Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #18: The Sword in the Stone

DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material.

***

The Sword in the Stone represents a couple of milestones in the Disney canon. Firstly, this is the last movie to be released during Walt’s lifetime. It’s also the first Disney movie to feature songs by the Sherman Brothers…

“The Brothers Sheeeeeerman!”

Sorry. Whenever I mention them a choir of angels is apt to descend from heaven singing glorious Hosannas and Hallelujahs. Nothing I can do about it, unfortunately. The Sherman Brothers…

“The Brothers Sheeeeeerman!”

Guys please!

One of the greatest songwriting duos of all time. Possibly the greatest. Certainly the most successful in terms of musicals. I mean just take a look at some of the movies they wrote songs for; Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Snoopy Come Home…fantastic, fantastic songs. Their contributions to Sword in the Stone are not their strongest work but the Shermans on a bad day…  

“The Brothers Sheeeeeerman!”

SHUT UP!

GOD!

Really good songs. Is what I’m saying. Ahem.

But for me Sword in the Stone represents the point where Disney movies, in terms of their animation at least, stopped trying. I don’t mean that the animation is bad. I mean, it’s not great when compared to the rest of the canon but it’s still Disney, dammit. It’s still better than ninety percent of all animation that has ever been created.

Look at you. What are you?
You’re nothing!

But Disney was never content to rest on his laurels. Looking back on the last 18 movies we’ve covered they all tried in some way to do something new, to push the envelope with what was possible with animation. Sometimes these were big, grandiose, damn-the-torpedoes efforts to redefine the medium (your Snow Whites, your Fantasias, your Pinocchios, your Sleeping Beauties.) But even the relatively unambitious movies had a streak of innovation like Make Mine Music’s experiments with style or 101 Dalmatians use of Xerography. Hell, Dumbo, a movie made in the middle of a crippling artists’ strike still managed a watershed, utterly groundbreaking sequence with Pink Elephants on Parade. But Sword in the Stone just…coasts. I can’t think of a single sequence that feels unique from an animation standpoint. “Workmanlike” is the word I’m looking for. And that just doesn’t sit well with me. Disney isn’t supposed to be workmanlike, it’s supposed to be magical.

See? Not the same, is it?

And that’s really sad. But, as I mentioned last week, the Scratchy Movies tend to compensate for being  less good looking with charm, wit and great songs. Like Andy Samberg.

Typical day in the life of the Unshaved Mouse: 1) Google images of Andy Samberg to make fun of his appearance. 2) Realise that, holy shit, the man is GORGEOUS.

The movie begins with a storybook opening and medieval style illustrations setting the scene, much like Sleeping Beauty and that is a bad idea, movie. Seriously. What were you thinking, reminding me of Sleeping Beauty? Shall we do a quick comparison?

Forest

This is Sleeping Beauty.

And this is you, you filthy unwashed cartoon hobo, you.

And this is you, you filthy unwashed cartoon hobo, you.

You know, I have so much respect for you Mouse. The way you can criticise something that took years of meticulous work in just a few minutes. Bravo.

You know, I have so much respect for you, Mouse. The way you can criticise something that took millions of dollars and years of painstaking work in just a few minutes. Bravo.

Look, I’m sorry Walt, but you have to admit this is not your best work? I mean, it’s all just so derivative.

Well, you'd no all about originality, wouldn't you Mouse?

Well, you’d know all about originality, wouldn’t you Mouse?

What’s that supposed to mean?

Tell me, why did you choose the name "Unshaved Mouse" for your blog?

Tell me, why did you choose the name “Unshaved Mouse” for your blog?

Um…well, I don’t really know. It just sort of came to me. It sounded kinda funny so I decided to go with it. Why?

No reason.

No reason.

Hm. Okay.

Anyway, the narrator tells us that the king of England has died and hasn’t left an heir. But just before Game of Thrones can start a sword magically appears in a stone in the centre of London.

And if he be worthy, shall gain the power of Thor Putnam.

And if he be worthy, shall gain the power of Thor Putnam.

But no one can pull the sword from the stone and England collapses into a war-riven Dark Age anyway, making this the least impressive miracle since Moses tried to convince Pharoah to release the Israelites by doing the thumb trick.

"And the LORD hardened Pharoah's heart, so that he thought the thumb trick was totally lame, when in fact it was most awesome."

“And the LORD hardened Pharoah’s heart, so that he thought the thumb trick was totally lame, when in fact it was most awesome.”

We flash forward several years and England has completely gone to shit (a lesser Irishman would make a joke here but as has been previously established, Mouse got class). Law and order have broken down, the strong prey upon the weak, people serve meals with beans touching the rest of the food, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria, two men enter one man leaves!

