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The Sword in the Stone (1963 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Sword in the Stone
Original theatrical release poster
Directed byWolfgang Reitherman
Produced byWalt Disney
Story byBill Peet
Based onThe Sword in the Stone
by T. H. White
Music byGeorge Bruns
Edited byDonald Halliday
Distributed byBuena Vista Distribution
Release date
  • December 25, 1963 (1963-12-25)
Running time
79 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$3 million[1]
Box office$22.2 million[2]

The Sword in the Stone is a 1963 American animated musical-fantasy-comedy film produced by Walt Disney and released by Buena Vista Distribution. The 18th Disney animated feature film, it is based on T. H. White's novel of the same name, published in 1938 as a single novel, then republished in 1958 as the first book of the Arthurian tetralogy The Once and Future King. Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, the film features the voices of Rickie Sorensen, Karl Swenson, Junius Matthews, Sebastian Cabot, Norman Alden, and Martha Wentworth.

Walt Disney first acquired the film rights to the novel in 1939, and various attempts at developing the film lasted two decades before actual production on the film officially began. The Sword in the Stone was the last animated film from Walt Disney Productions to be released during Walt Disney's lifetime before his death on December 15, 1966. Bill Peet wrote the story for the film, while the songs were written and composed by the Sherman Brothers. This marked the first contribution of the Sherman Brothers to the music in an animated Disney film, and they would later write the music for other Disney films, such as Mary Poppins (1964), The Jungle Book (1967), The Aristocats (1970), and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977). George Bruns composed the film's score, the third animated film he had scored for Disney following Sleeping Beauty (1959) and One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961). Bruns later composed the score for the next three Disney animated films: The Jungle Book, The Aristocats, and Robin Hood (1973) The film receive mixed reviews, but it became a box-office success. It was re-released to theaters on March 25, 1983 on a double bill with Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore.

A live-action remake of the film directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo entered development in 2015, and is to be released on Disney+.[3]


After the King of England, Uther Pendragon, dies, leaving no heir to the throne, a sword appears inside an anvil in London, with an inscription proclaiming that whoever removes the sword is the rightful King of England. None succeed in removing the sword, which becomes forgotten, leaving England in the Dark Ages.

Years later somewhere in the West Country, a 12-year-old orphan named Arthur, commonly called Wart, accidentally scares off a deer his older foster brother Sir Kay was hunting, causing Kay to launch his arrow into the forest. In attempting to retrieve the arrow, Arthur meets Lord Merlin, an elderly wizard who lives with his talking pet owl Archimedes. Merlin declares himself Arthur's tutor and returns with him to his home, a castle run by Lord Ector, Arthur's foster father and Kay’s father. Ector's friend, Sir Pellinore, arrives to announce that the annual jousting tournament will be held in London, and the winner will be crowned king. Ector decides to put Kay through serious training for the tournament and appoints Arthur as Kay's squire.

To educate Arthur, Merlin transforms himself and the boy into fish. They swim in the castle moat to learn about physics, but they were attacked by a pike. Arthur is nearly eaten by a pike, but he is saved by Archimedes. After the lesson, Arthur is sent to the kitchen as punishment for attempting to relate his lesson to a disbelieving Ector and Kay. Merlin enchants the dishes to wash themselves, then takes Arthur for another lesson, turning them into squirrels to learn about gravity and male-female relationships, but they are both infatuated by two girl squirrels. After returning to human form and when they return to the castle again, Ector accuses Merlin of using black magic on the dishes, which he and Kay discovered and unsuccessfully tries to fight off, while Merlin and Arthur are away. Arthur defiantly defends Merlin, but Ector refuses to listen and punishes Arthur by giving Kay another squire, Hobbs and also revokes Arthur's chance of going to London. Resolving to make amends, Merlin plans on educating Arthur full-time. However, Merlin's knowledge of future history confuses Arthur, prompting Merlin to appoint Archimedes as Arthur's teacher. Merlin transforms Arthur into a sparrow and Archimedes teaches him how to fly. Soon after, Arthur encounters Madam Mim, an eccentric, evil witch who is Merlin's nemesis. Merlin arrives to rescue Arthur, and Mim challenges Merlin to a wizards' duel. Despite Mim's cheating, Merlin outsmarts her by transforming into a germ that infects Mim, thus illustrating the importance of knowledge over strength. On Christmas Eve, Kay is knighted, but Hobbs comes down with the mumps; therefore, Ector reinstates Arthur as Kay's squire. This causes Merlin to think that Arthur cares more about war games than having an education, and when Arthur defends his choices, Merlin unwittingly transports himself in time to 20th-century Bermuda in his anger for a long overdue vacation.

