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
Music by George Bruns
Edited by Donald Halliday
Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution
Release date
  • December 25, 1963 (1963-12-25)
Running time
79 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3 million[1]
Box office $22.2 million[2]

The Sword in the Stone is a 1963 American animated musical fantasy comedy film produced by Walt Disney and released by Buena Vista Distribution. The 18th Disney animated feature film, it was the final Disney animated film to be 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), The Aristocats (1970), and Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971).

The film is based on the novel of the same name, which was 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 Sword in the Stone was released to theaters on December 25, 1963 to mixed reviews, though it was a box office success.

A live-action adaptation of the film directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo is scheduled to be released in 2019.


After the King of England, Uther Pendragon, dies leaving no heir to the throne, a sword magically appears inside an anvil in London. The sword bears an inscription proclaiming that "whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil is rightwise king born of England". No one can remove the sword, which is eventually 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 Kay was hunting, causing Kay to launch his arrow into the forest. In attempting to retrieve the arrow, Arthur lands in the cottage of Merlin the wizard, who lives with Archimedes, Merlin's pet owl. Merlin declares himself Arthur's tutor and returns with the boy to his home, a castle run by Sir Ector, Arthur's foster father. Ector's friend, Sir Pellinore, arrives with news that the annual jousting tournament will be held on New Year's Day in London, and the winner will be 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. They swim in the castle moat in order to learn about physics. Arthur is nearly eaten by a pike. Arthur is sent to the kitchen as punishment for trying to relate his lesson to a disbelieving 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. 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 causes confusion, prompting Merlin to appoint Archimedes as Arthur's teacher. When Arthur imagines what it would be like to fly, Merlin transforms him into a sparrow and Archimedes teaches Arthur how to fly. However, during their lesson Arthur is attacked by a hawk and falls into the chimney of Madam Mim, an eccentric, evil witch and Merlin's nemesis. Mim's magic uses trickery, as opposed to Merlin's scientific skill. Merlin intervenes before Mim can destroy Arthur, and she challenges him to a Wizards' Duel. Despite Mim's cheating, Merlin outsmarts her by transforming into a fictional germ called "Malignalitaloptereosis" that infects her with a chickenpox-like disease requiring several weeks of bed rest, effectively defeating her and illustrating the importance of knowledge over strength.

On Christmas Eve, Kay is knighted, but when Hobbs comes down with the mumps, Ector is forced to reinstate Arthur as Kay's squire. This causes a falling-out between Arthur and Merlin, who angrily transports himself to Bermuda when Arthur defends his choices. 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 the legendary "Sword in the Stone", which Arthur removes almost effortlessly, unknowingly fulfilling the prophecy. When Arthur returns with the sword, Ector recognizes it and the tournament is 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 try unsuccessfully to retrieve it. Sir Pellinore and another knight, Sir Bart, stand up for Arthur and encourage him to pull the sword again. He does so, revealing that he is England's rightful king. Ector bows down to Arthur to beg his forgiveness for how he has treated him, and then orders Kay to bow down to Arthur. Kay, reluctantly does at first, then after looking at Arthur, accepts the situation, and does so sincerely.

Arthur, crowned king, sits in the throne room with Archimedes, feeling unprepared to take the responsibility of ruling but Merlin returns from 20th-century Bermuda to reassure him, and is elated to find that Arthur is the king that he saw in the future. Merlin tells Arthur that he will go on to lead the Knights of the Round Table and become one of the most famous figures in literature and motion pictures.

Cast and characters[edit]