In the middle of a dark forbidding forest we meet Merlin (voiced by Karl Swenson) as he tries to fetch water from a well, muttering and cursing the lack of mechanisation in the Middle Ages. In the original book Merlin knows all about the twentieth century because he’s ageing backwards like Benjamin Button. In the Disney movie Merlin is a time traveller, but that simply raises the question as to why he stays in the Middle Ages if he hates them so much. Interestingly, Merlin’s designer, Bill Peet, based the character on Walt Disney himself, even giving him Walt’s nose. We also see Merlin’s familiar, Archimedes the owl, who I will admit right now I absolutely friggin’ adore. This is one of the first Disney movies I remember seeing (probably the third after Jungle Book and Little Mermaid) and while I’ll be the first to admit that it’s no masterpiece there is something very likeable about it. Merlin and Archimedes in particular are a very fun pairing, constantly bickering like an old married couple. Merlin is preparing tea for “somebody” who is going to be arriving very shortly, promptly Archimedes to huffily ask “Hoo? I’d like to know hooo!” Oh yeah, get used to the puns. This movies loooooooves its puns.

Merlin has had a vision that a young boy is coming to visit and that it will be his duty to help this boy find his place in the world. We now see the boy, Wart, on the edge of the forest with his step-brother Kay. So let’s take a look at our main character.

Wart is voiced by Rickie Sorenson. And Richard Reitherman. And Robert Reitherman. Confused? Well, Sorenson was originally cast to play Wart but his voice broke like glass halfway through the movie and director Wolfgang Reitherman replaced him with his sons Richard and Robert. Who sounded nothing like Rickie. Or indeed, each other. The result of this is that Wart’s voice changes so drastically from moment to moment that it’s like he’s speaking in tongues.

"What is thy name?""I AM LEGION FOR WE ARE MANY."

“What is thy name?”
“I AM LEGION FOR WE ARE MANY.”

Anyway, Wart is watching his older douchebag stepbrother hunt deer.

You ever dance with the Red Rooster in the pale moonlight?

You ever dance with the Red Rooster in the pale moonlight?

But just as Kay is about to shoot Bambi’s mother (seriously, it’s Bambi’s mother) Wart falls on Kay causing him to miss and sends his arrow flying into the woods. Wart runs into the woods to get the arrow back and almost gets eaten by a half-starved wolf.

Poor bastard blew all his money on Acme products.

Poor bastard blew all his money on Acme products.

Trying to get the arrow back, Wart falls from a tree and through Merlin’s roof. Merlin tells the boy that he’s been expecting him and that he is going to be his tutor. He also tells him that he is a wizard with the power to see centuries into the future which Wart takes pretty much in stride.

This tea is FUCKING INCREDIBLE.

This tea is FUCKING INCREDIBLE.

Wart realises that he has to get back to the castle before they miss him, so Merlin promptly packs up his entire house into one suitcase with the song “Higitus Figitus“. It’s a fun little ditty but I can’t really give too many points to…the songwriting duo who wrote it…because it’s sort of a cheat. Half the lyrics are just made up nonsense magic words which makes it so much easier to make it rhyme. Still, it is enjoyable, and the animation of all the various pieces of furniture and books moving about the house is one of the few scenes in the movie with any kind of visual pizzazz. Wart is very impressed by this but Merlin warns him not to think that magic can solve all his problems, because it can’t. Okay, very quickly I want you to guess which character in this movie uses magic to overcome every single obstacle he faces. Go on, guess. Go on. You’ll never guess.

merlin

Using magic to solve his problems while flipping you the bird. That’s Merlin.

Meanwhile, back at the castle, Wart’s foster-father Ector is berating Kay for letting Wart wander off into the forest alone. Ector is something of a rarity for a Disney movie. He’s an antagonist for most of the story, obstructing Merlin every step of the way and often bullying Wart. But he’s also portrayed very sympathetically and the movie makes clear that he’s not a bad man and that he does genuinely care for the boy.  Wart returns and Ector tells him off so harshly that he changes voice actor. Merlin tells Ector that he’s a wizard and when he doesn’t believe him he uses magic to solve the problem even though using magic doesn’t solve your problems. Merlin conjures a blizzard to appear over Ector’s head  leading Ector to cry out “Kay! Look at this! An indoor blizzard, and in the month of July!” but Kay only responds with “So what?” and…damn Kay is jaded. He’s like the medieval patron saint of Generation X.

Ooooh supernatural powers. "Groovy."

Ooooh, supernatural powers. “Groovy”.

Ector’s convinced that Merlin’s a wizard and asks him whether he dabbles in black magic but Merlin assures him he “never touches the stuff”.

Are we SURE he's based on Disney?

Are we SURE he’s based on Disney?

