The Disney Marathon: ‘The Sword in the Stone’


If you’re closely following this series by me and my children then two things. Firstly, hi mum! Secondly, you know that we were supposed to be in Disneyland right now but the world went to hell. Instead we’re having a Disney heavy week with waffles, churros, games and movies. Today’s random selection is this oddball take on the Arthurian legend.

For those just joining us, this is a movie marathon with a twist. Myself (cranky 30s blogger), my son Josh (stoic 9 year old Nintendo obsessive) and my daughter Amelia (drama llama 7 year old princess wannabe) are watching Disney movies in a random order and ranking them. We hope to see interesting differences in how we organise our lists.

Film: The Sword in the Stone

Released: 1963

Director: Wolfgang Reitherman

Cast: Rickie Sorensen, Richard Reitherman, Robert Reitherman, Karl Swenson, Junius Matthews, Martha Wentworth

Plot: A young squire named ‘Wart’ crosses paths with the eccentric wizard Merlin, who takes it upon himself to educate the young boy in order to prepare him for a noble future.

Review: This is the second feature in a row from Wolfgang ‘Woofie” Reitherman, one of the legendary ‘Nine Old Men’ of Disney animation. There’s a reason why Reitherman was such a staple at the Disney studio – it’s because he delivered the goods.

For a movie from the earlier days of the company it is something of an oddity. In spite of the fantasy setting there’s no princess, a bittersweet ending and a somewhat messy narrative. The story begins with Merlin (Swenson) lamented the Dark Ages not featuring electricity, cementing him has one of the most delightfully eccentric characters in the Disney canon. Actually that’s a lie, it starts with a massive exposition dump in the form of song against a book, outlining the history of the titular sword in the stone, something that won’t come back into play until the final act. It’s a silly way to set up the finale, especially as they don’t mention it again until the end of the movie. You might want to sow the seeds a bit better there.

Anyway, back to Merlin. He’s immediately the star of the show, having lose knowledge of future events and boundless energy, plus a snobbish owl to argue with. He’s something of a precursor to the Genie in Aladdin, but while that character was very much Robin Williams being let off the chain, Merlin was modelled after Walt Disney himself. Reitherman described Walt as being his own ‘wizard’ and wanted to capture his energy and passion in Merlin. There’s a good reason why Merlin turns up in places like Kingdon Hearts, as he’s immediately familiar and brings a sense of fun.

Merlin is anticipating the arrival of ‘Wart’, a young squire who is curious and clumsy, and often driven by his emotion. When they cross paths, Merlin insists on becoming his mentor and teacher. The film then moves from one vignette to another as Merlin and Wart are turned into different animals to have mini-adventures. This could be a reason why the film doesn’t hold as strong a position in people’s memories as the princess driven films, as it feels like a collection of shorts rather a complete film. Each individual piece is fun on it’s own. Wart and Merlin become fish, birds, squirrels and eventually some into conflict with the mad Madam Mim (Wentworth) for a magical duel.

We didn’t mention the voice actor for young Wart, and with good reason. For some reason or another they ended up using Reitherman’s sons to fill out some of the dialogue, meaning that three young performers in total lent their voices to the part. This creates a real disconnect in the film, as Warts voice sometimes changes from line to line within a single scene. It lends an uncharacteristic unpolished feeling to the production.

Aside from Merlin there’s some really fun sequences in this movie. The duel between Merlin and Mim is worth the time on its own, being packed with creativity and humour. Both characters are examples of effectively conveying personality through design and animation, and they keep these quirks regardless of the form they take. We’d also give a nod to the scene where Wart, now revealed as Arthur if you couldn’t guess, attempts to draw the sword from the stone whilst being unaware of its significance.

Earlier on we mentioned a bitter-sweet ending to the story. By the time Wart has found his way to the titular sword, he has fallen out with Merlin and finds himself alone in a highly surprising situation. Initially we see Wart, now Arthur, sitting on the throne and entirely by himself. He does reach out to Merlin, who returns from a vacation in the 21st century in order to provide words of wisdom and encouragement. What we leave on is Merlin and Arthur together, but facing a future of great responsibility and importance. It’s a great departure from the ‘happily ever after’ Disney usually deliver. Ultimately it’s interesting that they took the entirety of the Arthurian legend and focused in on a snapshot of his childhood.

Weirdest Trivia: This movie become a turning point for the Disney company. It was the last animated movie produced by Walt Disney, who passed away during The Jungle Book. It’s also the first movie featuring songs by The Sherman Brothers, who became a studio staple and wrote the memorable numbers for Mary Poppins.

Rating: SEVEN out of TEN

THE RANKING

ME

Click on the titles if you want to see what we said about these films!

There’s a few reasons why this film earned itself in a high spot on my list. I like the sense of mirth that Merlin brings to the adventure, and how care-free it feels as a whole. Arthur also reminds me of Joshua, who is also a rather sensitive lad who sometimes runs out of patience with the tomfoolery of his father-figure. But unlike Merlin, I can’t time travel.

  1. Robin Hood
  2. Aladdin
  3. Big Hero 6
  4. The Sword in the Stone
  5. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  6. Emperor’s New Groove
  7. Fantasia
  8. The Aristocats
  9. Treasure Planet
  10. Chicken Little

AMELIA

Amelia ranked this movie quite highly, but it couldn’t beat a story about kittens. She was very moved by the squirrel scene, where the girl squirrel falls in love with a transmogrified Wart only to learn the truth in a tear-jerking moment.

  1. Robin Hood
  2. Emperor’s New Groove
  3. The Aristocats
  4. The Sword in the Stone
  5. Aladdin
  6. Treasure Planet
  7. Big Hero 6
  8. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  9. Chicken Little
  10. Fantasia

JOSHUA

Joshua liked this movie. He didn’t have much to add, but he found it fun. He wasn’t familiar with the King Arthur story, but managed to piece it all together pretty quickly.

  1. Big Hero 6
  2. Aladdin
  3. Emperor’s New Groove
  4. Treasure Planet
  5. Robin Hood
  6. The Sword in the Stone
  7. The Aristocats
  8. Fantasia
  9. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  10. Chicken Little