by D.W. Lundberg

Sunday, August 21, 2011


My continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries have also been included below.

Title: The Sword In The Stone (1963; based on the novel by T. H. White)

The Plot: In the midst of the Dark Ages, Merlin the Magician tutors a 12-year-old orphan named Arthur, who is prophesized to become the future king of England.

The Songs: "The Legend Of The Sword In The Stone," "Higitus Figitus," "That's What Makes The World Go Round," "A Most Befuddling Thing," "Mad Madame Mim"

A Little History: Story man Bill Pete first brought The Sword In The Stone to Walt Disney's attention in 1939. The novel – part of an epic series by T.H. White, titled The Once And Future King – no doubt appealed to Walt, because of its prankish magic and whimsical tone. Yet Disney waited to greenlight the project until the early 60s, after he attended a performance of Camelot (Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's hit musical version of the same story) on Broadway. Pete wrote the adaptation for the film, and based many of Merlin's personality quirks on Disney himself. Xerox photography was again used to animate the film, as it was the most cost-effective technology at the time. Choice bits of animation were recycled from previous films (a trend that would quickly become the trademark of director Wolfgang Reitherman), including a deer modeled on Bambi's mother, and a fight scene taken directly from One Hundred And One Dalmatians. Arthur was voiced by three separate child actors, because their voices kept changing over the course of production. Sword In The Stone was released on Christmas Day, 1963, and grossed $4.5 million at the U.S. box office. It was the studio's last animated release before Walt Disney's untimely death in 1966.

How It Broke New Ground: The first animated Disney feature directed by a single person, rather than a team of sequence directors working under a supervising director. (Wolfgang Reitherman had been working at the studio for nearly thirty years, and would go on to direct every Disney title until his retirement in 1980.)  Also the first animated film with songs by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman.

How It Holds Up Today: I don't mind it, really. The pacing is snappy, the characters are likable (even Wart's foster guardians act more like stern parental figures, rather than the spiteful step- family dynamic of Cinderella), and the humor's so gleefully anachronistic it almost makes you forget the episodic nature of the plot. (In the novel, Merlin lives backwards through time, so that he grows younger the longer the story goes on; this idea was clearly too philosophical to pass off on the kiddies, so instead, Disney's Merlin gains most of his knowledge from extended trips to the future.) The animation and backgrounds, meanwhile, are dull and generic - I'm still not sold on the cheapjack Xeroxing technique, though the face-off between Merlin and the "magnificent, marvelous, mad" Madam Mim is definitely a highlight. Still, despite the choppy, haphazard look, there are divine lessons at play here, such as the power of one's own humility and learning the value of brains over brawn.

Grade: B


1 comment:

  1. This movie makes me giggle a LOT! ;) Thanks for reminding me about this one....I'm not sure my kids have even seen it!