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MMYIF: The Sword In The Stone

My Misspent Youth In Films...



The Sword In The Stone
Directed by: Wolfgang Reitherman, Clyde Geronimi, David hand
Starring: Rickie Sorenson, Sabastian Cabot, Karl Swenson
Released: June 21, 1964

A poor boy named Arthur learns the power of love, kindness, knowledge and bravery with the help of a wizard called Merlin in the path to become one of the most beloved kings in English history.

What I Thought Then

This was one of my favorite movies that we didn't own--which meant whenever we visited someone who owned it, we made sure to watch it, which ended up being rather often. I loved the magic, Merlin's zany antics, and the running commentary from Merlin's surly pet owl Archimedes. I remember being completely stunned to realize in the end that this little boy was the King Arthur (a detail that was provided in the opening titles, but what do you want I was six).

What I Think Now

Based on T. H. White's eponymous book, the first part of The Once And Future King, this film has the kind of unfocused narrative that would plague early Disney projects. It's not actually a story. It's a series of related vignettes that all happen to be shown in sequence. There's no arc, no plot, no real point, and not even a clear protagonist. The story is ostensibly about the lad Arthur (called "Wart" for most of the runtime) but the narrative is overwhelmingly more centered around the wizard Merlin, who is the more interesting and dynamic character. But then Merlin gets in a huff and disappears, meaning he's off-screen for the climax of the film, the moment when Wart/Arthur pulls the titular sword from the titular stone and becomes the titular once and future king.

That said, the individual vignettes are entertaining. Each one plays out with humor and gusto and maybe a song sung by Merlin. In an attempt to teach Wart about bravery and knowledge, Merlin transforms the lad into a fish, a squirrel, and a bird, so he can experience the world from a new perspective. The fact that Merlin can see into the future gives him license to make some jokes and references that would otherwise be anachronistic, and he approaches the proceedings with good-natured bumbling. You know that scene at the beginning of The Fellowship Of The Ring where Gandalf bumps his head at Bilbo's house? It's that, but for the entire movie.

The lack of narrative drive bogs things down a bit, and there's only so much that fun characters and magical spectacle can cover for that. Even at a scant eighty minutes, I was getting pretty bored by the end. There's a nice stand-out moment in the middle though, and that's Merlin's wizard's duel against Mad Madam Mim for the life of young Wart who is currently in the form of bird. They battle by transforming into different animals--that's a stipulation of the duel, animals only. I loved this sequence when I was kid, but as an adult... it just raises a bunch of questions. Why, for instance, does Merlin not turn into carnivores. He eventually wins by becoming a germ. Now... here's where I'm going to quibble. First of all, germs aren't animals. Second, they get you sick by reproducing within your body. They also tend to be relatively species-specific, so Mim would be a transformation away from getting healthy again.

But whatever.

Recommendation?

If you have fond memories of it, you won't be put off. It's on Disney+.

Tune in next week to see more magic, music, cartoons, and also British nannies...

In My Misspent Youth In Films, Kurt is going through his the movies he grew up on. Read the explainer or see more posts.

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