  • Rickie Sorensen, Richard Reitherman, and Robert Reitherman as Arthur Pendragon, also known as Wart: 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—and sometimes, within the same scene. Also, the three voices have American accents, sharply contrasting with the English setting and the accents spoken by most of other characters in the film.[3] Mari Ness of the online magazine suggests that as the film's themes is about "growing up" – this "problem might have been overcome" – with the three voices being interpreted as Arthur’s character development both mentally and physically.[3]
  • Karl Swenson as Merlin: The world's most powerful wizard who aids and educates Arthur. Merlin 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.
  • Junius Matthews as Archimedes: Merlin's crotchety, yet highly educated pet owl, who has the ability of speaking and is the comic relief of the film. Despite being a cynic, he genuinely cares about Arthur, and risks his life to save him from the pike when Arthur is transformed into a small fish. Archimedes accompanies Arthur during training, and it is he who alerts Merlin after Arthur falls into Madam Mim's cottage and she almost kills him. Though he is loyal to Merlin, he is not afraid to point out the Wizard's shortcomings and often does. Archimedes also displays unique loyalty to Arthur when he praises him for becoming a squire, and stays with Arthur while Merlin travels to 20th-century Bermuda.
  • Sebastian Cabot as Sir Ector: The ruler of the King'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. He is extremely distrustful of magic and thus of Merlin, whom he mistakenly refers to as Marvin. Ector often treats Arthur harshly, and possesses a clear authority over him, treating him more as a servant, while doting on his birth son Kay. However, he does care for Arthur, as shown in his first scene, where he scolds Kay for allowing Arthur to go into the forest alone and worried that he might be dead. He also appoints him as Kay's squire, and clearly has affection for Arthur, and does not always want to treat him poorly, but rather feels responsible for his welfare. After Arthur is revealed as the rightful King of England, he regrets his mistreatment of the boy and (out of fear of his former charge's reprisal) begs for Arthur's forgiveness. Cabot also provides the brief narration at the beginning and end of the film.
  • Norman Alden as Sir Kay: The older foster brother of Arthur and son of Ector. Though he is inept at jousting and sword fighting, Ector remains determined to groom him for knighthood and to possibly take the crown. Kay serves as a foil to Arthur, being self-centered, and lazy, in which he is outwardly boorish and bitter, and also constantly bullies Arthur. At the end when Arthur becomes King, he comes to respect Arthur as the King and also shows guilt for the way he treated him in the past.
  • Martha Wentworth as Madam Mim: A black magic proficient witch and Merlin's nemesis. She is the only antagonist of the film to be part of the official Disney Villains line-up. She 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-witted, elderly female squirrel that develops an attraction to Merlin.
  • Alan Napier as Sir Pellinore: A friend of Sir Ector who announces the tournament where Arthur is revealed as king. In contrast to Sir Ector, Pellinore is mild-mannered, and seems to be wise, as he is apparently aware of Kay's nature, noting that the idea of Kay becoming King is a dreadful thought. He is one of the first to recognize the sword pulled by Arthur from the stone. He, also along with Sir Bart, stands up for Arthur, and encourages the boy to successfully remove the Sword in the Stone.
  • Thurl Ravenscroft as Sir Bart: One of the knights seen at the Jousting Tournament. He seems to have some authority, as he is able to halt the tournament, upon being one of the first to recognize the sword pulled by Arthur from the stone. He also stands up on behalf of Arthur and allows the boy to successfully remove the Sword in the Stone.
  • James MacDonald as The Wolf: An unnamed, starving wolf that has several encounters with Arthur, and attempts to eat him, but is constantly met with misfortune.
  • Ginny Tyler as The Little Girl Squirrel: A young female squirrel that Arthur comes across. She immediately develops an attraction to him. After she saves 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 Sir Ector's Scullery Maid: A maid who believes Merlin to be an evil sorcerer.


In 1939, Walt Disney first obtained the film rights to T. H. White's The Sword in the Stone, and the initial storyboards were produced in 1949.[4] When work on One Hundred and One Dalmatians was completed in 1960, two projects were in development, which were Chanticleer and The Sword in the Stone.[5] The former was developed by Ken Anderson and Marc Davis who aimed to produce a feature animated film in a more contemporary setting. Both of them had visited the Disney archives, and decided to adapt the satirical tale into production upon glancing at earlier conceptions dating back to the 1940s.[6] Anderson, Davis, Milt Kahl, and director Wolfgang Reitherman spent months preparing elaborate storyboards for Chanticleer, and following a silent response following a story reel presentation, a voice from the back of the room said, "You can't make a personality out of a chicken!" The voice belonged to Bill Peet.[7] When the time came to approve one of the two projects, Walt remarked that the problem with making a rooster a protagonist was that "[you] don't feel like picking up a rooster up and petting it."[8] Meanwhile, work on The Sword in the Stone were solely done by veteran story artist Bill Peet. After Disney had seen the 1960 Broadway production of Camelot, he approved the project to enter production.[9] Ollie Johnston stated, "[Kahl] got furious with Bill for not pushing Chanticleer after all the work he had put in on it. He said, 'I can draw a damn fine rooster, you know.' Bill said, 'So can I.'"[10] Peet recalled "how humiliated they were to accept defeat and give in to The Sword in the Stone...He allowed to have their own way, and they let him down. They never understood that I wasn't trying to compete with them, just trying to do what I wanted to work. I was the midst of all this competition, and with Walt to please, too."[11]

