This is the sixth addition in an ongoing series that will form a comprehensive review of the ‘official’ Walt Disney Animation Studio’s canon – from 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs through 2016’s Moana and beyond.
For reference, here is a complete list of the films in the Disney canon.
- Film: The Sword in the Stone
- Year: 1963
- Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
- Length: 79 Minutes
- Source Material: The Sword in the Stone (1938 Novel) by T.H. White
- Official Budget: $3 Million
- Official Box Office: $22.2 Million
Walt Disney first obtained the film rights to T.H. White’s novel in 1939, with initial development work starting about 10 years later. After the completion of One Hundred and One Dalmatians in 1960, multiple projects within Disney were vying for the ‘greenlight’ to become production; with The Sword in the Stone eventually getting the thumbs up from Mr. Disney.
The Sword in the Stone was a financial success for the studio, being the sixth highest grossing and highest grossing animated film of 1963. However, reviews from critics were more mixed.
The Sword in the Stone has more than enough humorous moments, but lacks any resemblance of an actual story. While describing the plot outline of this film is as simple as ‘a young Arthur finds his way ascending to his role as King of the Brits with help from the wizard Merlin’. However, many of the scenes have little to nothing to do with that agenda, and the film’s plot wanders in many seemingly random directions.
The first 30 minutes are completely devoid of any plot whatsoever, and instead is just a series of scenes with no purpose or affiliation with the film’s ‘plot’. While it’s fun to see Merlin turn Arthur into a squirrel and into a fish, the lessons he learned never bear any fruit later in the film. Supposedly, the purpose was to teach Arthur to learn to use his brains over his brawn, but those lessons are convoluted. There is also the inclusion of a minor antagonist, a starving wolf, that tries to catch and eat Arthur. Don’t try to figure out how this wraps into the larger story, because it doesn’t.
When the introduction of the titular sword finally comes up, it is rushed and the importance is never fully explained. Overall, there is no ‘point’ to this story.
Young Arthur is as banal as a lead character Disney has ever offered up. Disney’s unfortunate usage of 3 different voice actors with contrasting accents will confuse any observant viewer.
There is no ‘villain’ to be found in this story, which makes issues with story and lack of plot development even more recognizable. For those that might want to offer up Madam Mim, the black magic witch, as the film’s antagonist – she isn’t. She is a rival and nemesis to Merlin, but isn’t a true film villain since she has nothing to do with Arthur or his ascent to the throne.
The most memorable character is legendary wizard Merlin, who does provide some comic relief and point of interest, backed up by the great voice work of Karl Swenson.
Compared to its’ contemporaries, The Sword in the Stone is not poorly animated, but when viewed in historical context, it simply doesn’t have the same lasting iconic design of films it is bookended by (1961’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians and 1967’s The Jungle Book). Again, the bright spot is Merlin and his character design; with the low hanging glasses and long white beard that would become copied in many future big screen wizard depictions. The look and design of Merlin is both fun and memorable.
Not much to listen to here from composing duo The Sherman Brothers, except for the goofy Merlin number ‘Higitus Figitus’ which is a fun number.
The Sword in the Stone is often forgotten when surveying the Disney Animation landscape; and for good reason. Ho-hum animation, mostly forgettable characters, and an absent plot are the key takeaways from this 1963 animated feature.