Merlin takes up residence in the most dilapidated tower in the castle and begins tutoring Wart. Meanwhile, Ector’s friend Pellinor arrives from London to tell him that there’s going to be a jousting tournament on New Year’s day and that to the winner will go the crown because that is a fantastic way to pick a king.

I mean look at him. He's got "Administrative Competence" written all over him in the blood of innocent children.

I mean look at him. He’s got “Administrative Competence” written all over him in the blood of his enemies.

Kay casually remarks that that’s a “pretty fair prize” because fuck Kay. Absolute power over an entire nation and a million subjects within his grasp and his reaction is essentially “I suppose that wouldn’t completely suck.” What an asshole.

'Cos this is Kay's United Kingdom of "Whatever".

‘Cos this is Kay’s United Kingdom of “Whatever”.

Ector tells Wart that if he does his chores he can be Kay’s squire and Wart is so happy he changes voice actors.

The rest of the movie largely follows this pattern; Merlin turns Wart into an animal, Wart escapes a predator, Wart learns some lesson, rinse, lather and repeat. First of all Merlin transforms himself and Wart into fish and they go swimming in the castle moat. We get a great Sherman Brothers…

"The Brothers Sheeeeeerman!"

“The Brothers Sheeeeeerman!”

JAAAAAARRRRRRGGGHHHHH!

A great song called That’s What Makes the World Go Round,  where Merlin explains to Wart that as someone who is small and largely powerless (a small fish in a big pond as it were) he will have to use his intellect to out-think a world that only respects physical power. The song gets cut short when they’re attacked by a massive pike. Merlin gets trapped in a helmet and as Wart is chased by the huge predator he yells at Merlin to use magic to save him. But of course, magic can’t solve Wart’s problems, only Merlin’s. So Merlin tells him that now is Wart’s chance to prove Merlin’s point about brain beating brawn. And…surely if it’s Merlin’s point Merlin should be the one to prove it? Also, this is probably the most reckless case of child endangerment by a wizard since…

Yeah. That.

No comment.

Wart tries to shake the Pike off and thinks he’s finally lost him, only to turn around…

Spielberg

…and come face to face with its single, yellow predatory eye and wait just a damn minute here!

Oh my God. Spielberg, you whore!

Oh my God. Spielberg, you whore!

Fortunately, the pike’s vision is based on movement and Wart escapes with a little help from Archimedes. Merlin emerges from the lake swearing vengeance on the pike and saying he’ll turn him into a minnow because magic doesn’t solve your problems.

Later, Wart is scrubbing pots in the kitchen as punishment for being late and Merlin appears and asks him if he’s ever considered being a squirrel. Merlin tells him that the question of how the squirrel has survived throughout the ages is one of life’s greatest mysteries.

Really?

Squirrels are small, agile animals with a diversified diet allowing them to adapt easily  to changes in their food supply and a natural habitat (the treetops) to which relatively few large predators can gain access. Where’s my Nobel prize?

Sigh. I'll throw it on the pile, I suppose.

Sigh. I’ll throw it on the pile, I suppose.

Wart says he’d love to try being a squirrel but he can’t, because thanks to Merlin’s last stunt by the time Wart’s finished cleaning the dishes the dishwasher will have been invented and made his entire life’s work pointless.  Merlin, realising that magic can’t solve your problems, casts a spell over all the dishes so they start washing themselves. He also makes the brooms come to life and start sweeping the floor because of course he does. I can see the story meeting now.

MORE BROOMS!

MORE BROOMS!

Walt. Please. We can't put magic brooms in every single movie we make that's crazy!

Walt. Please. We can’t put magic brooms in every single movie we make, that’s crazy!

Oh? And I suppose you want to put magic mops? Now who's crazy!?!

BROOOOOOOOMS!

Next thing you know, Squirrel-Wart is leaping from branch to branch while a terrified Merlin yells at him to be careful. So. To recap:

1) Taking on a pike unarmed in the body of a goldfish, possibly the most defenceless of all God’s creatures: a necessary part of any young boy’s education.

2) Leaping from branch to branch as a squirrel: UNACCEPTABLE RISK.

Anyway, this sequence is one of the most famous in the movie and probably the only one with any kind of real emotional heft. This movie follows the Scratchy model of largely steering clear of the big traumatic moments of earlier Disney films, but it does have one genuinely heartbreaking moment. Wart encounters a girl squirrel who becomes instantly smitten with him. The girl squirrel is voiced by Ginny Taylor who does a terrific job with the wordless part, imbuing the character’s little chuckles and squeaks with real charm. She chases Wart around the tree and then rescues him from the wolf when Merlin accidentally pushes him off the tree. The girl squirrel’s heartbreak and confusion when Wart is transformed back into a human is very affecting and it leads to my favorite exchange of dialogue in the film:

Merlin: You know, lad, that love business is a powerful thing.

Wart: Greater than gravity?

