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Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Sword in the Stone ( 1963 )

Back in the days shortly after the death of Unther Pendragon, King of England, there appeared in London a magic sword protruding upright from the center of an anvil. It bears an inscription proclaiming that whosoever shall remove the sword from the stone would be crowned the new king of England. 

Young Arthur (aka Wart) is an orphan who was raised in Sir Ector's castle. Sir Ector's son, Sir Kay, desires to venture to London to joust in the countrywide competition shortly before Christmas Day. Arthur aspires to be this knight's squire, but while on a hunting trip in the woods with Sir Kay, he falls into the hut of the wizard, Merlin. This kindly old man can see the future as well as the past and, knowing the young lad is fated to draw the sword from the stone, decides to take Arthur under his wing and "give him an education" prior to his crowning as the illustrious King Arthur. With the help of Archimedes the Owl, Merlin teaches Arthur to believe in himself and to use wits over brawn.

The Sword in the Stone is a delightful animated feature from Walt Disney Studios. It features an 
amnesiac "whiz-bang whizard of whimsy", an engaging young hero and, in place of the usual villain, there is Madam Mim, a rival to Merlin.
The story is based on the Arthurian novels of T.H White's known as "The Once and Future King" series. Walt Disney enjoyed the first book - "The Sword in the Stone" - and purchased the film rights to it the same year it was published: 1938. Unfortunately, the project was not picked up until 1949 when some preliminary storyboards were created. Then there was another long hiatus before story artist Bill Peet re-worked it into this film. 

While this version of The Sword in the Stone is entertaining, it would have benefited greatly from having a stronger villain, some character in the vein of Maleficent ....preferably Morgan le Fay or Vivien, the enchantress who proved to be Merlin's downfall. Madam Mim is an unworthy opponent to both Merlin and Arthur while Sir Ector and his son Sir Kay are more comical than villainous. 
Like 101 Dalmations released two years earlier, The Sword in the Stone implemented Disney's time-saving process of xeroxing the animation cels instead of retracing each cel. Because the Xerox copy machines were only capable of black lines, all of the lines around the figures were inked in black. Some critics feel this technique made the films look inferior to Disney's animated pictures of previous years but, personally, I liked the look. 

Richard and Robert Sherman penned some linguistically clever - albeit forgetful - tunes to The Sword in the Stone, including the delightful "Higitus Figitus", sung by Merlin. 
The Sword in the Stone was released in theaters on Christmas Day in 1963 and proved to be a box-office smash, reaping in nearly $20 million dollars in profit. 

9 comments:

  1. I always have liked the animation with black lines, but I didn't know the reason behind the technique! This movie is pretty easy to forget, but it has some hilarious bits, too. I only saw it once, so I'll have to rewatch some time.

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    1. 101 Dalmations and The Aristocats does this style better ( The Jungle Book also used it ) but The Sword in the Stone features a really nice scene with Merlin walking outside the castle gates with young Arthur. The landscape paintings in that scene are lovely and Merlin and Arthur share a nice comradery too.

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  2. It is indeed a pleasure to read your take on this Disney feature. As this was my introduction to the legend, I am nostalgically attached to The Sword and the Stone. I do wish time had been taken for, as you say, a stronger villain, and a less flat ending. On the other hand, my son is as fond of it as I and it makes him laugh when I sing the introductio

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    1. Yes, the introduction song is wonderful! I miss the Disney films that use to start with a book opening up...hinting to us that it was based on a fantasy tale.

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  3. I love this animation look -- many of my favorite Disney animated features use it. I need to watch this with my kids! I think they'd get a big kick out of it. And they like gentler stories without big villains.

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    1. Yes, it's a really nice style and I think "The Aristocats" showcased it best with those beautiful Parisian backgrounds that really made the animated figures stand out. I hope your kids enjoy the film!

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  4. What I remember best about THE SWORD IN THE STONE is trying to see it at the theatre. The first time we went, there was an incredibly long line, so we went to see CHARADE instead. We got in the next week and I liked it well enough--though 101 DALMATIANS is infinitely better (and my favorite Disney animated movie).

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    1. What a great memory! At least you got to see Charade instead, that was a great substitution. Yes, 101 Dalmations is much better...the film has more heart, wonderful music, and some great "character" parts for other dogs and farm animals.

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  5. OMG, this film has such a special significance to me. My family and I were on vacation in St. Augustine Florida when this was being shown in the theaters. The theater, like everything else in that town, was OLD. The back of the seats were wooded and my mom, as she was getting into her seat had to squeeze by someone and a huge splinter stabbed her in the stomach. So, the movie was postponed while we ended up in the Emergency Room. She was fine and we did see the movie a few days later. However, I think, while loving it, I was still a bit skittish. I think it's time to see it again, don't you? Thanks for a lovely post and the good memories. After all, my parents took me to see this - not once - but twice!

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