On the day of the tournament, Arthur realizes that he has left Kay's sword at an inn, which is now closed for the tournament. Archimedes sees the legendary "Sword in the Stone" in a nearby churchyard, which Arthur removes almost effortlessly, unknowingly fulfilling the prophecy. When Arthur returns with the sword, Ector recognizes it and the tournament is halted. Ector places the sword back in its anvil, demanding Arthur prove that he pulled it. He pulls it once again, revealing that he is England's rightful king. Ector remorsefully apologizes to Arthur as the tournament knights cheer for him. Later, the newly crowned King Arthur sits in the throne room with Archimedes, feeling unprepared for the responsibility of ruling, but Merlin returns from his vacation and resolves to help Arthur become the great king that he has foreseen him to be.


  • Rickie Sorensen, Richard Reitherman, and Robert Reitherman as Arthur, also known as Wart, the boy who will grow up to become the legendary British leader King Arthur. Sorensen entered puberty during the film's production, forcing director Wolfgang Reitherman to cast two of his sons, Richard and Robert, to replace him.[4][5] This resulted in Arthur's voice noticeably changing between scenes, and sometimes within the same scene. The three voices also portray Arthur with an American accent, sharply contrasting with the English setting and the accents spoken by most of the other characters.[6] Mari Ness of the online magazine suggests, "Given that the film is about growing up, this problem might have been overcome" with the three voices being interpreted as symbolizing Arthur's mental and physical development, but "[Reitherman] inexplicably chose to leave all three voices in for some scenes, drawing attention to the problem that they were not the same actor." She notes even further that "Two [of the voice actors] were brothers, and sound somewhat similar; the third was not, and sounds distinctly different." Finally, she notes the issue of the American accents of the voices contrasting with the English setting and the accents spoken by most of the other characters in the film, noting, "The only positive: the vocal issues with Wart do help distract attention from the fact that the Brits aren't particularly good here, either."[6]
  • Karl Swenson as Lord Merlin, an old and eccentric wizard who aids and educates Arthur. Reitherman estimated that 70 actors read for the part, but "none evidenced that note of eccentricity that we were seeking. We wanted Merlin to be eccentric but not hokey." Swenson initially read for Archimedes, but the filmmakers eventually decided to cast him as Merlin.[4]
  • Junius Matthews as Archimedes, Merlin's crotchety yet highly educated pet owl and servant, who has the ability to speak.
  • Sebastian Cabot as Lord Ector, Arthur's foster father and Kay’s father: Though he clearly cares for Arthur, he often treats him like a servant than a son. Cabot also provides the narration at the beginning and the end of the film.
  • Norman Alden as Sir Kay, Arthur's morose and inept older foster brother and Ector's son.
  • Martha Wentworth as Madam Mim, a black-magic proficient witch and Merlin's nemesis: Mim's magic uses trickery, as opposed to Merlin's scientific skill. Wentworth also voiced the Granny Squirrel, a dim-witted, elderly female squirrel that develops an attraction to Merlin.
  • Alan Napier as Sir Pellinore, Ector's friend who announces the jousting tournament.
  • Thurl Ravenscroft as Sir Bart, one of the knights seen at the jousting tournament.
  • James MacDonald as The Wolf, an unnamed, starving wolf that has several encounters with Arthur, and attempts to eat him, but is constantly met with misfortune.
  • Ginny Tyler as the Little Girl Squirrel, a young female squirrel that immediately develops an attraction to Arthur, upon encountering him as a squirrel.
  • Barbara Jo Allen as Scullery Maid, Ector's maid, who believes Merlin to be an evil sorcerer.
  • Tudor Owen as the background voice of one of the knights and nobles in the crowd during the tournament.


