The Sword in the Stone (film)

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The Sword in the Stone
Original theatrical release poster
Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman
Produced by Walt Disney
Story by Bill Peet
Based on The Sword in the Stone 
by T. H. White
Starring Rickie Sorensen
Karl Swenson
Junius Matthews
Sebastian Cabot
Norman Alden
Martha Wentworth
Music by George Bruns (score)
Richard M. Sherman
Robert B. Sherman (songs)
Edited by Donald Halliday
Walt Disney Productions
Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution
Release date(s)
  • December 25, 1963 (1963-12-25)
Running time 79 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $4 million[1][unreliable source?]
Box office $22,182,353[2]

The Sword in the Stone is a 1963 American animated musical fantasy comedy film produced by Walt Disney and originally released to theaters on December 25, 1963 by Buena Vista Distribution. The 18th film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series, it was the final Disney animated film released before Walt Disney's death. The songs in the film were written and composed by the Sherman Brothers, who later wrote music for other Disney films like Mary Poppins (1964), The Jungle Book (1967), and Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971).

The film is based on the novel of the same name, first published in 1938 as a single novel. It was 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 All England." None succeed in removing the sword, which is eventually forgotten, leaving England in the Dark Ages.

Many years later, the film introduces Arthur (also known as Wart), a 12-year-old orphan, in training to be a squire. While accompanying his older foster brother Kay on a hunting trip, Arthur accidentally prevents Kay from shooting a deer. In retrieving the arrow, Arthur falls into Merlin's cottage. Merlin declares himself Arthur's tutor and the two return to Arthur's home, a castle run by Sir Ector, Arthur's foster father. Although Merlin convinces him that magic exists via conjuring up an indoor blizzard, Ector has forbidden him to tutor Arthur, so Merlin disappears, which persuades Ector to allow Merlin to stay. Ector's friend, Sir Pellinore, arrives with news of 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 appoints Arthur as his squire.

Merlin transforms Arthur and himself into fish and they swim in the castle moat to learn about physics. Arthur is attacked by a pike and is saved by Archimedes, Merlin's owl. Arthur is sent to the kitchen as punishment for relating his lesson much to the disbelief of Ector. Merlin enchants the dishes to wash themselves, then takes Arthur for another lesson, turning them into squirrels to learn about gravity. Arthur is nearly eaten by a wolf, but is saved by a female squirrel who falls in love with him. After they return to human form, Ector accuses Merlin of using black magic on the dishes. Arthur defends Merlin but Ector refuses to listen, having punished Arthur for "popping off" by giving Kay another squire, Hobbs.

For his third lesson, after apologizing to Arthur and resolving to redeem him, Merlin transforms him into a sparrow and Archimedes, now having charge of Arthur's education assigned to him (because he thought Merlin's "Futuristic Fiddle Faddle" would only confuse Arthur), teaches Arthur how to fly. Arthur is attacked by a hawk and flies down into the witch Madam Mim's chimney. Mim's magic uses trickery, as opposed to Merlin's scientific skill. Merlin arrives after Mim nearly kills Arthur and challenges Mim to a Wizards' Duel, in which the combatants transform themselves into various animals to destroy one another. Mim violates the rules she made, first by disappearing, then by transforming into a purple dragon to make Merlin lose. Merlin transforms himself into a germ called "Malignalitaloptereosis" and infects Mim, thereby defeating her, thus demonstrating the importance of brains over brawn.

On Christmas Eve, Kay is knighted, but Hobbs comes down with the mumps; Ector reinstates Arthur as Kay's squire. Merlin, however, is disappointed and angry that Arthur yet prefers war games over academics. Arthur tries to explain that, as an orphan, nobility is an impossibility, and that being a squire is the best position he can attain. This further angers Merlin, who shouts "Blow me to Bermuda!", transporting himself to 20th century Bermuda.