Merlin: Well yes, boy, in its way… yes, I’d say it’s the greatest force on earth.

It’s Swenson’s sad, world-weary delivery of the line that really sells it for me. It’s a beautiful moment.

Anyway, back at the castle Ector and Kay are re-enacting the battle of Helm’s Deep with Merlin’s possessed crockery. Ector accuses Merlin of black magic and endangering the lives of everyone in the castle and Wart angrily leaps to Merlin’s defence because Stockholm Syndrome is a powerful mistress. Wart tells Ector that just because he doesn’t understand something like the love between a boy and the wizard who’s constantly almost getting him killed, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.  Ector explodes in and says that Wart just talked himself out of being Kay’s squires and that “Hobbes” gets the honour of being Kay’s death caddy.

Yes. All is going to plan...

Yes. All is going to plan…

Wart is devastated, but Merlin convinces him to continue with his studies.

Later, Merlin tries to teach Wart about the discovery of America and Archimedes quite sensibly points out that Wart can’t be expected to learn history that hasn’t happened yet. Merlin flies into a tantrum and pulls the old “if you’re so smart why don’t you do it?” routine and Archimedes counters with a “Fine! I will!”. Before you know it, Archimedes is teaching Wart how to read and write and he’s gone a good…oh half an hour without being nearly eaten. Well, clearly Merlin can’t be having that so he turns Wart into a sparrow. Archimedes, no doubt realising that if it’s left up to Merlin Sparrow-Wart will probably be fighting the Roc of Persia before the day is out, wisely decides to give Wart a flying lesson himself. Things start out fine but soon, because Merlin keeps turning Wart into animals that smell irresistibly delicious to every predator in a hundred mile radius, Wart gets chased into the forest by a hawk and ends up flying down the chimney of Madame Mim’s cottage.

Sword-disneyscreencaps_com-7051

Madame Mim is Merlin’s polar opposite, a powerful witch who loves inflicting misery on people as opposed to Merlin who just does it accidentally. She’s actually a hugely popular character in some parts of the world, appearing almost weekly in various Disney comics. Mim has a song where she shows off her powers to Wart, transforming from huge to tiny and then ugly to beautiful. But of course, it’s not true beauty.

I'm on a boat. I'm on a boat with HIM. SHUT UP! LET ME DREAM!

I’m on a boat. I’m on a boat with him.
SHUT UP! LET ME DREAM!

Mim tells Wart that she’s going to kill him and turns into a cat and chases him around the cottage. She’s about to eat him (fifth time this has happened to him for anyone keeping score) when Merlin bursts in to save Wart because if there’s anyone who’s going to get Wart killed it’s going to be him, dammit. Mim then challenges Merlin to a Wizard’s Duel.

To the pinball machines!

To the pinball machines!

The wizard’s duel scene is my favorite in the whole movie, probably because I was one of those kids who was asking “Who would win?” questions before I was out of nappies or possibly even the womb. The wizard’s duel basically involves Mim and Merlin turning into different things to try to destroy each other within the following rules:

1) Only animals, no minerals or vegetables (thereby denying us the epic parsley versus amethyst smackdown we’ve all been waiting for).

Bring it, bitch!

Bring it, bitch!

I already did. If by "it" you mean "your mother to orgasm."

I already did. If by “it” you mean “your mother to orgasm.”

2) No make-believe creatures “like pink dragons”.

3) No disappearing.

4) No cheating.

5) You do not talk about Wizard’s Duel.

6) You DO NOT TALK about Wizard’s Duel.

7) If it’s your first time. You have to Duel.

The duel begins and it’s an absolute hoot. The constant switching between animal forms is great fun to watch, particularly as they Mim and Merlin are still very recognizably themselves in their animal forms, with Merlin’s moustache plainly visible regardless of whether he’s a rabbit, a crab or a…mouse.

An Unshaved Mouse...

An Unshaved Mouse…

No.

No it can’t be…

No!

It’s not possible.

You know what I must do now?

You know what I must do now?

OH MY GOD!

OH MY GOD!

UNSHAVED MOUSE! YOU WHORE!

UNSHAVED MOUSE! YOU WHORE!

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!****&*&*&*u*uijkjolkjlkmlkjohjhjn<mnjkhhjknlkmljlkm<>>>?<kl:@~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

……

You fucking...wait, what?

Mouse? Mouse can you hear me?

Yes.

Jesus. Everything I've ever done is pure, feculent garbage.

Good. I need you to listen very carefully. You are currently in a hypnotised state. When you wake up you will remember none of this, but it will remain in your subconscious mind. There has always been an Unshaved Mouse. One born in every generation.

Like the slayer?

UNSHAVED MOUSE! YOU WHORE!