In February 1939, Walt Disney announced he had purchased the film rights to T. H. White's The Sword in the Stone.[7] However, following the outbreak of World War II, the studio was restricted by the United States government to produce cartoons for the armed services. In June 1944, following the successful re-release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney had assigned writers to work on The Sword in the Stone along with Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland.[8] The project continued to be announced to be in active development throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s.[9][10] In June 1960, Disney told the Los Angeles Times that following the release of One Hundred and One Dalmatians, two animated projects were in development, which were Chanticleer and The Sword in the Stone.[11] Around that same time, Disney's elder brother Roy O. Disney attempted to persuade him to discontinue their feature animation division, as enough films remained to make successful re-releases. The younger Disney refused, but because of his plans to build another theme park in the United States, he would approve only one animated film to be released every four years.[12]

Concurrently, Chanticleer was being developed by Ken Anderson and Marc Davis, who aimed to produce a feature animated film in a more contemporary setting. Both of them had visited the Disney archives, and decided to adapt the satirical tale into production upon glancing at earlier conceptions dating back to the 1940s.[13] Anderson, Davis, Milt Kahl, and director Wolfgang Reitherman spent months preparing elaborate storyboards for Chanticleer, and following a silent response to a pitch presentation, a voice from the back of the room said, "You can't make a personality out of a chicken!"[14] When the time came to approve one of the two projects, Walt remarked that the problem with making a rooster a protagonist was, "[you] don't feel like picking up a rooster up and petting it."[15]

Meanwhile, work on The Sword in the Stone were solely done by veteran story artist Bill Peet. After Disney had seen the 1960 Broadway production of Camelot, he approved the project to enter production.[16] Ollie Johnston stated, "[Kahl] got furious with Bill for not pushing Chanticleer after all the work he had put in on it. He said, 'I can draw a damn fine rooster, you know.' Bill said, 'So can I.'"[17] Peet recalled "how humiliated they were to accept defeat and give in to The Sword in the Stone...He allowed to have their own way, and they let him down. They never understood that I wasn't trying to compete with them, just trying to do what I wanted to work. I was the midst of all this competition, and with Walt to please, too."[18]

Writing in his autobiography, Peet decided to write a screenplay before producing storyboards, though he found the narrative "complicated, with the Arthurian legend woven into a mixture of other legends and myths" and finding a direct storyline required "sifting and sorting".[19] After Walt received the first screenplay draft, he told Peet that it should have more substance. On his second draft, Peet lengthened it by enlarging on the more dramatic aspects of the story, which Walt approved of through a call from Palm Springs, Florida.[19]

The film continued the Xerox method of photocopying drawings onto animation cels used in 101 Dalmatians. An additional animation technique, "touch-up", was created during production. The animation process had previously involved the use of clean-ups where assistant animators transferred the directing animators' sketches by hand onto a new sheet of paper, which were later copied to an animation cel. Clean-ups was replaced by touch-ups, where the assistants drew directly on the animators' sketches before the drawing was copied onto a cel. This made assistants of the demanding animator Kahl often fear they'd ruin his linework.[20]


The Sword in the Stone was re-released on December 22, 1972. The film was again re-released to theaters on March 25, 1983, as a double feature with Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore.

Home media

The Sword in the Stone was released on North American VHS, Betamax, and Laserdisc in 1986 as an installment of the Walt Disney Classics collection.[21] The film was re-released on VHS in 1989,[22] as well as another VHS and Laserdisc release on July 12, 1991.[23] It was first released on VHS in the United Kingdom in 1988 followed by a re-issue the following year. It was re-released on VHS and Laserdisc on October 28, 1994, as a part of the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection.

It was released on DVD on March 20, 2001, as an installment in the Walt Disney Gold Classic Collection line-up. It includes two classic short films, A Knight for a Day and Brave Little Tailor, as well as the film facts. The DVD of the film was re-released as a 45th-anniversary special edition on June 17, 2008.[24]

For its 50th anniversary, the film was released on Blu-ray on August 6, 2013.[25] Despite being touted as a new remaster of the film, this release was heavily criticized by home media reviewers for the "scrubbed" quality of its video transfer due to excessive use of noise reduction.[26][27][28][29]


Box office

During its initial release, The Sword in the Stone earned an estimated $4.75 million in North American theatrical rentals.[30] During its 1972 re-release, the film garnered $2.5 million in box office rentals.[31] The film was re-released to theaters on March 25, 1983, and grossed $12 million.[32] The film has had a lifetime domestic gross of $22.2 million in North America.[2]

