follows the basic story of Robin stealing from the rich to feed the poor, dressing up in costumes and putting on voices and generally making Prince John look like a fool. There are excellent musical numbers, humor, and enchanting characters. This movie is still just as entertaining as it was when I was young. The story is exciting and fast-paced; the action is very Disney-friendly (no one dies, but villains get hit in the face with pies, piled on top of one another and knocked silly) but it's still enjoyable; and the script is witty and charming. Yes, it is for children, and yes, it is mild-mannered, but I thought it held up to the test of time very well. "Robin Hood" has long been my favorite Disney movie, and it still holds a spot in my heart.
In February, another favorite, "The Jungle Book", will be released on Blu-Ray. I always loved the relationship between Baloo and Mowgli, the guidance and long-suffering of Bagheera and the sinister Shere Kahn and the silly snake, Kaa. I can't wait to watch it again.
In other Disney movie news, "Mulan" is currently on Netflix, so we watched it the other night, and it is just as excellent as I remembered it being, too. The voice talent is top-notch, the script is witty and fast-paced, and the music is beautiful. There is a decent balance of silly comic-relief characters and serious war-related drama. There is heroism, honor, and Eddie Murphy, in one of his best movie appearances ever. It is a heavier story, so maybe not for toddlers, but everyone else can enjoy this movie together.
I don't worry about my daughter seeking heroines in the media, she isn't into pop-culture and hopefully her aunts, grandmas and I provide her with good examples of how to be a strong, independent, intelligent woman, but if I were looking to steer her toward a fictional character to idolize, I would show her "Mulan" a thousand times before showing her such drivel as "The Little Mermaid". Don't get me started on the whole break-the-rules-then-get-rewarded-with-whatever-you-want plotline there. Ugh. Anyway, go back and watch "Mulan". You won't regret it. And it's not a chick flick-- even my teenage sons and husband enjoyed re-watching this one.