It is part of the "English Cycle" of Disney animated films, which include Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Jungle Book, Robin Hood, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, The Great Mouse Detective.]
The film is based on the novel of the same name, at first published in 1938 as a single novel. It was then later republished in 1958 as the first book of T. H. White's tetralogy The Once and future King.
The film begins in the 6th century in England with the death of the king, Uther Pendragon. Uther did not leave an heir to his throne, and without a king, "it seemed that the land would be torn by war". Suddenly, the "Sword in the Stone" appears in London, with an inscription proclaiming that "Whoso Pulleth Out This Sword of this Stone and Anvil, is Rightwise King Born of England." None succeed in removing the sword, which is soon forgotten, leaving England to the Dark Ages.
Many years later, the film introduces Arthur (also known as Wart), a 12-year-old orphan training to be a squire. While accompanying his older foster brother Kay on a hunting trip, Wart accidentally prevents Kay from shooting a deer. He goes to retrieve the arrow, and falls into Merlin's cottage. Merlin declares himself Wart's tutor and the two return to Wart's home, a castle run by Sir Ector, Arthur's foster father. Although Merlin convinces him that magic exists (through a "wizard blizzard"), Ector will not allow him to tutor Wart, so Merlin magically disappears, which persuades Ector to let Merlin stay. Ector's friend, Sir Pellinore, arrives with news about the annual jousting tournament to be held on New Year's Day in London, with the new development that the winner will become king. Ector decides to put Kay through serious training for the tournament and makes Wart his squire.
Merlin transforms Wart and himself into fish and they swim in the castle moat. Wart is attacked by a pike and saved by Archimedes, Merlin's owl. Wart is sent to the kitchen as punishment after he tries relating his lesson to a disbelieving Ector. Merlin enchants the dishes to wash themselves, then takes Wart for another lesson and turns them into squirrels to learn about gravity. Wart is almost eaten by a wolf, but is saved by a female squirrel who falls in love with him. After they have returned to human form, Ector accuses Merlin of using black magic on the dishes. Wart defends Merlin but Ector will not listen, punishing Wart for "popping off" by giving Kay a different squire, Hobbs.
For his third lesson, after apologizing to Wart and resolving to redeem him, Merlin transforms him into a sparrow and Archimedes teaches Wart how to fly. Wart is attacked by a hawk and flies down the witch Madam Mim's chimney. Mim's magic uses trickery, as opposed to Merlin's scientific skill. Merlin arrives after she nearly kills Arthur and challenges Mim to a Wizards' Duel, in which the combatants change themselves into various non-imaginary animals to destroy one another. Mim breaks the rules first by disappearing, then eventually transforming into a dragon. Merlin transforms himself into a germ called "Malignalitaloptereosis" and infects Mim, effectively defeating her.
At Christmas Eve, Kay is knighted but Hobbs comes down with the mumps; Ector reinstates Wart as Kay's squire. Merlin is disappointed that Wart still prefers war games to academics. Wart tries to explain that, as an orphan, nobility is forbidden and a squire is the best position he can attain. This aggravates Merlin, who transports himself to 20th-century Bermuda in anger.
Ector, Kay, Pellinore, Wart and Archimedes travel to London for the tournament. Wart realises he has left Kay's sword at a nearby inn, which is closed because of the tournament. Archimedes notices a sword in a stone in a nearby churchyard. Wart pulls the sword from the stone, unwittingly fulfilling the prophecy. When Arthur returns with the sword, Ector and Sir Bart recognize it as the Sword in the Stone and the tournament is stopped. Demanding that Arthur prove he pulled it, Ector replaces the sword in its anvil. None of the other men can remove it as before, but Wart pulls it out again. This time the sky grows brighter and miracles appear in England. The knights all proclaim, "Hail, King Arthur! Long live the King!" as the crowd kneels down before him, the first being Ector, who apologizes to Wart for his previous harsh treatment.
Arthur, crowned king, sits in the throne room with Archimedes, yet feels unprepared to take the responsibility of royalty. Overwhelmed by the cheering crowd outside, Arthur calls out to Merlin for help, who arrives from Bermuda and is elated to find that Arthur is the King that he saw in the future. Merlin tells the boy that he will lead the Knights of the Round Table, becoming one of the most famous figures in literature and even in motion pictures.
Cast and Characters
Rickie Sorenson, Richard Reitherman and Robert Reitherman as Arthur/Wart. He is Disney's adaptation of legendary British leader King Arthur. Arthur was voiced by three different actors, leading to noticeable changes in voice between scenes of the film. Also, the three voices all have a Brooklyn-esque accent, in sharp contrast with the English setting and pseudo-English accent sported by all other characters in the film.
The film was originally released on December 25, 1963. It was then followed with re-issues in the United States on December 22, 1972 and March 25, 1983 with Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore.
The film was a financial success at the box office and was the sixth highest grossing film of 1963. It was better received by British critics than American critics, who thought it had too much humor and a "thin narrative." As of 2009, Rotten Tomatoes reported that 73% of critics gave positive reviews based on 22 reviews with an average score of 6/10. In his book The Best of Disney, Neil Sinyard states that, despite being not 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.
The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Score-Adaptation or Treatment in 1963, but lost against Irma La Douce.
The American Film Institute nominated The Sword in the Stone for its Top 10 Animated Films list.
Several characters from the film made frequent appearances in the Disney's House of Mouse television series. Merlin was voiced by the late Hamilton Camp. One of his notable appearances 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. Madam Mim appears as one of the villains in the spin-off film Mickey's House of Villains. Merlin frequents the Disney Parks, the only character from Sword in the Stone appearing for meet-and-greets at Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort. He appears as part of 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.
Madam Mim was adopted into the Duck universe where she sometimes teams up with Magica De Spell and/or the Beagle Boys. She has also appeared in the Mickey Mouse universe where she teamed up with Black Pete on occasion and even with the Phantom Blot at one point. She was in love with Captain Hook in several stories; in others, with Phantom Blot. In many European Disney comics, she has lost her truly evil streak, and appears both morbid yet still relatively polite.
Mim has appeared in numerous comics produced in the USA by the so-called Studio program in the 1960s and 1970s, often as a sidekick of Magica. Most of these stories were published in Europe and South America. Among the artists are Jim Fletcher, Tony Strobl, Wolfgang and Katja Schafer. Several new characters were introduced in these stories, including Samson Hex, an apprentice of Mim and Magica.
Madam Mim appears 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. 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 also 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 the live with Leon's group as part of the town's 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 once 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 somewhere in Radiant Garden.
It is also available now for IPad, IPod & IPhone at
The ITunes store