Critical reception

The Sword in the Stone received mixed reviews from critics, who thought that its humor failed to balance out a "thin narrative".[33] Variety wrote that the film "demonstrates anew the magic of the Disney animators and imagination in character creation. But one might wish for a script which stayed more with the basic story line rather than taking so many twists and turns which have little bearing on the tale about King Arthur as a lad."[34] Bosley Crowther of The New York Times praised the film, claiming it is "an eye-filling package of rollicking fun and thoughtful common sense. The humor sparkles with real, knowing sophistication — meaning for all ages — and some of the characters on the fifth-century landscape of Old England are Disney pips."[35] Philip K. Scheuer, reviewing for the Los Angeles Times, described the film as "more intimate than usual with a somewhat smaller cast of characters—animal as well as human. Otherwise, the youngsters should find it par the usual Disney cartoon course. It may not be exactly what T. H. White had in mind when he wrote this third of his sophisticated trilogy about King Arthur, but it's a good [bit] livelier than the stage Camelot derived from another third."[36]

On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 68% based on 28 reviews with an average score of 5.95/10. Its consensus states, "A decent take on the legend of King Arthur, The Sword in the Stone suffers from relatively indifferent animation, but its characters are still memorable and appealing."[37] Nell Minow of Common Sense Media gave the film four out of five stars, writing, "Delightful classic brings Arthur legend to life".[38] In his book The Best of Disney, Neil Sinyard states that, despite not being well known, the film has excellent animation, a complex structure, and is actually more philosophical than other Disney features. Sinyard suggests that Walt Disney may have seen something of himself in Merlin, and that Mim, who "hates wholesome sunshine", may have represented critics.[33]


The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Score—Adaptation or Treatment in 1963, but lost against Irma La Douce.[39]

In 2008, the American Film Institute nominated The Sword in the Stone for its Top 10 Animated Films list, but among the 50 nominated, it did not reach the top 10.[40]


All tracks are written by The Sherman Brothers.

1."The Sword in the Stone" (Fred Darian)1:07
2."Higitus Figitus" (Karl Swenson)1:49
3."That's What Makes the World Go Round" (Karl Swenson & Rickie Sorensen)2:21
4."A Most Befuddling Thing" (Karl Swenson)1:07
5."Mad Madam Mim" (Martha Wentworth)2:10
6."Blue Oak Tree" (Sebastian Cabot & Alan Napier)0:50

Deleted songs

  • "The Magic Key"
  • "The Sand of Time"
  • "Blue Oak Tree" (The ending was retained for the final cut)


Several characters from the film made frequent appearances in the Disney's House of Mouse television series. Merlin was voiced by Hamilton Camp. One notable appearance in the series was in the episode: "Rent Day", in which he tells Mickey Mouse that he will give him the 50 ups only if he gives Arthur a sword. Wart also made a few appearances in the series, usually seen in crowd shots with Merlin. He also appears with Merlin in the audience in the episode: "Mickey vs. Shelby" after a cartoon ends. Sir Kay was also seen in the episode: "Ask Von Drake", when he tries to pull the sword from the stone with Arthur, Merlin, and Madam Mim. Madam Mim appears as a villain in the spin-off film Mickey's House of Villains. In the past, Merlin frequented the Disney Parks, the only character from the film appearing occasionally for meet-and-greets at Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort. He appeared in the opening unit of Walt Disney's Parade of Dreams at Disneyland Park. He also hosts the Sword in the Stone ceremony in the King Arthur Carrousel attraction in Fantasyland at Disneyland. In 2014 and 2015, UK health directive Change4Life incorporated "Higitus Figitus" as the soundtrack to adverts promoting their Disney-sponsored "10 minute shake up" summer program.


Madam Mim
Madam Mim

In the Disney comics, Madam Mim was adopted into the Donald Duck universe where she sometimes teams with Magica De Spell and/or the Beagle Boys.[41] She also appeared in the Mickey Mouse universe where she teamed with Black Pete on occasion and with the Phantom Blot at one point. She was in love with Captain Hook in several stories; in others, with Phantom Blot. In the comics produced in Denmark or in Netherlands, she lost her truly evil streak, and appears somewhat eccentric, withdrawn and morbid, yet relatively polite.

