The Sword in the Stone (1963)

I have to confess something:

I had never seen Sword in the Stone in its entirety before watching it for this project.

Somehow this film completely slipped by me as a child.  After having watched it, I can’t say I feel as though I missed out on something.

Sword in the Stone is Disney’s reimagining of the Arthurian legend of the boy who would be king.  The movie opens with a brief history of the famed sword Excalibur, and how it came to be a legendary figure residing in a stone, all but forgotten.  Enter Arthur, a lowly servant with no real aspirations.  His world is turned upside down when he’s met by none other than Merlin, that all-powerful wizard of lore.

Merlin  informs Arthur in no uncertain terms that he has greatness ahead of him in life, and proceeds to attempt to teach him a few worldly lessons.

What really ensues is a series of scenes that depict Merlin performing magic and putting Arthur into all sorts of wacky situations.  Ultimately Arthur finds need of a sword to defend himself, and he pulls the fabled Excalibur from its place in the stone.  This lofty event makes him the rightful king, and we see Arthur ascending the throne to begin his new, great life.

Most of what ensues between the intro and the conclusion is a series of silly events with no real ties to one another, or the plot as a whole.  That being said, they’re not bad scenes by any means.  One of my favorites consists of Merlin using his magic to shrink down all of his possessions and place them in his magical bag.

The only real purpose of this scene is to create a striking visual to go along with the requisite song Merlin sings, but it’s a fun inclusion nonetheless.  Most of the film’s scenes can be described as such, and while they’re entertaining to watch, I couldn’t help but feel that they didn’t help propel the story as much as they should.

This film fell a little flat with me, truth be told.  Disney seems to have fallen into a pattern of crafting short, entertaining scenes that would engage children, but tying them all together into a single, cohesive narrative seems to have been out of their grasp much of the time. In comparison to later Disney films, this endeavor feels as though the company was still trying to find its footing in the world of animation.  After all, this was made in the 1960’s, a period when many of our much-beloved Disney shorts were created, brief entertainment that holds up even today.  Disney’s strength seems to have lain with this method of visual storytelling, and their attempts to translate that into a full-length feature film don’t quite make it.

Sword in the Stone is a fun little romp, easily enjoyable for little kids with all the magical hijinks ensuing in each scene.  Still, the grand tale of Arthur and how he ascends the English throne is lost in translation, with more emphasis on the humor and magical elements than on the story of how Arthur became king.  It’s a great way for kids to dip their toes into the Arthurian legend, but it would have been more moving and enjoyable had it been made in recent years, when Disney became a little more self-aware.



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