Merlin: Oh, big news, eh? Can’t wait for the London Times first edition won’t be out for at least 1200 years.
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
In 1963 Disney decided to take a stab at Arthurian lore. The result of it turned out to be somewhat of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it has good characters, creative animation, and a very well crafted action sequence. On the other hand, it can sometimes drag and feel more like an educational film. This proves to be somewhat of a downer considering that the story of King Arthur has several sword fights, magic, and so forth and little of that is utilized in this movie. However, as it is it’s not entirely bad.
The story is that a young boy named Arthur known as Wart by his foster father and brother Sir Ector and Kay meets an old eccentric Wizard named Merlin and his owl Archimedes. Merlin declares himself as Arthur’s tutor and provides the young boy with several magical exercises in order to teach him on how to achieve greatness in the future.
Many of the scenes throughout the story work are good. However putting them all together is where the movie seems to have its shortcoming. If you were to cut some of the scenes from each other they would work just as well as educational cartoons. The scenes also transition in a very strange manner with there being little to no callbacks to anything that’s happened. However, the execution of the whole thing gives the movie a very nice, light-hearted tone making it fun, enjoyable, and humorous all at the same time. With all that said it never feels like there are any real stakes. The ending of it all is also abrupt with Wart becoming King, Merlin commending him, and the film just ends. There’s not much of how Merlin’s teachings influenced him as king or becoming one.
Disney’s core animators the Nine Old Men did the animation and they knew how to do it right for this movie. The character designs look very cartoony but considering its educational vibe this proves to work in favor of the movie. Merlin’s magic, Mad Madam Mim’s introduction, the various scenarios Arthur goes through, and the Wizard’s duel where Merlin and Mad Madam Mim duke it out as several different animals have levels of creativity and technical work put it into them that even Disney’s best movies cannot pull off. There are points however where it is somewhat rough around the edges considering that the technology they used was still in its beginning stages of use.
Wart is basically your underdog character and kid in need of learning. Perhaps the most memorable thing about him is that three different actors voice him. They sometimes use the different voice actors within the same scene and they don’t match at all. Sir Ector and Kay are pretty forgettable. For the most part they are merely the generic bully and tough father respectively.
Merlin is probably the best character in the entire film. He’s a very funny, eccentric,and short-tempered wizard with virtually limitless power but he knows how to use his magic the right way and ensure events play out the way they’re supposed to. Archimedes is also funny as the cynical owl commenting on Merlin’s teachings. In addition, Mad Madam Mim is one of those characters who is just so crazy you can’t help but love her for it. Despite that she’s given very little screentime. In fact she pops up out of nowhere about two-thirds into the movie.
The songs are also well done. This was the first movie where the Sherman brothers came on board to write the songs and they wrote all of them well making even the educational segments entertaining and timeless.
The Sword in the Stone has many elements that range on subpar such as its story and some of its characters. However the other characters and its atmosphere make up a great deal for that. It doesn’t have what you might expect from an Arthurian telling but it does have a great deal of heart put into it. This movie is no king but it definitely hits the right level of prince.