Ector, Kay, Sir Pellinore, Arthur, and Archimedes travel to London for the tournament. Arthur realizes that he has left Kay's sword at an inn, which is now closed for the tournament. Archimedes notices the "Sword in a Stone" in a churchyard. Arthur pulls the sword from the anvil, unwittingly fulfilling the prophecy. When Arthur returns with the sword, Ector and Black Bart recognize it as the "Sword in the Stone" and the tournament is halted. Demanding Arthur to prove that he pulled it, Ector replaces the sword in its anvil. No one can remove it again but Arthur. After Arthur pulls it out again, the sky grows brighter and miracles appear in England. The knights all proclaim, "Hail, King Arthur! Long live the King!" as the crowd kneels before him, first being Ector, who apologizes to Arthur for his harsh treatment, and Kay shows a bit of remorse too.

Arthur, crowned king, sits in the throne room with Archimedes, feeling unprepared for the responsibility of royalty. Overwhelmed by the cheering crowd in the courtyard. Arthur orders Merlin to come, who arrives back from 20th Century Bermuda and is elated to find that Arthur is the king that he saw in the future. Merlin happily tells the boy that he will lead the Knights of the Round Table, becoming a great legend and figure in literature and motion pictures.

Cast and characters[edit]

  • Rickie Sorensen, Richard Reitherman and Robert Reitherman as Arthur (Wart), the long-lost son of Uther Pendragon and Lady Igraine, and the future King Arthur. He is Disney's adaptation of legendary British leader King Arthur. Arthur was voiced by three actors, leading to noticeable changes in voice between scenes. Also, the three voices have Brooklyn-esque accents, sharply contrasting with the English setting and the accents spoken by all other characters in the film.
  • Karl Swenson as Merlin, the legendary wizard who aids and educates King Arthur. He was animated by several of Disney's Nine Old Men, including Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, and John Lounsbery. Kahl designed the character, refining the storyboard sketches of Bill Peet. Merlin can be recognized by his massive beard, which gets caught in most of his machines, and a pair of glasses he wears. He is the world's most powerful wizard.
  • Junius Matthews as Archimedes, Merlin's crotchety, yet brilliant pet owl, who has the ability of speaking and is the comic relief of the film. Archimedes accompanies Wart during training, and it is he who alerts Merlin after Madam Mim kidnaps Arthur. He stays with Wart while Merlin travels to the 20th century.
  • Sebastian Cabot as Sir Ector, the ruler of King Uther Pendragon's castle and the foster father of Arthur. He does not believe in magic until Merlin casts a blizzard before him, thus allowing the wizard to educate Arthur in the castle, even though Ector has forbidden it. Though he loves Arthur, Ector often treats him harshly, having failed to realize that he may be Uther's son. However, Cabot also provided the brief narration at the beginning and near the end of the film.
  • Norman Alden as Sir Kay, the older foster brother of Wart. He is inept at jousting and sword fighting. Though he loves Wart, he often treats him with contempt.
  • Martha Wentworth as Madam Mim, a black witch and Merlin's nemesis. Mim was animated by two of Disney's legendary Nine Old Men, Milt Kahl (who designed the character, refining storyboard sketches from Bill Peet), and Frank Thomas. Kahl animated her initial interaction with Arthur, while Thomas oversaw her part of the "Wizards' Duel" with Merlin. Wentworth also voiced the Granny Squirrel, a dim, elderly female squirrel who develops an attraction to Merlin. She is the only antagonist of the film who is in the official Disney Villains list.
  • Alan Napier as Sir Pellinore, a friend of Sir Ector who announces the tournament where Arthur is revealed as king.
  • Thurl Ravenscroft as Sir Bart, also known as the Black Knight, one of the first to recognize the sword pulled by Arthur from the stone.
  • James MacDonald as The Wolf, an unnamed, starving wolf who wants to eat Wart. He was defeated in and never seen again after getting trapped in a log in the squirrel scene.
  • Ginny Tyler as The Little Girl Squirrel, a young female squirrel whom Wart come across. She immediately develops an attraction to him. After saving him from the wolf and Wart returns to human form, she breaks down into tears and runs away. She is last seen watching Wart and Merlin leave the forest, heartbroken, and crying as the screen fades to black.
  • Barbara Jo Allen as Scullery Maid


