The Sword in the Stone
Release Date: December 25th, 1963
Inspiration: “The Sword in the Stone” by T.H. White
Budget: $3 million
Domestic Gross: $22.2 million
Worldwide Gross: $22.2 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 68%
IMDB Score: 7.2/10
Storyline (per IMDB): Arthur (aka Wart) is a young boy who aspires to be a knight’s squire. On a hunting trip he falls in on Merlin, a powerful but amnesiac wizard who has plans for Wart beyond mere squiredom. He starts by trying to give Wart an education (whatever that is), believing that once one has an education, one can go anywhere. Needless to say, it doesn’t quite work out that way.
Pre-Watching Thoughts: We continue on into the 1960s with this film which I can honestly say is one of the films that I have never seen at any point in my life, and it is one of the last ones I haven’t seen until we get to the late 1990s. Obviously, the story of King Arthur is well regarded and is one of the greatest stories of all time, and this film was a very unique take on that that story. We have been on a solid role in terms of the quality of the films and the last two films have held up very well, so we will see if this film matches up to them and keeps the momentum going.
Voice Cast: So going forward, I have decided in order to make things a little more streamlined, I will only put major focus on the actors that voiced a main character or a slightly minor character, and anyone that had very few lines for their character will still get mentioned but as part of a group. I feel like this will put a bit more emphasis on the actors that are more high profile, but we will still make mention as to who is a newcomer and who is returning as we do have a few returns for this film. We have the return of Thurl Ravenscroft who voices the knight Sir Bart, we have James MacDonald who provides the growls from the wolf, and we have two ladies who make their final appearance ever with this film as Barbara Jo Allen voices the Scullery Maid and Martha Wentworth who voices Madam Mim and one of the squirrels. We also have one other actor in Tudor Owen who voices one of the knights in the tournament as this would be his final role as well. When it comes to the new actors, we have an interesting note here as Arthur is voiced by three different actors in Rickie Sorensen, and brothers Richard and Robert Reitherman which is unique especially since at times we hear all three voices at certain times during Arthur’s dialogue. We then have Karl Swenson who voices Merlin in what would be one of his few, if only appearances in an animated film, and then we have Junius Matthews who voices Archimedes the owl as he would become a regular in a future series. We then have Sebastian Cabot who voices Sir Ector as he would also make a few more appearances after this, and then we have Norman Aiden who voices Sir Kay as his career was really just getting started. We then have Alan Napier who voices Sir Pellinore as he was about to start winding down his career, and finally we have Ginny Tyler providing the sounds for the female squirrel. It was nice not having a large cast as we had back in the last film as it gives more actors a chance to shine and we will see if they keep with this pattern or if they go back to having a large cast.
Villain: Amazingly enough for a film that doesn’t really have a hero, prince, or a princess, we do actually have a villain here even though I would characterize her more as a nuisance as opposed to an actual villain. I of course am referring to the witch Madam Mim who is Merlin’s main adversary, and Arthur encounters her for the first time when while he is a bird flies into her house. She tries to get him to follow her teachings until Merlin arrives and they have a duel where they transform into numerous creatures, and Merlin ultimately wins after becoming a germ and infecting Mim with an illness. As I mentioned, Mim is not so much a villain as she is more a nuisance especially to Merlin and he ends up outdueling her despite her cheating, and thus she does rank pretty high in terms of the Disney villains especially considering who she has had to follow recently in Maleficent and Cruella De Vil.
Other Characters: Unlike the previous film which had a lot of characters to keep track of, this one is pretty straight forward as most of the film was focused on a handful of characters with the rest mainly in the background. Of course, we have the main character of the film which is not really Arthur, but rather Merlin the Wizard who tries to teach Arthur that there is more value in being smart than being strong and he drives this home throughout the film to the point that he even leaves for 20th century Bermuda when he feels shut out by Arthur. Speaking of Arthur or Wart as he is referred to, he is taught by Merlin while trying to please his foster father and he ultimately pulls the sword out of the stone which earns him the right to be King of England. We then have Merlin’s talking owl Archimedes who assists him in training Arthur though he nearly eats Arthur while he is a fish, and he stays by Arthur’s side when Merlin leaves and he is there when Arthur pulls the sword out of the stone. We then have Sir Ector and Sir Kay who are Arthur’s adoptive family and they don’t treat him well with Kay in particular being mean to him, but they are quickly repentant when Arthur pulls the sword out and is declared King. We then have a few other minor characters like Sir Pellinore who tells Ector about the tournament to crown a new king, and then there is the wolf that stalks Arthur for most of the film until the female squirrel causes him to get jammed in a log and fall into a river, and finally the Scullery Maid who reveals that Merlin is training Arthur much to Ector’s chagrin. While the majority of the film was focused on Merlin, Arthur, and Archimedes, the other characters in the film played their roles well enough to keep the film and the plot moving.
