Released on December 25, 1963, The Sword in the Stone was the 18th full-length animated feature in Disney history and the last to premiere before Walt Disney’s death. The film, which is based on T. H. White’s 1938 novel of the same name, is 79 minutes in length.
Because the good King of England has died without a suitable replacement, and nobody is capable of pulling the divine sword from the stone to assume the throne, the land has entered the Dark Ages. People fear each other, and war dominates.
Still, there is hope for the kingdom. A wizard named Merlin has faith in a young orphan boy named Arthur, who is called “Wart” by both his foster father, Sir Ector, and his foster brother, Sir Kay, respectively.
After Arthur literally “drops in” on Merlin, the wizard befriends the boy and tries to convince him that he can be great if he studies hard. To this end, Merlin, Arthur, and Merlin’s grumpy but caring owl, Archimedes, partake in bizarre adventures together for the duration of the movie.
Simultaneously, it is announced that a jousting tournament to be held on New Year’s Day in London will determine the new king. Kay is a participant in this competition; Arthur is not. All hope is lost for the boy. Or is it?
The wizard is my favorite character in The Sword in the Stone. He has a beard with hair so long that Rapunzel would be proud of it, and he can see into the future. Interestingly, he has a better grasp on abstract ideas from centuries ahead than he does on his role in the present day. For example, while he can discuss gravity and steam locomotion with ease, he often forgets directions and his spells.
Although Merlin is undoubtedly a tad frazzled, he has a good heart. Merlin believes in Arthur and tries to make the boy realize that he can achieve greatness by thinking and studying; he uses his magic to create situations that will teach the boy about life.
Near the end of the movie, Merlin fights a duel with Madam Mim, a rival wizard, who engages in “black magic.” It’s no surprise that Merlin prevails against Mim because good always triumphs over evil! Or at least it usually does in Disney’s animated films.
Some of the best sequences in the film involve Merlin discussing concepts that won’t be discovered for several more centuries. So, when he mentions gravity and Bermuda—not so calmly in the case of the latter—to Arthur, the boy is confused. Ditto when Merlin brings up television and motion pictures. Ah, the power of dramatic irony!
Also entertaining are the animal-battle scenes where Merlin, Arthur, and Archimedes fight various critters, including a persistent and unlucky wolf, a couple of squirrels, and a fish. As an aside, though the squirrel sequence is funny on the whole, its conclusion represents arguably the saddest moment in the film, one that shows love to be a greater force than gravity!
Development, both in terms of the characters and the overall plot, is where I feel The Sword in the Stone falls short. While there is a loose plot concerning Arthur’s destiny to become the King of England, the emphasis is more on the comedy of the individual scenes. I found most of these scenes to be both thought provoking and funny, but the movie will likely fall flat if you don’t understand or mesh with the humor.
Furthermore, there is no notable villain in the film. In other Disney films of the period, a really evil character such as Lady Tremaine (Cinderella) sets the stage for the conclusion, which actually serves to make the protagonist’s eventual accomplishment more enjoyable.
Sir Ector and Sir Kay probably come the closest to being the villains of The Sword in the Stone in that they are mean, but they aren’t so bad in their limited airtime that you can really gain much disdain for them. This is especially true for Ector, who came off more as aloof than as cruel to me. Also, while Mim and some of the animals could be considered villains, I find them lacking and feel they’re mainly included for laughs.
The music in the film is catchy, albeit forgettable. You’ll likely enjoy the various tunes while watching the movie, but the songs aren’t so great that you’ll search them out later.
Sung while Merlin is packing for his trip with Arthur, “Higitus Figitus” reminded me of “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” from Cinderella because of its silly lyrics, its fast-paced rhythm, and the literal magic that occurs during its rendition.
In the Parks
Disneyland Park in California is home to “King Arthur Carrousel.” A replica of the sword in the stone sits adjacent to the attraction.
The lack of development hinders the film and prevents it from being a classic. Still, I enjoyed The Sword in the Stone because I found it to be both funny and thought provoking.
What do you think of The Sword in the Stone? Let me know in a comment!
I'm a huge fan of the various Disney theme parks and movies. I've made several trips to both Walt Disney World and Disneyland with my family.
Additionally, I'm interested in sports and American history.