Like the slayer, yes. This movie was the last one released before my death. I was the Unshaved Mouse of my time. I foresaw my own death and so I put the image of Merlin as a mustachioed mouse into the movie. This was why you fixated on the image of the Unshaved Mouse as a child, and why you have always had such a morbid fascination with moustaches.

You mustachioed bastard.

I am a nasty work of ART.

Yes. You will have to continue my work, Mouse. There is a dark time coming.  You will have to face an evil the likes of which you can scarcely conceive.

Edgar Bergen?

That's two. Only forty-eight to go, Mouse.

Worse. Far worse. I can tell you no more. The time is not yet right. But you will have help. Help from a friend long thought dead. You will know when the time is right. Goodbye my heir. You will most likely die a horrible, horrible death. So…good luck with that.

Wow. Sorry. I must have dozed off on the keyboard. Apologies. Okay, where were we? Oh right, the wizards duel.

Mim favours big predators like tigers, alligators and snakes whereas Merlin prefers smaller creatures. Finally, Merlin turns into a goat and butts Mim into a lake whereupon she decides that shit just got real and turns into a dragon.

MAGIC WAND, MAKE MY MONSTER GROW!

MAGIC WAND, MAKE MY MONSTER GROW!

Mim claims she’s not cheating because there is no rule against purple dragons but I’m pretty sure purple dragons would be considered “like pink dragons” in a court of law. Regardless, it looks like Merlin’s beaten but then he turns into a germ called Malagolintomontorosis and infects her.

Leaving Mim a miserable, bedridden wreck, Merlin, Archimedes and Wart return to the castle and Merlin asks Wart what he learned from the experience.

"Bioweapons can be an effective alternative to conventional force?""Good lad!"

“Bioweapons can be an effective alternative to conventional force?”
“Good lad!”

Wart clearly takes this advice on board because the next thing you know Hobbes has “mysteriously” come down with the mumps and that means Warts gets to be Kay’s squire after all. Wart excitedly runs to tell Merlin but Merlin is furious because he was training him to be something better than a squire, something like…I honestly have no idea. What job could possibly require you to have the experience of being a squirrel, a fish and an a bird? Maybe he’s preparing him to be England’s first animorph.

Yeah, remember this? This was a thing.

Remember? When this was a thing?

Anyway, Wart finally cracks and launches into Merlin telling him that he doesn’t know anything about life in the Middle Ages and that he should just leave him alone.

I just want a life where Im not in CONSTANT DANGER OF BEING EATEN! IS THAT SO WRONG?!

I just want a life where I’m not in CONSTANT DANGER OF BEING EATEN! IS THAT SO WRONG?!

YES!

YES!!!

Merlin finally has enough and screams “BLOW ME TO BERMUDA!” and accidentally turns himself into a rocket and blasts off. And really, that could have gone a whole lot worse. We should be grateful that’s how things shook out.

Anyway, in London Ector, Kay, Wart and Archimedes  are watching the tournament when Wart realises that he’s forgotten Kay’ sword. Kay is furious and for once I’m actually on his side here. That is ridiculous Wart, you had one job. How could you forget Kay’s sword?

Maybe if Merlin had turned him into a elephant?

Maybe if Merlin had turned him into an elephant?

Anyway, Wart runs back to the inn but it’s all locked up. Wart then sees the Sword in the Stone and pulls it out like it ain’t no thang.

Wart hurries back and gives Kay the sword but Ector realises that this is not regular killin’ people cutlery, but fancy cutlery! The tournament is immediately called off.

My God. I can't believe it. I'm in the final. Who would have though that I, Sir Osric, the illegitimate son of a circus contortionist and a pig-faced lady, could through sheer hard work and constant training rise through the knighthood and now stand poised to become king of all England?

My God. I can’t believe it. I’m in the final. Who would have though that I, Sir Osric, the illegitimate son of a circus contortionist and a pig-faced lady, could through sheer hard work and constant training rise through the knighthood and now stand poised to become king of all England? Sure, I’ve had to kill many of my closest friends to get here. I’ve cracked four ribs and lost three fingers but it’ll all be worth it once I…

HOLD EVERYTHING! SOMEONE HAS PULLED THE SWORD FROM THE STONE!

HOLD EVERYTHING! SOMEONE HAS PULLED THE SWORD FROM THE STONE!

Oh God DAMN it!

Oh you are fucking KIDDING ME!

They put the sword back and make Wart pull it out again and sure enough, the first time wasn’t a fluke. Ector gets down on his knees before Wart and asks his forgiveness. Wart is declared king and is installed on the throne in London. Not  in Camelot, for as we all know, it is a silly place.

