The Sword in the Stone (1963)

King Arthur in training

  • Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
  • Rating: G
  • Starring: Rickie Sorensen, Sebastian Cabot, Karl Swenson
  • Screenplay: Bill Peet
  • Based on The Once & Future King by: T.H. White
  • Music By: George Bruns
  • Cinematography/Art Direction: Ken Anderson
  • Running Time: 79 Minutes
  • Premiered: December 25, 1963 (US Release)
  • DVD Release Date: March 20, 2001

Synopsis: The wizard Merlin teaches a young boy who is destined to be King Arthur.(From IMDb)

Review: The Sword in the Stone was released on December 25, 1963 and was the last animated feature to premier before Walt Disney died. This is also the only animated Disney movies form the 1960s that does not have a sequel, live-action remake, TV show, or a Platinum DVD. Another interesting fact is that his was the first animated Disney film to recycle animated scenes. When Sir Kray is eating the same segment is used, albeit with different dialogue. And when Wart falls down stairs the same sequence is also used. The Owl from the forest scene in Sleeping Beauty inspired Archemedes and Maleficent, in dragon form, highly resembles Madam Mim’s dragon form. Bill Peet, the screenwriter, used Walt Disney as the inspiration for Merlin. Peet thought Disney was argumentative, cantankerous, playful, and intelligent. This is the second movies where Disney served as a model for an animated wizard, the first was the wizard Yensid from the Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment in Fantasia.

T.H. White’s book The Once and Future King details the early years of King Arthur, nicknamed Wart as a young child. The future legendary King Arthur is a squire to a haphazard knight and his son. While working on an unending series of menial tasks, Wart meets Merlin the Magician, a slightly crazy man who promises to educate him. White’s book is actually divided into three sections and this movie is based on the first section. Throughout this educational endeavor, Merlin turns Wart into a fish, a bird, and a squirrel to teach the lesson that brains are more important than brawn. This lesson is solidified when Merlin engages in a magic duel Madam Mim. Despite Mim cheating, Merlin beats her because of his superior mental agility. One day Wart, in his role as squire, forgets a sword for a jousting match. So he runs and pulls out a sword stuck in a stone. He does not know that whoever draws the sword out of the stone is the next rightful King of England. Merlin is there is help guide him on this new path and remind him that knowledge, not power, is the ultimate power.

Ever since the popularization of The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, the legend of King Arthur has fascinated numerus generations. From his glorious rise to the tragic fall, Arthur serves as a beacon of hope reaching out through history. According to legend, Arthur will come back to rule Britain in its darkest hour. Hence the Future King part. Numerous authors, lyricists, prose writers, novelists, playwrights, and historians have put their spin on this legend. The Sword in the Stone is a unique film in that it explores Arthur’s young life. Most modern movies focus more on the downfall of Arthur and his betrayal by Lancelot and Guinevere. No other film explores the sensation of being a sentient bird, fish, and squirrel. It is also quite satisfying to see a movie that explores how satisfying it is to have someone appreciate one’s worth, despite being over looked by everyone else. The Arthur Legend is one of my favorites and I am quite disappointed that there have been so few quality adaptations recently. The Sword in the Stone remains one of the best adaptations of the legend.

Merlin is my favorite character from the movie. He has a beard that is so long it is amazing he does not trip more often. And he can see into the future and encourages Wart to not lose hope and despair over his current situation.  Also, he has a better grasp on gravity and steam than geographic direction and magic spells. While he comes across as extremely frazzled, Merlin possess a good heart. He believes in Arthur/Wart and tries to make him realize that greatness comes from thinking and studying. Not an over reliance on magic and spells. Merlin uses his magic sparingly in order to foster a strong sense of intellectual knowledge in Arthur. One of the best animates sequences in the film is when Merlin duels with Madam Mim. Merlin prevails because Mim uses “black magic” and relies on magic instead of intelligence. Plus, good triumphs over evil.

Of all the characters, Merlin has the most development. Arthur/Wart comes across as a hapless boy who just stumbles into greatness by accident. Most of the other characters are the typical stock characters found in most Disney films. There is the underachieving bully, the dimwitted knight, the evil witch, and so forth. From a character standpoint, The Sword in the Stone is one of Disney’s weaker films. However, the animation is gorgeous and the screenplay contains a strong message about self-worth and how everyone has value.