Writing in his autobiography, Peet decided to write a screenplay before producing storyboards, though he found the narrative "complicated, with the Arthurian legend woven into a mixture of other legends and myths" and finding a direct storyline required "sifting and sorting".[12] After Walt received the first screenplay draft, he told Peet that it should have more substance. On his second draft, Peet lengthened it by enlarging on the more dramatic aspects of the story, in which Walt approved of through a call from Palm Springs, Florida.[12]


For the voice of Merlin, director Wolfgang Reitherman estimated that seventy actors read for the part, but "none evidenced that note of eccentricity that we were seeking. We wanted Merlin to be eccentric but not hokey." At the same time, Karl Swenson was initially cast for Archimedes, but the filmmakers decided to cast him instead as Merlin. Rickie Sorensen, who had voiced young Arthur, entered puberty during production,[13] which forced the older Reitherman to cast his sons, Richard and Robert, to replace him.[14]


Box office[edit]

The Sword in the Stone was a financial success at the box office and became the sixth highest-grossing film of 1963, earning estimated theatrical rentals of $4.75 million.[15] The film was re-released on March 25, 1983 and grossed $12 million.[16] The film received a lifetime gross of $22,182,353 in North America.[2]

Critical reaction[edit]

The film received mixed reviews from critics, who thought it had too much humor and a "thin narrative".[17] Variety wrote that the film "demonstrates anew the magic of the Disney animators and imagination in character creation. But one might wish for a script which stayed more with the basic story line rather than taking so many twists and turns which have little bearing on the tale about King Arthur as a lad."[18] Bosley Crowther of The New York Times praised the film claiming it is "an eye-filling package of rollicking fun and thoughtful common sense. The humor sparkles with real, knowing sophistication — meaning for all ages — and some of the characters on the fifth-century landscape of Old England are Disney pips."[19]

Rotten Tomatoes reported that 71% of critics gave the film positive reviews based on 24 reviews with an average score of 6/10. Its consensus 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."[20] Nell Minow of Common Sense Media gave the film four out of five stars, writing, "Delightful classic brings Arthur legend to life".[21] 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.[17]


The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Score—Adaptation or Treatment in 1963, but lost against Irma La Douce.[22]

In 2008, the American Film Institute nominated The Sword in the Stone for its Top 10 Animated Films list.[23]


All tracks written by Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman.

Side one
1."The Sword in the Stone" (Sung by Fred Darian)1:07
2."Higitus Figitus" (Sung by Merlin)1:49
3."That's What Makes the World Go Round" (Sung by Merlin and Arthur)2:21
Side two
4."A Most Befuddling Thing" (Sung by Merlin)1:07
5."Mad Madam Mim" (Sung by Mim)2:10
6."Blue Oak Tree" (Ending of the song, sung by Sir Ector and Sir Pellinore; and the knights beginning and the middle of the song deleted)0:50
Deleted songs
  • "The Magic Key"
  • "The Sand of Time"
  • "Blue Oak Tree"

Home media[edit]

The Sword in the Stone was released on North American VHS, Betamax, and Laserdisc in early 1986 as a part of the Walt Disney Classics collection as well as another VHS and Laserdisc release on July 12, 1991. It was first released on VHS in the UK in 1988 followed by a re-issue the following year. It was re-released on VHS and Laserdisc on October 28, 1994 as a part of the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection. It was released on DVD on March 20, 2001 in a Walt Disney Gold Classic Collection line-up. It includes two classic short films, A Knight for a Day and Brave Little Tailor, as well as the film facts. The DVD of the film was re-released as a 45th anniversary special edition on June 17, 2008.[24] For its 50th anniversary, it was released on Blu-ray on August 6, 2013.[25]

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. In 2014 and 2015, UK health directive Change4Life incorporated "Higitus Figitus" as the soundtrack to adverts promoting their Disney-sponsored "10 minute shake up" summer 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,[26] 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.[27]

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.[28][29] 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. According to series creator Tetsuya Nomura, a world based on the film was initially to appear in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, but the idea was scrapped.

