"Who so pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil is rightwise king born of England." So says the plaque affixed to a mysterious sword that miraculously materializes after the good King passed away, leaving no heir to his throne. Despite the apparent simplicity of the task, the years pass by and still no man is able to accomplish it.
Yet the magician Merlin (voiced by Karl Swenson) is not concerned, for he has seen the future. While sometimes befuddled, the soothsayer is convinced he knows who the next monarch will be, and is busily preparing to be his tutor. When the soon-to-be sovereign finally does drop in--the candidate is a mere boy.
Even though he is young, Arthur-- more commonly known as Wart (voiced by Rickie Sorensen, Robert and Richard Reitherman), aspires to become a squire to a Knight in training named Kay (voiced by Norman Alden). But Merlin knows he has far greater potential than that. Gaining the grudging approval of Wart's guardian, Sir Ector (voiced bySebastian Cabot), Merlin sets out to educate his pupil using some unconventional methods.
These include turning the good-natured child into various animals. As Wart tries on the life of a fish, a squirrel and a bird, the movie's storyline breaks into a series of vignettes. In each case the wizened wizard hopes valuable knowledge will be imparted. Unfortunately, just like the magician himself is oft confused, so are his messages. The power of love gets tangled up in the antics of some flirty tree dwellers, and the importance of education is downplayed by the use of magic to save the day. Even the supremacy of brains over brawn, which is carefully crafted between the scrawny Wart and the buffoon Kay, loses its impact when Wart's forgetfulness proves to be the deciding factor in his fate.
Although The Sword in the Stone contains few content concerns,such as mild name-calling, some medieval fighting portrayed in a comical fashion, and a stealthy wolf (who will only intimidate the youngest of viewers), the film still falls short of Disney's usual proud accomplishments. Other drawbacks include problems with an aging actor which forced the production team to cast more than one voice to play the part of Wart (anyone particular about continuity may find this rather irritating), mediocre animation, and a disjointed plot containing sequences that stand better alone.
One of the best examples of this is the now famous duel between Merlin and the wicked witch Madame Mim (voiced by Martha Wentworth). During the war of the wands, each party is allowed to turn into a creature to combat their rival's choice. This showdown offers the movie's strongest teaching moment: Who so watcheth this film, may he learn that survival of the fittest includes living by your creative wits.
Discussion Ideas: Talk About the Movie...
To afford Wart more time for education, Merlin bewitches the kitchen so the dishes will do themselves. If you had magical powers, how would you use them? Earlier in the film however, Merlin warned Wart that magic could not solve his problems. What kind of an education do we gain by having to work though challenges ourselves?
The legend of King Arthur is featured in several movies including, Camelot and A Kid in King Arthur’s Court. The tradition of English boys and magic is carried on in the work of J.K. Rawlings stories about Harry Potter.
Home Video Notes
Home Video Notes: The Sword in the Stone: 50th Anniversary Edition Release Date: 6 August 2013
The Sword in the Stone releases to home video (Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy) in a 50th Anniversary Edition. Bonus extras include:
- Never-Before-Seen Alternate Opening: Where Wart Meets Merlin
- Music Magic: The Sherman Brothers
- Sing Along With The Movie
- Bonus Short: “A Knight For A Day”
- Bonus Short: “Brave Little Tailor”
- And More!
DVD Notes: The Sword in the Stone: 45th Anniversary Edition DVD Release Date: 17 June 2008
Disney’s The Sword in the Stone turns 45—and little Wart doesn’t look a day older! This tale of King Arthur’s childhood comes to DVD with the following bonus features: animated shorts (Goofy’s Knight For a Day and Mickey’s Brave Little Tailor), a behind-the-scenes featurette (learn about the film’s musical composers in Music Magic: The Sherman Brothers and listen to an unused song The Magic Key), an interactive scrapbook and a game (Merlin’s Magical Academy). Audio tracks are available in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound (English, French and Spanish), with subtitles in English, French and Spanish.