Wart doesn’t want to be king, as his training as a squirrel, fish and bird really hasn’t prepared him for it and he tries to escape. Merlin returns and realises that Wart’s destiny is to become King Arthur. Which…considering he’s a wizard named Merlin who’s been to the future, surely he should have pieced that together by now? Well anyway. Merlin and Wart are reunited and the movie ends with a chorus of Hail King Arthur.

I really like this movie, and I always have ever since I was a kid when I used to watch it and black out halfway through with no memory of what had happened and with a strange sensation in the back of my mind that I had been chosen to take part in a grand struggle between good and evil beyond my comprehension and in which I was simply a mere pawn. But I think everyone has a movie like that in their childhood.

Right?

Right?

The movie did very well at the box-office, finishing as the sixth most lucrative film of 1963 and it’s still very fondly remembered today. Not fantastic, but there’s a great deal to love with some excellent voice work, appealing characters and of course the great songs of the Sherman Brothers.

"The Brothers Sheeeeeerman!"

“The Brothers Sheeeeeerman!”

250px-Operation_Upshot-Knothole_-_Badger_001I warned them.

I fucking warned them.

See you next time.

Scoring

Animation: 12/20

So scratchy you want to give it a flea bath.

The Leads: 15/20

Karl Swenson does a great job as Merlin, and despite the VERY distracting lack of continuity between the different voices of Wart, he’s still a more layered and appealing character than most Disney leads.

The Villain: 14/20

Mim is hilarious but not really what you’d call menacing.

Supporting Characters: 15/20

Archimedes and Ector both have more sides to their personality than is usual for Disney. A strong showing from the second stringers.

The Music: 14/20

I’m marking this low because this is far from the best that the Sherman’s are capable of even if these songs are good in their own right. We’ll see just what they are capable of in the next few reviews.

FINAL SCORE: 70%

NEXT WEEK: We take a break from the Disney canon as the Unshaved Mouse takes a look at another one of Disney’s live action efforts. Will it be better than Song of the South? Be sure to find out next week!

Mary-Poppins-mv01

Or I could just tell you. Yes. Yes it is.

Neil Sharpson AKA The Unshaved Mouse, is a playwright, comic book writer and blogger living in Dublin. The blog updates every Thursday. Thanks for reading!

21 comments

  1. I totally get you…”The Sword in the Stone” is one of the kiddy movies, you really enjoy as a child (because, frankly, who never wanted to be able to fly or swim under water?), but even as an adult, there is enough to it that you don’t get the “God I liked THAT? How stupid was I as a child??????” effect. Yes, the segment with the squirrel and the wizards duell are by far the best in the movie. And yes, I really enjoy the side characters, especially Sir Ector.
    Just the dubbing…There are a couple of Disney movies I prefer to watch in english. There are a couple where I like both dubbings. There are a couple for which I wish there was some sort of mix of the German and the English dubbing. And there are a couple for which I very much prefer the German version for various reason, but don’t have a beef with the english one….this is the one movie I can’t watch in english! The changing voice actors are distracting, the puns (thankfully most of them are untranslatable, especially the whoooooo one) are painful – yes, the squirrel is good, but they left that in the German version (well, no reason to change squirrel-talk), and with Warts erneast German voice, the scene is even more heartbreaking.
    I guess, it shows that Walt Disney wasn’t really happy with the scratchy style, and that he gave a shit about this movie. Obviously there was noone there who pushed the animators (and everyone else involved) to their limits.

    1. To be honest, I think it’s more that he was too busy with Mary Poppins at the time to really give this one all his attention (he would consider Mary Poppins to be his crowning achievement). But I also really loved this movie, even though I could never figure out as a child why Wart’s voice kept changing.

  2. Great job unshaved mouse! This is my favorite review of yours to date! I loved the “Thor Putnam” joke!

    I enjoy “The Sword in the Stone” very much as well. It’s great to see the first animated film that the Sherman Brothers worked on (I was devastated, as I’m sure we all were, when Robert Sherman passed away earlier this year). And the duel scene between Merlin and Madame Mim was always my favorite part of the film and in my opinion, the most creative Disney scene (closely followed by the climax of “Robin Hood” which I’m sure you’ll mention when the time comes).

    I also believe that Merlin is one of the most underrated and underused of the Disney characters! He’s so perfect, and yet Stitch is more popular and liked than him!

  3. I shall hear nothing against Stitch! I love that little guy. I agree though that Merlin is a great and underrated character. It’s kind of odd that this is the only Disney movie from this period that doesn’t have a sequel or spin off. Not that I’m complaining, mind.

    1. Oh well, you’re free to love your Stitch 🙂 ! I honestly never liked him or the film “Lilo and Stitch”. I actually plan to do a list on my blog (a la Nostalgia Critic) of the top 11 animated films I don’t really like, but everyone else does!

      But yeah, “The Sword and the Stone” opens itself to a plethora of ideas for sequels/spinoffs.

