The Sword in the Stone (1963)
The Sword in the Stone (1963)

Genre: Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 19 min.

Release Date: December 25th, 1963 MPAA Rating: G

Director: Wolfgang Reitherman Actors: Sebastian Cabot, Karl Swenson, Rickie Sorensen, Junius Matthews, Ginny Tyler

 


 

D

isney’s “The Sword in the Stone” is a fun-filled feature length cartoon that utilizes the company’s renowned flair for molding famous tales of fantasy into family friendly entertainment. But with a storyline that is merely one comedy scene after another, no real villains, predicaments, or antagonists, and no love interest, the film retains a monotone lightheartedness that prevents deeper audience involvement. Funny but unmoving, “The Sword in the Stone” is, understandably, the only Disney animated feature from the ‘60s that didn’t receive a special home video treatment, sequel, remake, or TV show spin-off.

It’s a harsh time in medieval London, with the lack of a true heir to the throne throwing the city into disarray. A legendary sword is sturdily embedded in a stone in the town square, with an inscription that claims the person who can remove it shall rule England. Initially, the heavenly sign is gallantly fought over, but when no one can remove the blade, a passage of time causes the townsfolk to forget the omen.

Arthur (voiced by Rickie Sorensen, as well as director Wolfgang Reitherman’s sons Richard and Robert), called Wart by his adopted family, runs errands for Sir Ector (Sebastian Cabot), and hopes to be a squire during the upcoming New Year’s Day tournament for the throne – the only new solution devised by a population in need of a king. Bumbling wizard Merlin (Karl Swenson) and his faithful yet belligerent owl Archimedes encounter young Wart in the forest, just as the sorcerer had predicted. Realizing his purpose is to train the boy to become someone very special indeed, Merlin takes up a room in Ector’s castle and begins to teach the boy life skills – with the help of his eccentric imagination, the skeptical owl, and haywire magic.

The majority of the film is spent transforming Wart and Merlin into various animals and learning life lessons through the eyes of such creatures. From a fish to a bird to a squirrel, the wacky wizard hopes to educate Wart in the things that matter by creating occasionally perilous situations. As each adventure comes to a finish, “The Sword in the Stone” feels less like a carefully plotted Disney story, and more like several episodes of a TV show haphazardly strung together. Each event is a wonderful setup for humor, and indeed this production displays more comedy than most animated features, but it doesn’t help the basic storyline become more complex or poignant.

The songs are not of the usual caliber, either, and are quickly forgotten; however, the score itself is melodious and dramatic. The predicaments Wart gets into aren’t all that serious, and the only real foe is the marvelously mad Madam Mim (Martha Wentworth), who couldn’t be less of a threat. Her character does little more than create mischievous situations for nonstop laughs during the thaumaturgists’ duel. The lack of a love interest similarly fails to help the effectiveness of the story. Short and simple, the film offers up useful children’s teachings in the form of a cartoon, but doesn’t differentiate itself from other educational endeavors of the time. It is, unfortunately, just not compelling enough to ever match Disney’s other animated masterpieces.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10