Mim has appeared in numerous comics produced in the United States by Studio Program in the 1960s and 1970s,[42] often as a sidekick of Magica. Most of the stories were published in Denmark, Netherlands and Brazil. Among the artists are Jim Fletcher, Tony Strobl, Wolfgang Schäfer, and Katja Schäfer. Several new characters were introduced in these stories, including Samson Hex, an apprentice of Mim and Magica.[43]

Merlin (Italian: Mago Merlino), Archimedes Italian: Anacleto) and Mim (Italian: Maga Magò)'s debut in the prolificent Italian Disney comics scene was in a greatly remembered story: "Mago Merlino presenta: Paperino e la 850" (lit.'The Wizard Merlin presents: Donald Duck and the 850'), published in nine parts in Topolino "libretto" #455-#464 (16 August-18 October 1964). In the story, Scrooge McDuck encharged Donald Duck and Huey, Dewey and Louie with delivering a special gas to power the Olympic torch in the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, passing through the World's most desparate climates to test its properties. Unfortunately, Donald's car, the 313, breaks down, but Merlin materialises and magically creates a Fiat 850 (Fiat was sponsoring the story). Mim however wants to obtain the gas, and has the Beagle Boys chase after them. The 850 (initially put in contrast with the villains's generic, Edsel-like car), thanks to Merlin's magic, displays remarkable aspects, that helps the ducks successfully finish their mission.

Video games

Madam Mim made a surprise appearance in the video game World of Illusion as the fourth boss of that game.

Merlin is a supporting character in the Kingdom Hearts series, now voiced by Jeff Bennett in Kingdom Hearts II.[44][45] In Kingdom Hearts, Merlin lives in an abandoned shack in Traverse Town with Cinderella's Fairy Godmother, sent by King Mickey to aid Sora, Donald, and Goofy in the art of magic. He owns an old book which features the world of The Hundred Acre Wood, home of Winnie the Pooh. The book's pages, however, have been torn out and scattered across the universe, and Merlin asks Sora to retrieve them for him. He reprises the same role in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, as a figment of Sora's memories.

In Kingdom Hearts II, Merlin moved to Hollow Bastion to aid Leon's group as part of the town Restoration Committee, though he is at odds with Cid who prefers his own computer expertise rather than Merlin's magic. Merlin again instructs Sora, Donald and Goofy in the art of magic, and again requests that they retrieve the stolen parts of the Pooh storybook. At one point in the game, he is summoned to Disney Castle by Queen Minnie to counter the threat of Maleficent, and he constructs a door leading to Disney Castle's past (Timeless River) for the trio to explore and stop Maleficent and Pete's plans.

In the prequel, Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep, Merlin encounters Terra, Aqua and Ventus, and grants them each access to the Hundred Acre Wood. The prequel also reveals that it was Terra who gave him the book in the first place after finding it in Radiant Garden. According to series creator Tetsuya Nomura, a world based on the film was initially to appear in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, but the idea was scrapped. Merlin returns in Kingdom Hearts III, where he asks Sora to restore Pooh's storybook once more (though it does not involve finding any missing pages), but his involvement in the story is minimal beyond that as he spends his time at Remy's bistro in Twilight Town having tea.

Live-action film adaptation

A live-action feature film adaptation entered development in July 2015, with Bryan Cogman writing the script and Brigham Taylor serving as producer.[46] By January 2018, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo was announced as director.[3]

See also


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  4. ^ a b Thomas, Bob (December 28, 1963). "Changing Voices a Problem". Evening Independent. p. 8-A. Retrieved June 5, 2016 – via Google News Archive.
  5. ^ Hischak, Thomas (September 21, 2011). Disney Voice Actors: A Biographical Dictionary. McFarland & Company. p. 176. ISBN 978-0786462711. Retrieved June 5, 2016.
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  42. ^ First is in S 65051, according to the Inducks
  43. ^ "Samson Hex - I.N.D.U.C.K.S."
  44. ^ Square (November 15, 2002). Kingdom Hearts (PlayStation 2). Square Electronic Arts.
  45. ^ Square (December 22, 2005). Kingdom Hearts II (PlayStation 2). Square Electronic Arts.
  46. ^ Kit, Borys (July 20, 2015). "'Sword in the Stone' Live-Action Remake in the Works With 'Game of Thrones' Writer (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved July 20, 2015.

External links

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