      Oh unshavedmouse, have you watched Doug Walker’s “Disneycember”?

  4. Great review Unshavedmouse. I do agree that this is not Walt Disney’s stronger works, and that it has some charm. This movie always flew over my head when I was a child, and now that I have watched it, ….. yeah, worse than Sleeping Beauty and Alice. It is not as bad as some of the films to come from the 70-80s, and 2000s. I just think it is a bit too laid-back for its own good.

  5. I love your picture jokes and “next week” teasers the most. They’re so fudging funny. Yeah so a person who hates to swear (me) is reading a blog were every other line includes the word “whore”. Hmmm interesting.

  6. We just watched this with the girls, and it never occurred to me before that Merlin’s song while the girl squirrel is harassing Wart pretty much amounts to “When someone’s pressuring you for sex, just give in because they’ll get their way in the end.”

  7. Yeah, Sword in the Stone. This one was pretty late to have its existence acknowledged by kid me, but I enjoyed it enough when I came to discover it. Plus, Bill Peet worked on this movie, I’ve got to give points to a movie when one of my favourite children’s storybook writers is involved.

    Yeah, Archimedes is pretty cool. I think it’s especially interesting how different he is from Merlin in approach to things (far more practical in terms of the customs of the times and preferring to stick to them). Even if Ector’s wrong about his being educated by magic, it still seems pretty likely Merlin educated him, so I have to wonder what made him so much more traditional. He is pretty nice to have around as the contrarian to Merlin, the two definitely have a good dynamic.

    “Medieval patron saint of Generation X.” Hah. Good one. I think Kay was one of the characters to get screwed the most in the adaptation transition. I seem to remember him being a bit of a jerk in the book, but definitely not the bummer-class-accented lug he is in this movie. And I’ve got to say, your description of Wart’s being stimulated into switching voices makes me chuckle too.

    Nice defence of your fellow rodents there, Mouse. Squirrels are excellent at surviving as well as ensuring annoying talking llamas do not. And yes, I liked the squirrel that Wart meets, and I think that moment of confused sorrow is at least *partly* worth having Merlin turn Wart into a less badass animal than the books (the guy got to be a badger and witness the terror of all the woodland creatures in his presence, how awesome would that have been?). I’ve heard from someone I knew who was the ex-wife of a gay man that the squirrel was a very relatable character for her when her husband first left her. It’s got the same element of crushing shock that your supposed loved one was in fact not someone who could ever possibly be with you. Definitely one of the most emotional parts in the story.

    Plot twist: Sher Khan really hates humans for thwarting his fellow tiger, Hobbes’s quest for power by becoming the new king’s right-hand. Though I guess Hobbes just got screwed by random mumps, but you know humans have never been above chemical warfare. Or wizards for that matter. Speaking of Calvin and Hobbes, nice reference to that unmentionable movie in the Wizard’s Duel intro.

    I must say, one of my favourite moments with Archimedes is the buildup to the flying lesson scene where Merlin tries to get an airplane model airborne and fails spectacularly. I think if Archimedes had laughed harder he’d probably burst into a feathery explosion of hysteria. And I can’t argue too much that this Merlin seems a bit negligent. The book has Arthur turning into a much less delicious owl and a not-so-appetizing falcon (a merlin, because Merlin’s vain like that).

    And Mim. I like Mim. She kind of reminds me of a less dangerous version of Yzma. The psychotic, hilariously wacky, transformation-inducing witch in lavender. That and the Wizard’s Duel is definitely the best part. So much so that sometimes watching at home we hit the “stop” button after it’s over. It’s good enough that it actually shows up the ending quite a bit.

    Hey, at least Merlin didn’t say “blow me to Bahia”, right? A magic person madder than Mim is a dangerous thing.

    Yeah, The Sword in the Stone is enjoyable to watch, but I think it suffers from a lack of consistency, which I think you’ve definitely made mention of. Merlin sets it down early on that magic can’t solve all your problems and then pretty much every problem in the movie is magicked away. The initial part of the story sets this message of “earn your happy ending” pretty firmly – I’d say That’s What Makes The World Go Round is almost the anti-When You Wish Upon A Star, with that verse saying what happens in your life is in your hands and you can’t just assume fate will always make the world right, and then the climax just has Wart randomly stumbling into greatness because he was destined to it and Merlin inexplicably comes back to him and accepts that. Your caption bit with Osric definitely highlights the irony that even the knights whom Merlin scorned as being mindless jocks were working harder than Arthur had to to get into a position of influence. I think it would be better if the movie went further with the adaptational changes it made. The transformation scenes clearly increased the theme of Wart’s experience being an uphill battle, having him become helpless prey animals and never predators. If that had been carried into the climax and had Wart come out on top by using skills and intellect to gain achievement the plot would probably have worked better than it did where it seemed as if Merlin’s advice was building up to something Wart had to face later instead of pretty much only getting anywhere after ignoring everything he taught him. But then again. I guess the filmmakers were left with no hope in the beginning if the story they were working with had the magical artefact that could provide a happy ending by deus ex machina right in its name.