Songs: It’s funny because of all the films that Disney has done, this seemed like the one that would have absolutely no songs in it because they didn’t seem like they would fit. However as one can imagine, only a studio like Disney could figure out a way to add songs to the film which they did as we have quite a number of songs here though they aren’t too long. The first is the title song “The Sword in the Stone” which is heard during the prologue as it set the story well enough, and then we have Merlin’s song “Higitus Figitus” which he sings while he’s clearing out his home and it is fun enough for how long it is. We then have “That’s What Makes the World Goes Round” that Merlin and Arthur sing while they are fish as Merlin tells Arthur about physics, and then Merlin sings “A Most Befuddling Thing” when Arthur is pursued by the female squirrel. We finally have “Mad Madam Mim” which Mim sings when describing herself to Arthur which again is just fine, but nothing too standout which pretty much sums up everything about this film. I should quickly mention we also had the last verse of the song “Blue Oak Tree” which was supposed to be longer, but was ultimately cut from the final version of the film. As mentioned, the songs were perfectly fine for the film though there was nothing that could stand up to some of the more popular songs in the Disney canon.
Plot: The story of King Arthur is one of the most popular stories in English history and most of the films that are made about him are when he is an adult and King, but there aren’t many that focus on his youth and what eventually led to him becoming King. In fact, this was the first film to focus on Arthur’s youth and the leading up to him pulling the sword from the stone, and it is an interesting tale of Arthur being trained by Merlin the wizard for a bigger purpose than that of a squire. Merlin goes to the lengths of turning Arthur into various animals as a means of learning different subjects, but Arthur is torn between that and being a squire leading Merlin to leave him. Arthur goes with Ector and Kay to London for the tournament and after realizing Kay didn’t have his sword, he finds the sword in the stone and pulls it out without realizing that it was the prophesied sword and he was now the rightful King of England as Merlin returns to be by his side. It is pretty interesting that we haven’t seen another film adaptation of Arthur as a boy and they focus more on his time as King, and we will see if we ever see another adaptation of this mythical story.
Random Watching Thoughts: It does feel a bit strange having someone like Walt Disney do an adaptation of King Arthur especially in the opening credits as the music has a real jazz feeling which doesn’t seem to fit an old English tale; Back to the story book intro though this is the first time the intro is done in song; It is a bit misleading that it is called “The Sword in the Stone” when the sword is actually in an anvil embedded into a stone; So if England had been without a king for so long, wouldn’t there be someone to serve as a stand in until someone pulled the sword out?; I wonder if having the gift of seeing into the future is more of a blessing or a curse for Merlin; I would like to know when Archimedes gained the ability to speak; Given how far animation has come since Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, this film looks like it was straight out of the 1930s and not the 1960s; What did Arthur do to deserve a nickname like “Wart”?; Listening to Kay speak, he sounds more Australian than British and meanwhile Arthur sounds American which is pretty blasphemous; Not only does Archimedes talk, he drinks tea; Can you imagine Merlin going into the future, seeing all of these inventions, and then coming back to this time and trying to explain them to people? They would think that he is completely mad; Merlin needs to watch his sugar intake if that pot keeps dumping more sugar into his tea; I can only imagine what the actor voicing Merlin could’ve been thinking seeing some of the random words he would have to say and sing; That wolf is so determined to get at Arthur no matter the obstacle in his path; Ector seems like he does care about Arthur, but yet he has him work in the kitchen like a slave; Nothing worse in the world than a “wizard blizzard”; Merlin did a hell of a job to get all of his stuff crammed in that small tower; You figured one of those days that tower would collapse when the drawbridge slammed down onto the ground; Merlin’s threat to Archimedes is to turn him into a human, he already talks and enjoys tea so he’s not far off; All these years of doing the tournament and now they decide to have the winner be the King of England; Kay has to be one of the worst knights ever if he can get knocked off his horse by a mechanical knight staying in one place; Merlin tells Arthur that magic won’t solve all his problems yet he plans to cheat if he wants to convince Arthur to learn under him; It is interesting that Merlin would turn himself and Arthur into a fish to learn