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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Disneyear: The Sword in the Stone (1963)

The Sword in the Stone... you know, I'm not quite sure where to put this in my list of favorite Disney films. I mean I liked this movie as a kid but now... well, there's sort of an annoyance to it. I don't exactly hate it, but... ok, let me explain.

Let's start with the story. In the Dark Ages, a boy named Arthur (nicknamed Wart throughout the film. Isn't that nice?) meets with an elderly but eccentric wizard named Merlin. Merlin wants Arthur to have an education so that he can go on to make something great of himself in this time. Arthur's caretaker, Sir Ector, allows Merlin to stay at his castle because he's afraid that if he kicks the old wizard out, he'll get hexed. As the year goes by, we see Merlin teach Arthur about the ways of life and more as they change into squirrels, fish, and birds. After a wizard's duel with Merlin's rival Mad Madame Mim to rescue Arthur as a sparrow, the boy becomes a squire for Sir Kay, Ector's son. Outraged at this decision, Merlin leaves for Bermuda. During the winter, Arthur forgot to pack Kay's sword but finds one lodged in a stone in a churchyard. The people find out that it's really the legendary Sword in the Stone and crown Arthur as the King of England. Merlin comes back in the end to check on Arthur, but is excited to see that Arthur became a king so that we can continue on the philosophies of being the once and future king king.

So what's good about the movie? Well, there's some notable things. For example, these characters do stick with you. Merlin's a great character, being old, eccentric, and using magic only for the betterment of man. Arthur himself is a nice character, naive and innocent but optimistic and willing to put up with the worst crap from his caretakers. These two have this nice relationship with one another. Its kind of like hanging out with your fun grandpa who happens to do magic. The side characters are a ton of fun, especially Mad Madame Mim even though she's more of a side character versus the main villain. And that wizard's duel scene is awesome! This was my favorite growing up. I watched it so many times that I wore out the VHS. It's really creative and has some great slapstick in it.

The songs are pretty clever too. But this was the first Disney flick that had the songwriting duo The Sherman Brothers write the music for. My personal favorite is the first song, Higitus Figitus. I like how it starts off kind of easy, but fast and it just gets faster and faster as it ends.

There's also That's What Makes the World Go Round. It's an okay song, but it's clever in that the main idea of the movie is present in this song.

There are some really creative moments in it too such as to learn lessons in life, Arthur becomes all these animals which is fun for kids. I also love the main idea of this movie. It's nice to see a film about King Arthur that dives into the philosophies of being a good king versus the sword fights and such.

Then again, that's the movie's main problem. When you get down to it, it's really all about education and learning things. Is that really what you want to see when you watch a Disney movie? It's like going to school, only your teachers are Merlin and Archimedes the owl. But... that's really cool too! But nothing exciting really happens until the last third when we get introduced to Mim. The animation is still nice but not especially astounding. I'll admit, that sketchy style of animation from this decade works great with hair, especially Merlin's beard.

Arthur's voice acting always bugged me too. From what I looked up, he had three different kids voice him. THREE! Why three? Why not stick with one kid like every other movie does? They don't quite mesh together either. One of them actually sounds like an 11-12 year old kid, which is perfect because that's how old Arthur is in this movie. The other two sound like pubescent teenagers. If you watch this movie again, you'll notice. Trust me.

So yeah, The Sword in the Stone is quite a mixed bag. I like it for it's idea and the nostalgia, but it's a little more boring than I remember. I think I admire what it was trying to do versus the final product. I will say that I am glad I saw it when I was a kid and I suppose I'm glad that I saw it again as an adult, but it's sort of hard to recommend this one at the same time. All I can say is that if you do see it, you'll get some good characters with a few creative moments, making it worth at least one watch.

Update: A reader of the blog, Craig Prior, was kind enough to show me an image of an original cell of The Sword in the Stone that he received when he was a kid one day at Disneyland. With his permission, I'd like to show it to you.

Ain't it a beaut?

And here's it's certificate of authenticity.


joecab said...

And didja notice WHO those kids were? There was Rickie Sorensen who was an actual kid actor (fine), but then director Woolie Reitherman two sons Richard and Robert who sounded notably different in age. Nepotism?

Justin Smith said...

I knew Reitherman's sons had acted in some of these films. In fact, his third son Bruce was in "The Jungle Book" as Mowgli and in one of the Winnie the Pooh shorts as Christopher Robin. I think you're right. Nepotism has something to do with this. Again, just a theory. :)

Slobiker (Craig Prior) said...

In 1964 my family went to Disneyland (Anaheim) and they were selling off animation cells. They had thousands of 'em. Whereas there were Mickey Mouses, Donal Ducks, Goofies, et al, I chose an obscure cell from Sword in the Stone... at that time my favorite movie. $2.00. Framed with protective celluloid and a certificate of authenticity on the back. Still have it.

Justin Smith said...

Really? That's awesome! I'm curious now, you think you could take a picture of it and post it here somewhere? :D

Slobiker (Craig Prior) said...

Sorry for the glare on the protective celluloid. It is, after all, about 50 years old.

... and the Certificate of Authenticity is on the back:

Justin Smith said...

That is awesome! Thank you so much for sharing this! :D