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Disney: The Sword in the Stone

Disney meets King Arthur.

Loosely adapted from the novel of the same name by T. H. White, which became part one of The Once and Future King.

This film version was made in 1963, as the 18th entry in the Disney Animated Canon. It was Walt Disney's penultimate animated film and the last one released while he was still alive. At the start of the story, the king Uther Pendragon has died. Soon after, a sword stuck in an anvil appears in London with a message that says that the person who can remove the sword is the legitimate successor to the throne. However, no one is able to succeed at this task.

Cut several years later to the main protagonist, twelve-year-old Arthur, also called Wart. He is an orphan who was taken in and raised by Sir Ector. Arthur, who is training to be a squire, is under the apprenticeship of Sir Kay, his older foster brother. One day, while accompanying Kay on a hunting trip, Wart inadvertently distracts the knight, causing the aim of his arrow to go off target, missing the deer and losing the ammo. The younger boy goes into the forest to retrieve it. While doing so, he accidentally crashes into the house of the magician Merlin. Upon meeting, the wizard declares that he will tutor Arthur, a decision that greatly changes the boy's life.


This film provides examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer:
    • There are two female squirrels who qualify (though one of them is ambiguous as to whether or not she's this):
      • The one who falls for Merlin is portrayed as comical when Merlin resumes human form, angrily retreating to her lair and shaking her fist at Merlin.
      • The one squirrel who falls for Wart is drawn to be extremely cute and instead of being portrayed as comical she's portrayed as heartbroken and sympathetic.
  • Accidental Misnaming:
    • Arthur is called "Wart", mostly by his caretaker/guardian Ector and his son Kay.
    • Ector also keeps referring to Merlin as "Marvin".
  • Action Girl: The girl squirrel for biting the wolf who thought Wart was a nice snack.
  • Affably Evil: Madame Mim is cheerful, amiable, and pretty friendly when Arthur blunders into her house, and while he can tell she's unpleasant, he doesn't even realize she's dangerous until she tells him she has to kill him which she says with about as much fanfare as someone saying it's suddenly started raining.
  • Amazing Technicolor Wildlife: Whenever a person is magically transformed into an animal.
  • All Women Are Lustful: The female squirrels immediately pursue Merlin and Wart as mates, while Madame Mim even sort-of attempts to seduce Arthur of all people. The only female character in the film who doesn't deliberately attempt to seduce someone is the scullery maid.
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • While it's far from the only adaptation to do so, this sets King Arthur in medieval England, about a thousand years after King Arthur is supposed to have lived. It's particularly glaring when "England" is mentioned as the setting—England only came into existence because Arthur and other Welsh kings failed to stop the English from taking their land.
    • There's also Merlin's comment about helicopters (see Analogy Backfire), which shouldn't exist yet. However, this case is in-universe, because Merlin can see into the future.
  • Analogy Backfire: Merlin teaching Arthur that swimming like a fish is like flying a helicopter. Arthur doesn't know what he means. Merlin, realizing what he said, told him to forget it.
  • Animate Inanimate Object: Some of Merlin's furniture, most memorably the tea service.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Sir Ector punishes Wart for claiming Merlin turned him into a fish, even though Ector knows full well that Merlin is a wizard and has seen him cast snow and disappearing spells.
  • Artistic License - Biology: While it is true the female squirrel chooses a mate, the mate is chosen among a group who wish to court her, and she is the one to be chased. Furthermore, squirrels do not have one mate for life; the male leaves before the birth of the babies. Then again, we wouldn't have this adorable scene if it followed that to a T.
  • Attractive Bent Species: The girl squirrel who falls in love with Wart.
  • Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad:
    • Madame Mim certainly believes this, as illustrated in the below quote:
      Madame Mim: I suppose Merlin sees some good in you.
      Arthur: I suppose so...
      Madame Mim: Yes, and in my book, that's bad!
    • Even Merlin can't help riffing on this: "You should recover in a few weeks, and be as good... I mean, uh, as bad as ever!"
  • Bag of Holding: One of Merlin's magic spells can pack an entire house in a single baggage. It's a Justified Trope since the bag has normal capacity- it's the items themselves that shrink down in order to fit.
