The Sword in the Stone

July 29, 2014 at 2:37 am (5 Heads, Sword in the Stone) (, , , , , , , )

The Sword in the Stone – 1963 – United States

The Sword in the Stone is based on T. H. White’s 1938 novel of the same name. The film’s storybook opening recounts the familiar legend: “Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil is rightwise king born of all England.” Of course, none have managed the feat. Without leadership, 6th century England is trapped in the Dark Ages.

Arthur is a gangly lad training to be the squire of his brutish foster brother. But Arthur’s destiny changes after a fateful meeting with Merlin the wizard. Merlin teaches Arthur about life and science by transforming him into various animals, which makes little sense in the context of the film. These lessons ramble on exhaustingly until Arthur arrives in London, where he inadvertently draws the sword from the stone and becomes England’s king.

Sword in the Stone feels like the first chapter of a larger work. Merlin’s tutoring comprises most of the narrative, but seems like exposition. When Arthur finally becomes king, one hopes for a grand quest, but the film ends instead. This is unsurprising since T. H. White’s novel is the beginning of a four part epic, but children’s entertainment demands more action and adventure. The “wizard’s duel” is Sword in the Stone’s most exciting bit, although Merlin is so doddering and irritating, it is hard to care if he wins. Arthur is not very interesting either, mostly just showing surprise or delight at Merlin’s wacky antics.

Sword in the Stone was Disney’s last animated film before Walt Disney’s death. It is not well known probably because it lacks the likable characters, memorable music, and vivacious energy of Disney’s other animated efforts. Compared to the earlier Peter Pan (1953), Lady and the Tramp (1955), Sleeping Beauty (1959), and One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), Sword in the Stone is an archaic oddity.

Rating: 5/10 Shrunken Heads. Will that squirrel ever find love again?


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