The Sword in the Stone was a financial success at the box office and became the sixth highest grossing film of 1963. It grossed $22,182,353 in North America,[2] earning estimated theatrical rentals of $4.75 million.[3] It was better received by British critics than American critics, who thought it had too much humor and a "thin narrative".[4] Rotten Tomatoes reports that 71% of critics gave positive reviews based on 24 reviews with an average score of 6/10. Its consenus states that "A decent take on the legend of King Arthur, The Sword in the Stone suffers from relatively indifferent animation, but its characters are still memorable and appealing."[5] Nell Minow of Common Sense Media gave the film four out of five stars, writing, "Delightful classic brings Arthur legend to life".[6]

In his book The Best of Disney, Neil Sinyard states that, despite not being 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.[4]


The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Score—Adaptation or Treatment in 1963, but lost against Irma La Douce.[7]

The American Film Institute nominated The Sword in the Stone for its Top 10 Animated Films list.[8]


  • "The Sword in the Stone" (Sung by Fred Darian)
  • "Higitus Figitus" (Sung by Merlin)
  • "That's What Makes the World Go Round" (Sung by Merlin and Arthur)
  • "A Most Befuddling Thing" (Sung by Merlin)
  • "Mad Madam Mim" (Sung by Mim)
  • "Blue Oak Tree" (Ending of the song, sung by Sir Ector and Sir Pellinore; beginning of the song deleted)
  • "The Magic Key" (Deleted song)
  • "The Sand of Time" (Deleted score)

Other media[edit]

Several characters from the film made frequent appearances in the Disney's House of Mouse television series. Merlin was voiced by Hamilton Camp. One notable appearance 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 a villain in the spin-off film Mickey's House of Villains. Merlin frequents the Disney Parks, the only character from the film appearing for meet-and-greets at Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort. He appears in 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. The song "Higitus Figitus" has most recently been used for Change4Life's latest advert promoting their Disney-associated "10 minute shake up" program.


Madam Mim

Madam Mim was adopted into the Duck universe where she sometimes teams with Magica De Spell and/or the Beagle Boys. She also appeared in the Mickey Mouse universe where she teamed with Black Pete on occasion and 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 lost her truly evil streak, and appears morbid yet relatively polite.

Mim has appeared in numerous comics produced in the United States by Studio Program in the 1960s and 1970s,[9] often as a sidekick of Magica. Most of the stories were published in Europe and South America. Among the artists are Jim Fletcher, Tony Strobl, Wolfgang Schäfer, and Katja Schäfer. Several new characters were introduced in these stories, including Samson Hex, an apprentice of Mim and Magica.[10]

Video games[edit]

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.[11][12] 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 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 Leon's group as part of the town 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 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 in Radiant Garden.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ranking Disney: #16 – The Sword in the Stone". Retrieved September 5, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "Box Office Information for The Sword in the Stone". The Numbers. Retrieved September 5, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Big Rental Pictures of 1964", Variety, January 6, 1965 p 39. Please note this figure is based on rentals accruing to distributors not total gross.
  4. ^ a b Sinyard, Neil (1988). The Best of Disney. Portland House. pp. 102–105. ISBN 0-517-65346-X. 
  5. ^ "The Sword in the Stone (1963)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 1, 2009. 
  6. ^ Nell Minow. "The Sword in the Stone - Movie Review". Retrieved May 27, 2012. 
  7. ^ "1963 (36th)". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved June 24, 2009. 
  8. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot" (PDF). Retrieved June 25, 2011. 
  9. ^ First is in S 65051, according to the Inducks
  10. ^ Samson Hex at the Inducks
  11. ^ Square (November 15, 2002). Kingdom Hearts. PlayStation 2. Square Electronic Arts. 
  12. ^ Square (December 22, 2005). Kingdom Hearts II. PlayStation 2. Square Electronic Arts. 

External links[edit]