"The Sword in the Stone" Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
The Legend of King Arthur has been a popular story for many generations. The tale of how he pulled Excalibur out of the stone it was trapped in, making him the King of England, has been adapted into numerous novels, films, television programs, and staged plays. Perhaps one of the most famous adaptations comes from Walt Disney in 1963, when him and his company made "The Sword in the Stone". While I certainly don't think it aged very well today, this animated classic is still full of heart and contains some enjoyable segments and characters.
The movie revolves around a young Arthur (Rickie Sorensen), whose abusive foster family simply calls Wart. He is training with his foster brother Kay (Normal Alden) to be a squire. That is when Merlin (Karl Swenson) appears, who is an old, magical wizard that knows Arthur is destined to pull the fated Sword out of the stone, making him the rightful King of the country. He takes young Arthur under his wing, becoming his tutor alongside his owl, Archimedes (Junius Matthews). However, from complications with his foster family to evil witch Madam Mim (Martha Wentworth) trying to ruin everything for both Merlin and Arthur, they must find a way to ensure Arthur becomes the rightful King of England.
One of the best things about this movie, hands down, is Merlin. Since the release of this film, he has been a major icon in the Disney canon, turning into the male equivalent of the Fairy Godmother in a way. Throughout the movie, he is hilarious and just a really fun character. He obviously cares about Arthur and wants him to succeed throughout his life, but he has such a hot temper that explodes at various times. Consider perhaps the funniest scene in the film, when Merlin declares in a hot fit of rage, "Blow me to Bermuda!", and then is literally blown to Bermuda. The comedic timing in this film works a lot of the time, and pays off in scenes like this.
At the same time, Swenson has fantastic chemistry with Matthews, as they play partners and friends. They are able to excellently riff off each other, and really provide some of the best comedic moments in the entire film. Archimedes by himself is already a funny and enjoyable character, but it makes it a lot better when he is paired with the old wizard. Another character that makes this movie better is Madam Mim, which is the best segment in the entire movie. She unfortunately doesn't get enough screen-time, but she is so much fun when she is present. I adore the scene she fought Merlin and tried to capture Arthur for her own personal gain.
However, before Mim appears and then transitions into Arthur pulling the sword from the stone, the story doesn't really work for me. The entire movie revolves around Merlin trying to be a tutor to Arthur, which spends a lot of the runtime teaching him lessons and turning him into different animals. While the animation isn't bad, it's certainly not the best when looking at Disney's usual standard of animation. But the story as a whole is just not very good. It's slow, all-over-the-place, and really just not structured or very linear. I'm not sure what Disney and his filmmakers were going for with this one, but I think this is easily one of the worst stories in Walt Disney Animation's history.
At the same time, the songs aren't very memorable, nor is Arthur. Sure, everyone knows the iconic scene of him pulling out the sword, but it makes me wonder if that is the only reason audiences today know him. In my opinion, he is sort of a weak and unlikable protagonist at times, making it peculiar that he is the one to be King of England. He does redeem himself somewhat as the movie goes along, but not well enough to make him this great hero, especially by Disney's standards. The songs, on the other hand, are very short and odd. They're not catchy or very fun, which probably makes them so forgettable by the time you finish the movie.
I think this movie is a perfect example of style over substance. I did enjoy a few things about this movie, especially some of the characters and the Madam Mim segment, but it seems like many aspects of this film didn't age well at all. While it is fun and enjoyable at times, I think there are more negatives that outweigh the positives present here in this film unfortunately.