  8. The real problem with this movie for me is that it’s a heavily abridged take on about a quarter of a story. It ends on a happy note, which I’m sure is why Disney stopped there, but The Sword In the Stone is only the first book of a tetralogy, which unsurprisingly ends with the collapse of everything Arthur has been struggling for the entire book (there’s a reason Malory called his version of the Arthur story the DEATH of Arthur, after all).

    That leaves the story without a villain, so they added the sequence with Mim, and while the sequence is entertaining, it still feels very tacked-on. It’s hard to even consider her a villain, she’s just a minor hurdle.

    I have problems with this movie for the same reason you had problems with Peter Pan … the source material is SO MUCH BETTER that this pales in comparison. On the other hand, I don’t actively hate it, since (Mim aside) it’s relatively faithful to the spirit of the book, though the changes made to the transformations makes them pointless (as you correctly noted; the one real exception is the fish transformation, because that sort of starts Wart thinking about how being bigger and stronger than everyone else doesn’t automatically make you right).

    1. I don’t see how Disney could ever do a faithful version of the later parts of the Arthurian saga. Then again, “The Lion King” and “The hunchback of Notre-Dame” are really dark movies from the studio. So maybe it could work, if they got the right people to do the project. But I certainly don’t mind that they so far have only did this movie about Arthur as a young boy.

      Sir Ector also works as an antagonist in this story, even though I don’t dislike him as much as i used to. He is an overly strict disciplinarian to a pre-teen protagonist, and he is also very prejudiced against Merlin’s magic. But I guess I can’t call him a villain, even if he comes across as a somewhat milder Medieval version of Vernon Dursley from “Harry Potter”. But as for Madame Mim, I have seen her as Disney’s version of Nimue, as in the witch who I believe trapped Merlin inside a cave.

      1. Medieval Vernon Dursley. That is just too perfect. I hope one of the Honest Trailers guys reads that incorporates it into an honest trailer for this movie (unlikely as it is, being on the obscure side).

        Wasn’t Mim in the Sword in the Stone book though? I seem to remember her episode being the ones which Kay was edited out of in the adaptation. I don’t quite remember what happened in that part, but if I recall correctly, she wasn’t made up for the movie.

      2. It’s been a couple of years since I re-read it, but if Mim is in the book, it’s a VERY small part.

        Wart wants to take Kay (who in the book is a lot closer to the same age as Wart, instead of being a loudmouthed nearly-adult lunk) along on some of his magic adventures, but Merlin generally won’t allow it. The one adventure Kay goes along is the one where the boys meet Maid Marian and the Merry Men, and wind up confronting Morgan le Fey… I suppose Mim could be Disney’s take on Morgan, but if so they changed the episode drastically; Kay’s not around in the movie version, and Merlin wasn’t around in the book version (Morgan is defeated when the boys bring cold iron near her and it disrupts her enchantments).

        As Furienna suggests, she COULD be Disney’s version of Nimue, but Nimue doesn’t show up until much later (a couple of books later, in fact) and it’s implied she’s hot (Merlin is “looking backward” … he lives backward, you see … to seeing her a great deal, even though he knows she’s going to trap him). Maybe Nimue is living backward too, but a lot faster than Merlin, so that in the couple-of-decade span between Wart-as-a-youngster and adult King Arthur, she goes from “hot nymph” to Mim?

  9. The movie’s biggest problem is it doesn’t feel like Wart has had a character arc. Basically, he’s exactly the same character he was at the start of the movie. He hasn’t done anything to ‘earn’ or ‘deserve’ (whether you interpret it as a gift or curse) becoming a king, and neither has done anything to even begin to prove he might be up for the position other than being a ‘nice boy’. His pulling of the sword comes off less as something that caps his early character progression into a man and more as something that happens because it has to happen in an Arthuric telling!

    1. Arthur is a young boy (I believe that Merlin said that he was about twelve years old), who has only just started what you might call his “character arc”. That seems to be something, that many people can’t get over, that this movie is only about a relatively short period in the beginning of Arthur’s life. But if you want to find out what happens later, you have to rely on other sources than a Disney movie. And I am fine with that.

      And as for Arthur “earning” or “deserving” to become king, he was the son of the last king! I know that this version doesn’t explain that (because the story about Arthur’s conceptions has no place in what basicially is a children’s movie), but when you know that, everything will make sense. And yet again, he is no more than twelve years old. So he is not up to the position, yet. But as soon as Merlin returns, we know that eveything will be fine.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s