Live-action film adaptation[edit]

According to The Hollywood Reporter in 2015, Disney began developing a live-action film adaptation to be offered on their Disney streaming service with Bryan Cogman writing and Brigham Taylor producing.[30] In January 2018, it was announced that Juan Carlos Fresnadillo will direct the film.[31] Principal production is set to commence on September 24, 2018, in Belfast, Northern Ireland.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Thomas, Bob (November 1, 1963). "Walt Disney Eyes New Movie Cartoon". Sarasota Journal. Retrieved June 5, 2016. 
  2. ^ a b "Box Office Information for The Sword in the Stone". The Numbers. Retrieved September 5, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Ness, Mari (August 6, 2015). "In Need of a Villain: Disney's The Sword in the Stone". Retrieved May 15, 2016. 
  4. ^ "The Sword in the Stone is Released". Disney D23. Archived from the original on February 15, 2016. Retrieved March 30, 2015. 
  5. ^ Hill, Jim (December 31, 1999). "The "Chanticleer" Saga -- Part 2". Jim Hill Media. Retrieved March 30, 2015. 
  6. ^ Hill, Jim (December 31, 1999). "The "Chanticleer" Saga -- Part 3". Jim Hill Media. Retrieved March 30, 2015. 
  7. ^ Solomon, Charles (December 2, 1995). The Disney That Never Was: The Stories and Art of Five Decades of Unproduced Animation. Hyperion Books. p. 87. ISBN 978-0786860371. 
  8. ^ Barrier, Michael (2008). The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney. University of California Press. p. 274. ISBN 978-0520256194. 
  9. ^ Beck, Jerry (October 28, 2005). The Animated Movie Guide. Chicago Review Press. p. 262. ISBN 978-1556525919. Retrieved March 30, 2015. 
  10. ^ Canemaker, John (October 21, 1999). Paper Dreams: The Art And Artists Of Disney Storyboards. Disney Editions. p. 184. ISBN 978-0786863075. 
  11. ^ Bill Peet (May 10, 2012). "Seldom Re-Peeted: The Bill Peet Interview". Hogan's Valley (Interview). Interviewed by John Province. Bull Moose Publishing. Retrieved March 30, 2015. 
  12. ^ a b Peet, Bill (1989). Bill Peet: An Autobiography. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 168–71. ISBN 978-0395689820. 
  13. ^ Thomas, Bob (December 28, 1963). "Changing Voices a Problem". Evening Independent. Retrieved June 5, 2016. 
  14. ^ Hischak, Thomas (September 21, 2011). Disney Voice Actors: A Biographical Dictionary. McFarland & Company. p. 176. ISBN 978-0786462711. Retrieved June 5, 2016. 
  15. ^ "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.
  16. ^ "The Sword in the Stone (Re-issue)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved February 5, 2018. 
  17. ^ a b Sinyard, Neil (1988). The Best of Disney. Portland House. pp. 102–105. ISBN 0-517-65346-X. 
  18. ^ "The Sword in the Review". Variety. Retrieved February 5, 2018. 
  19. ^ Crowther, Bosley (December 26, 1963). "Screen: Eight New Movies Arrive for the Holidays". The New York Times. Retrieved February 5, 2018. 
  20. ^ "The Sword in the Stone (1963)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 1, 2009. 
  21. ^ Nell Minow. "The Sword in the Stone - Movie Review". Common Sense Media. Retrieved May 27, 2012. 
  22. ^ "The 36th academy awards (1964)". Retrieved May 15, 2016. 
  23. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved August 19, 2016. 
  24. ^ " The Sword in the Stone (45th Anniversary Special Edition): Norman Alden, Sebastian Cabot, Junius Matthews, The Mello Men, Alan Napier, Rickie Sorenson, Karl Swenson, Martha Wentworth, Barbara Jo Allen, Vera Vague, Wolfgang Reitherman: Movies & TV". June 17, 2008. Retrieved March 30, 2015. 
  25. ^ " The Sword in the Stone (50th Anniversary Edition) [Blu-ray: Rickie Sorenson, Karl Swenson, Norman Alden, Sebastian Cabot, Martha Wentworth, Alan Napier, Junius Matthews, Ginny Tyler, Barbara Jo Allen, Thurl Ravenscroft, Richard Reitherman, Wolfgang Reitherman: Movies & TV". August 6, 2013. Retrieved March 30, 2015. 
  26. ^ First is in S 65051, according to the Inducks
  27. ^ Samson Hex at the Inducks
  28. ^ Square (November 15, 2002). Kingdom Hearts. PlayStation 2. Square Electronic Arts. 
  29. ^ Square (December 22, 2005). Kingdom Hearts II. PlayStation 2. Square Electronic Arts. 
  30. ^ Kit, Borys (July 20, 2015). "'Sword in the Stone' Live-Action Remake in the Works With 'Game of Thrones' Writer (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved July 20, 2015. 
  31. ^ Disney’s Live-Action ‘Sword in the Stone’ Gets a Director;
  32. ^ Disney’s Live-Action ‘Sword and the Stone’ to Begin Filming in September

External links[edit]