Disney’s Eighteenth Animated Feature – 1963
The sixties were a turbulent decade for, well … the entire planet. For reasons that had nothing to do with social upheaval, the sixties were a turbulent decade for the Disney animation studio as well. The sixties saw lay-offs, reorganization, and a scaling back of a company that seemed on an endless trajectory of success and growth.
In the 1930s, Walt Disney had to take out a bank loan to finish Snow White. If the film failed, he and his company would have failed, too. But Snow White was a phenomenal success that changed the world of animation and ensured Disney’s short-term security. By the late fifties, despite a sharp downturn in American movie-going in general, Disney gambled on another princess—Sleeping Beauty—pumping boatloads of cash into its production, taking a “pull out all the stops” attitude. Disney believed that the jump in quality and production values would return to him in prestige and box office. But this time, the gamble failed. Sleeping Beauty didn’t find its audience and Disney responded with layoffs.
|Young Wart scrubs and cleans, just|
like "Snow White" as Merlin watches.
|Both Wart and Merlin become fish.|
|Wart is now King Arthur.|
|Madam Mim emerged as a particular|
The Sword In the Stone represents an unusual chapter in the Disney canon. It’s a good film but not a great one. It’s thankfully absent of any dubious stereotypes or racism. And the character Wart suffers enough so that the audience is genuinely happy for him at the climactic moment in the film: serving as a squire to his stepbrother Kay, Wart realizes he forgot to bring Kay’s sword to an important tournament. Wart spies a sword sticking out of an anvil and easily pulls it out. It’s the sword Excalibur, of course, which makes Wart the “rightwise” king of England. Just as in the book, the skeptical crowd is only satisfied when the sword is returned to the stone and only Wart is able to pull it out again (after Kay and others fail). The film makes a quick exit after that moment, skipping the coronation and showing Wart—now King Arthur—rather lonely on his throne. When he tries to escape, he’s met at every door and window with shouts, “Hail, King Arthur!” and he’s left with Archimedes and Merlin to make the best of his “prison.” And he certainly will; but frankly, the story ends just when it’s getting good. Seems like this film was begging for a sequel that it never got. There’s a lot more material in The Once and Future King just waiting to be animated (just saying).