This Disney Odyssey is brought to you by our friends and guests, Sarah and Andy! Sarah was in that futuristic Much Ado About Nothing we just did, playing the role of Hero, and her boyfriend Andy happened to go to the same school as the Fella! Smaaaaall world. Sarah told us that Sword in the Stone is one of her favorite Disney flicks of all time, so we invited them over for a medieval-ish dinner (pork tenderloin, mashed potatoes, and green beans with a lemon poppyseed cake for dessert) and a chat while we watched the movie together.
It had been a while since all of us had seen this one – all of us but Andy, who had never seen it before this night! We were excited to get to share it with him, and had a lot of good laughs about Merlin’s crotchety nature, Archimedes’ cranky hooting, and the merits of transfiguring the future king of England into various animals in order to attempt to teach him basic physics and natural phenomena.
The Film: The Sword in the Stone (1963)
- The Sword in the Stone was the final Disney animated film released before Walt’s death during the production of The Jungle Book in 1966.
- The film features music by the Sherman brothers (Richard M. and Robert B.), who later did Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, etc. Their musical handiwork can be found throughout Disney films over the next several decades, and to this day can be heard in Disney parks, especially on Main Street.
- Based on the novel of the same name which was published in 1938. Later, it was republished as the first novel of the T.H. White tetralogy The Once and Future King. Walt purchased the rights in 1939 and storyboards were produced in 1949. Sword in the Stone was in pre-production for several years along with another project called Chanticleer but Walt and some of the other team did not like the Chanticleer project – it wouldn’t work, they said, to make a personality out of a chicken. After Walt saw Camelot on Broadway in 1960, that was the final straw: Sword in the Stone would move forward and Chanticleer would be shut down.
- Bizarrely, Arthur is voiced by three different actors: Rickie Sorensen, Richard Reitherman, and Robert Reitherman. All three use an American accent, contrasting the surrounding British voices and setting.
- It was the sixth highest grossing film of 1963.
- It was nominated for Best Score – Adaptation or Treatment at the Oscars in 1963.
- Walt himself unknowingly served as the model for Merlin. Character designer Bill Peet gave Merlin Walt’s nose, and his playful, intelligent, cantankerous nature.
- This is the last film Bill Peet served on as writer. Bill wrote a treatment for The Jungle Book, but Walt threw it away when the two had a falling out and Bill left the company.
- Director Wolfgang Reitherman would direct every Disney feature from now into the 1980’s.
- Possibly my most favorite thing in this movie is the expression of thunderstruck disbelief and confusion Wart has during most of his tea party with Merlin.
- Wart’s physical design is extremely similar to Mowgli from The Jungle Book – there’s a few moments where his animation is exactly the same, such as the moment when he gets tackled by the dogs upon arriving home at the castle.
- Nothing phases Kay. Like absolutely nothing. All he does is glower, grunt, try to beat up Wart, and fall down.
- Wart and Kay actually stumble on things and crash to the ground multiple times during the film… I don’t know if they were just particularly proud of that bit of animation or what, but they use it a lot in this one.
- You can definitely see the influence of both Sleeping Beauty and 101 Dalmatians in this movie – the sketchy unfinished quality of Dalmatians and also the color palettes and medieval tapestry style of Sleeping Beauty.
- Merlin has a decidedly massive ego – and for some reason, despite their constant disagreements, Archimedes sticks around. Where did Merlin even find Archimedes? How did that friendship happen? WHERE IS THE PREQUEL?!
- Merlin’s sugar bowl (above) is the most “impudent piece of crockery” ever to sort-of live on this earth. He perhaps leads the way for later crockeries and kitchenware, such as in Beauty and the Beast.
- Now that I’ve been made aware of Wart’s three separate voice actors…it’s really difficult to un-hear. If I reach way back in my memory, it bugged me as a kid but I didn’t know why. Now it bugs me a lot more. As an adult. Because I can tell that it’s three different actors. WHY, SOUND DESIGNERS? WHY?
- Why is there a barracuda in the moat?! Sarah: “Yeah but why are there so many dishes and pieces of armor down there?” Me: “It’s A DUMP. This castle is a mess inside and out. Sir Ector needs to get more servants or something and clean this place up big time. Wart can’t do it all by himself.”
- The squirrel scene. THE SQUIRREL SCENE you guys. There’s something distinctly unfair about this – Wart hasn’t even really been through his own puberty yet let alone experienced female affection of any kind – it’s not fair to force him to undergo the ravishings of a redheaded lady-squirrel before he’s even prepared to deal with it!
- Merlin keeps going off on Wart for not having a ‘real education.’ In Wart’s defense, a squire’s education was often the best and only education an orphan could have in this time period. Also we know a lot of squires in person who are super intelligent and well-rounded humans. So there’s that.
- Madame Mim is the psycho-est of psychoes. Truly, there is no one as frickin’ batty as she is. She makes Loki look normal. She makes the Cheshire Cat seem comfortably sane. She’s a total nutcase.
- The wizard’s duel between Mim and Merlin is a classic one-upping competition found in folk tales and pop culture for ages. Specifically springing to mind is the battle of wits between Dream and Lucifer in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman.
- Wart: “I need a sword for Kay!” Archimedes: “THERE’S ONE! IN THIS CONVENIENTLY PLACED ANVIL IN A CHURCHYARD JUST DOWN THE BLOCK.”
- Merlin rockets off to Bermuda after Wart chooses the squire’s life again, much in the way that Genie does in Aladdin…in fact, when he returns, he’s dressed a lot like Genie is during that gag…
Up Next: Look for the Bare Necessities with us in the jungles of India… it’s The Jungle Book!
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