The Sword in the Stone is a 1963 American-British-animated musical feature film produced by Walt Disney Pictures and released December 25, 1963. The eighteenth full-length animated feature in the Disney animated features canon, it was the last Disney animated feature released while Walt Disney was still alive.
The film is loosely based on the novel The Sword in the Stone, the first book of T.H. White’s tetralogy The Once and Future King. Released in 1963, it received mixed reviews, though it was a box office success.
In Medieval England, the knights were brave and bold. Sadly, their king, Uther Pendragon dies, leaving no heir to the throne. The land and its people pray for a miracle as they are in an undiplomatic state and left unprepared for any awaiting wars. A sword appears in a stone anvil in London, with an inscription proclaiming that whoever removes it is the rightful king of England. None succeed in removing the sword, which eventually becomes forgotten, leaving England in the Dark Ages.
Years later, a 12-year-old orphan named Arthur, commonly called Wart, accidentally scares off a deer his older foster brother Sir Kay was hunting. In attempt to retrieve Kay's arrow, Arthur falls into the cottage of Lord Merlin, an elderly wizard who lives with his talking pet owl Archimedes. Merlin expected Arthur's entrance and declares himself Arthur's tutor. He returns with him to his home, a castle owned by Lord Ector, Arthur's foster father. Although Ector denies to let Merlin meddle with his schedule, Merlin demonstrates a bit of magic to prompt that his skills are for educational purposes; Ector lends Merlin a guest room in a castle tower. Ector's friend, Sir Pellinore, arrives to announce that the annual New Year's jousting tournament held in London will determine the winner crowned king. Ector decides to put Kay through serious training for the tournament and appoints Arthur as Kay's squire.
In order to educate Arthur, Merlin transforms the boy and himself into fish and swim in the castle moat in order to learn about physics. After the lesson, Arthur is sent to the kitchen as punishment for attempting to relate his lesson to a disbelieving Ector. Merlin enchants the dishes to wash themselves, and then takes Arthur for another lesson, turning them into tree squirrels to learn about gravity. After they return to human form, Ector accuses Merlin of using black magic on the dishes. Arthur defiantly defends Merlin, but Ector refuses to listen and punishes Arthur by giving Kay another squire, Hobbs. 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 literature teacher. Merlin transforms Arthur into a sparrow and flies with Archimedes. Soon after, Arthur encounters Madam Mim, an eccentric, foul 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 angrily transports himself in time to 20th century Bermuda. 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 a sword in an anvil in a nearby churchyard that Arthur removes almost effortlessly, unknowingly fulfilling the prophecy. When Arthur returns with the sword, Ector recognizes it and the tournament halted. Ector places the sword back in its anvil, demanding Arthur prove that he pulled it. Thinking anyone can pull the sword now, Kay and others unsuccessfully try to retrieve the sword as it appears stuck as ever. Sir Pellinore and another knight, Sir Bart, urge the crowd to allow Arthur to try it again, and once again he removes the sword, revealing that he is England's rightful king. The crowd cheers, "Hail, King Arthur! Long live the king!" Ector bows down to Arthur and beg Arthur's forgiveness and Kay signs remorse.
Later, the newly crowned king Arthur sits in the throne room with Archimedes, feeling unprepared for the responsibility of ruling. Overwhelmed by the cheering crowd outside, Arthur calls out Merlin for help, who returns from 20th century Bermuda, and is elated to find Arthur is the king that he foreseen. Merlin resolves to help and tells Arthur that he will go on to lead the Knights of the Round Table, accomplishing many feats and becoming a great legend.
- Arthur/Wart: Rickie Sorensen, Richard Reitherman, and Robert Reitherman
- Lord Merlin: Karl Swenson
- Archimedes: Junius Matthews
- Lord Ector: Sebastian Cabot
- Sir Kay: Norman Alden
- Madam Mim and Granny Squirrel: Martha Wentworth
- Sir Pellinore: Alan Napier
- Scullery Maid: Barbara Jo Allen
- Wolf: Jimmy MacDonald
- Sir Bart: Thurl Ravenscroft
- Girl Squirrel: Ginny Tyler
- Knights/Nobles in Crowd: Tudor Owen
- "A Most Befuddling Thing"
- "Mad Madame Mim"
- "That's What Makes the World Go Round"
- "Higitus Figitus"
- "The Sword in the Stone"
- Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston said that Milt Kahl's animations of Kay and Ector were "the best human figures ever done at the studio."
- The climactic battle between Merlin and Madam Mim is often cited by animation experts as some of the best character animation to that date. The characters go through numerous physical transformations during battle, yet retain their identifying features; Merlin's guises are blue and include his glasses and facial hair, while Madam Mim's are pink and have her messy hair.
- Some of the animation cells of Arthur walking through the dark forest to find Kay's arrow were later reused in a similar scene in The Black Cauldron in which Taran looks for Hen-Wen.
- When Lord Ector and Sir Kay are in the kitchen fighting against the enchanted dishware, Ector yells and swings his sword so hard that it hits Kay on the head; Jasper and Horace in One Hundred and One Dalmatians are animated in the same way during the fight scene with Pongo and Perdita.
- This film is also said to be the last film roles for Martha Wentworth, Tudor Owen, and Barbara Jo Allen
Worldwide release dates
- Japan: July 18, 1964
- Mexico: December 10, 1963
- Sweden: December 14, 1964
- France: December 16, 1964
- West Germany: December 17, 1964
- Italy: December 23, 1964
- Denmark: December 26, 1964
- Norway: December 26, 1964
- Finland: December 17, 1965
- Spain: December 20, 1965
Titles in different languages
- Bosnian: Mač u kamenu
- Bulgarian: Мечът в камъка
- Chinese: 石中剑
- Croatian: Mač u kamenu
- Danish: Sværdet I Stenen
- Dutch: Merlijn de Tovenaar
- Finnish: Miekka Kivessä
- French: Merlin l'Enchanteur
- German: Die Hexe und der Zauberer (also known as Merlin und Mim)
- Hebrew: החרב באבן
- Italian: La Spada Nella Roccia
- Japanese: 王様の剣
- Maltese: Ix-Xabla fil-Ġebla
- Norwegian: Sverdet I Stenen
- Portuguese: A Espada Era a Lei
- Polish: Miecz w kamieniu
- Romanian: Sabia din Piatră
- Russian: Меч в камне
- Serbian: Mač u kamenu
- Spanish: Merlín el Encantador
- Swedish: Svärdet I Stenen
- Turkish: Taşa Saplanan Kılıç
- Vietnamese: Thanh Gươm Trong Đá