A great look back at one of my most nostalgic Disney classics. While visibly flawed, I can’t help but enjoy it enormously.
Disney’s 1963 crack at the legend of King Arthur remains their one and only attempt. Curious considering how involved and incredible and magical the stories and characters can be. The Sword in the Stone follows a young Arthur, unfairly called Wart, as he enthusiastically looks to become his brother’s squire. However when the whimsical wizard Merlin arrives to teach him about the world and the future through magic, Wart discovers there can be a little more to him than simply being a squire.
Sadly, The Sword in the Stone was the last feature film Walt Disney himself would see released, and even more critically, it was released when the company itself was in turmoil and at risk of total collapse. It would be saved by the lighthearted Jungle Book, but Sword in the Stone certainly feels… flawed… and old.
There are lovable and memorable characters here, while Wart is a little whiny and plain (deliberately so) Merlin is one of my favourite Disney characters! His talking owl Archimedes, and of course Mad Madam Mim!
The film has a similar structure to The Jungle Book; it is a series of events that Wart finds himself in. Merlin transforms him into various animals throughout the film intending to teach the boy about life and the universe, from a fish, a squirrel and a bird! Each sequence is colourful, musical and full of great character design and animation as the two characters of Merlin and Arthur maintain something of their physical selves even as animals. There’s even some great side characters too, from a terrifying pike to a feisty and fun female squirrel.
When Mad Madam Mim come onto the scene at the end of the lengthy second act, things really get creative and exciting!
But, you can really see the mechanical parts of the animation, even while watching a remastered, re-coloured Blu-ray edition! Classic Disney always recycled animation and frames, but usually between films and not so heavily within just one! The Sword in the Stone has some quite embarrassing reused animation, and more apparent, reused audio! The same sound of Arthur crying out in alarm is used four or five times! Also our hero had three voice actors (Rickie Sorensen and the director Wolfgang Reitherman’s two sons: Richard and Robert) which allows for some strange voice changes mid-scene, from broken to unbroken!
All of these things really pull you out of the experience.
Storywise too it is very simplistic despite a very inspiring premise. The idea is that you can aspire to be more than you know, yet the film is so convicted to show Merlin’s lessons that the main storyline is hammered into only the final few minutes!
But for all its huge mechanical issues and flaws, it is such a nostalgic and nice film! Merlin’s magic making all the dirty dishes dance and wash themselves? Classic Disney moment!
Kids should always be brought up with this film, in my opinion.