STUDIO: Disney
MSRP: $19.99
RUNNING TIME: 79 minutes
Merlin’s Magical Academy game
• Disney Song Selection
Music Magic: The Sherman Brothers
• Walt Disney Presents: All About Magic (excerpt)
• The Sword In the Stone Scrapbook
• Film Facts
• Goofy in A Knight For a Day
• Mickey Mouse in The Brave Little Tailor

The Pitch

“So you’re an orphan boy, instructed by wizards and destined for greatness. Get in line.”

The Humans

Voices of Sebastian Cabot, Karl Swenson, Rickie Sorensen

Directing animators: Frank Thomas, Milt Kahl, Ollie Johnston, John Lounsbery

Story by Bill Peet, based on the book by T.H. White

Director: Wolfgang Reitherman

The Nutshell

Merlin the Magician teaches valuable lessons about power and compassion to the Wart, a boy who will one day be known as Arthur, the Once and Future King. He does this primarily by transforming the kid into various animals and almost getting him killed. Repeatedly. I guess since the old dude experiences history in reverse, he figures it doesn’t matter what he does in the past. Go Merlin.

“What was in those enchiladas?”

The Lowdown

In 1963, Walt Disney Productions was entering a Dark Age of sorts. Sleeping Beauty had been an expensive disappointment at the box office, resulting in scaled-down budgets. Mickey Mouse was rapidly losing market share to Bugs Bunny. And Walt himself wasn’t feeling so hot—The Sword In the Stone was the last animated feature he would live to see completed.

It isn’t a bad film—just an underwhelming one. It’s relatively faithful to White’s vision and sensibility (the original novella more than the revised full book). The animation is fluid and nuanced, but there’s a distinct lack of atmosphere, with little of the shadings and interactive effects that typify the studio’s best work. The songs are decent but too similar to each other, and they all advance the same story point.

One sequence stands out: Merlin has transformed Wart into a squirrel, and they are gallivanting about the treetops, the better to appreciate the law of gravity. Enter a young female squirrel, and with her an example of other forces of attraction. Wart has no choice but to break her little heart—it’s a deceptively powerful moment that hints at an emotional complexity the rest of the film never matches.

A furry is born.

The Package

This is the sort of kid-oriented disc typical of the Mouse House, with an autoplay option that cycles through all the video extras after the movie finishes. The set-top game is well-designed but the ‘song selection’ is just recycled Disney Channel filler.

Maybe for the 50th Anniversary Edition we’ll get a proper documentary about this film’s 20-year journey to the screen. For now, we’ll have to make do with the brief Film Facts and a rather good image gallery.

“I think I just invented caffeine.”

7 out of 10