about physics; So Merlin tells Arthur not to trust in fate and only he can decide how far he’ll go, but if Merlin can see into the future doesn’t he already know that Arthur will be king or is he just playing it up so Arthur can prove himself?; Didn’t Arthur at any point think about trying to free Merlin from the helmet?; I never knew that owls could last in water as long as Archimedes did; Merlin was so fixated on taking out the big fish that he almost forgot to turn Arthur back into a human; So not only did Arthur’s voice change drastically when he was telling Ector and Kay about being a fish, but the dialogue was not matching the animation of his mouth as well; I can’t believe they couldn’t have done a better job in figuring out how to handle having three people voice Arthur at the right times; How many people actually live in this castle that they can have that many dirty dishes?; I feel like the animators were inspired by Sleeping Beauty to have Merlin use his magic to have the dishes cleaned; It is funny that even as an animal, Merlin keeps his glasses and mustache; Again, an interesting choice of animal to learn about gravity with squirrels; That female squirrel was immediately smitten with Arthur; So not only is Arthur learning about gravity, he is also learning about love while being a squirrel; Merlin was having so much fun when the female squirrel was chasing Arthur, but didn’t like it so much when it was happening to him; That female squirrel showed no fear in saving Arthur from the wolf; Arthur was so quick to be transformed back into a human, but after he was he then felt bad for the squirrel knowing she lost her true love; If Ector thinks that dishes cleaning themselves is black magic, I can’t imagine how he would react to real black magic; Those are some strong pans if they can shatter a sword like that; Ector says that Hobbs is going to be Kay’s new squire and the audience watching is thinking, “Who’s Hobbs?”; “New World to be Discovered in 1492”; Archimedes did make some pretty good points and Merlin is so frustrated that he makes Archimedes Arthur’s new teacher; Arthur is pretty good at writing considering he doesn’t know how to write; Merlin’s beard is quite strong as it has been through a lot this whole film; Archimedes was so against having Arthur around yet he has no problem showing him how to fly; Is that solitaire that Mim is playing?; It is always funny that they have to have an evil equivalent to someone good as we have Mim to counter Merlin; So the knights have jousting while Merlin and Mim have a Wizard’s Duel; That is quite the array of animals that they change into and yet Merlin is able to win by becoming a germ and infecting Mim with a disease; I wouldn’t think sunshine would be the best thing for Mim if she is covered in spots; The maid tells Ector that Hobbs has come down with the mumps and once again the audience watching asks “Who’s Hobbs?”; Arthur was so willing to learn from Merlin yet he threw it all away when he was given his squire position back; Merlin says “Blow me to Bermuda” as an insult and yet he is actually blown not only to Bermuda, but Bermuda in the 20th century as we would find out; Considering that the sword in the stone was covered in vines by one point, are we to believe that someone has been keeping it clean in case someone pulls it out?; Ector points to where the inscription is on the sword yet nothing is there in the shot; They put the sword back into the anvil with ease only for it to become impossible to pull out again until Arthur does it; Ector was quite forgiving to Arthur upon learning he was now King; England finally has a King after so long and Arthur wants to run away; That was a quick return for Merlin after Arthur just called his name out; If Merlin thinks the 20th century is a mess, he better thank his lucky stars he didn’t go to the 21st century; “King Arthur and his Knights of the Square Table” just doesn’t seem right, it’s a good thing the table was round; So Merlin’s description of motion pictures is it is like television without the commercials.
Overall Thoughts: Overall, the film was about as average as you could get as it was fine as a film, but it wasn’t anything too good and it was a major step down from the last few films that had come out. It is a bit sad in a way that this would be the last film released while Walt Disney was still alive, but there wasn’t anything they could do about it as I’m sure they thought Walt would still be around until at least a little while longer. As I mentioned, the film looked like it was completely out of date in terms of the animations which was strange considering how far they had come, but in a way I guess it worked out given the subject matter. After starting the decade fairly strong, this was a big step in the wrong direction and hopefully the next film would be able to turn things back around to close out the decade. As for this film, it was a pretty basic film that wasn’t bad, but wasn’t good either and it pretty much could just be described as average.
Final Grade: 5/10