    • Lampshaded by Merlin himself "well just a minute boy, well, how else would you get all this in one suitcase I'd like to know."
  • Beleaguered Assistant:
    • Wart is this to Kay for much of the movie because he's a page boy.
    • Poor Archimedes... assisting the bumbling old wizard can't be easy.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Mim does not like sunshine.
    • Merlin does not like the martial aspect of English nobility.
    • Likewise, try pissing off Ector by coming up with (in his view) extremely far-fetched excuses for ducking out on your kitchen duties, or trying to defend Merlin's behavior, and you'll send him flying off the handle so far that you'll be doing dishes for the entire castle.
  • Big Bad: The Marvelous Mad Madame Mim is an aversion; she has only one scene and is not involved with the other scenes.
  • Big Badass Bird of Prey: one tries to eat Arthur when he's a bird.
  • Big Friendly Dog: The castle hounds, Tiger and Talbon. When Wart is brought home by Merlin, they run over to him, tackle him, and lick his face happily.
  • Big Good: Merlin is a aversion because he's a hermit who only associates with his owl Archimedes before Wart.
  • Black Knight: The knight at the tournament in black armor is the first to demand Arthur be given a chance to prove he took the sword out.
  • Break the Cutie: What happens to Wart's cute little squirrel admirer when she discovers that he's not of her kind.
  • Canon Immigrant: Madam Mim is mistaken as one of these by those who have only read The Once and Future King. Her part was eliminated from that edition, but is present in the original.
  • Catchphrase: Whenever Wart stumbles or falls it's accompanied with the same "Wha, what, whoa!" This happens at least five times during a fairly short movie.
  • Cats Are Mean: Mim, when she turns herself into a cat and later on, a tiger during her Wizard Duel with Merlin.
  • Children Are Innocent: Part of Merlin's motivation. He wants to teach Arthur some valuable lessons an adult in medieval England wouldn't be receptive to.
  • The Chosen One: He doesn't quite know what exactly, but Merlin knows Arthur is destined for something.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Merlin's transformations are always blue, Arthur's are orange, Mim's are purple.
    "Did I say no purple dragons!"
  • Cool Old Guy: Merlin, the time traveling wiseman.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: One Wizards' Duel rule is that there is no disobeying the rules. The next rule is that there's no cheating. It's a justified case as Merlin was asking for clarification on the idea of rules: "Rule three: No Disappearing [teleportation/intangibility]" "Rule four: No Cheating!" If Mim was throwing out rules, he wanted to make sure she obeyed them as Archimedes himself warned she was only creating rules so that she could break them (which she did).
  • Digital Destruction: The 50th Anniversary Blu-Ray suffers from digital smearing and some out-of-focus shots.
  • Disney Villain Death: Subverted. Madame Mim plummets screaming off a cliff and into a bog to her apparent doom, trapped inside a tree with seemingly no hope of escape, to similar effect as the Evil Queen falling off the cliff in Snow White, but instead she pops up moments later having turned herself into a purple dragon.
  • Eccentric Mentor: Merlin has some odd ideas and odd behavior and they are especially odd to someone like Wart, whose only known kitchen duty.
  • Eek, a Mouse!!: Mim-the-Elephant during the Wizard's Duel.
  • Epic Fail: Kay loses a jousting match to an immobile dummy.
  • Evil Counterpart: Madame Mim is this to Merlin; evil magic user.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Madame Mim sings a Villain Song about herself complete with dancing and shapeshifting. Merlin is far more restrained.
  • Evil Redhead: Ector and Kay aren't really evil, but they act as antagonistic to Wart as any stern dad and jerky older brother can be expected to be.
  • Evil Plan: Inverted to Good Plan. This movie takes place because Merlin wants to save Wart from a squire's life and make him into something greater.
  • Excalibur in the Stone: The sword is never said to be Excalibur, it's just always called the Sword In The Stone.
  • Exact Words: "Nothing make-believe, like pink dragons and stuff." So saith Madame Mim, who turns into a purple dragon instead of a pink one.
    • And then Merlin one-ups her by turning into a germ, which also strictly abides by the stated rules.
  • Familiar: Merlin's owl, Archimedes.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Possibly an unintentional example; when Merlin overdoes his cleaning spell and it messes up the castle, the angered Sir Extor and servant woman call him an "old goat". Later towards the climax of Merlin and Mim's wizard's duel, an old goat is exactly what Merlin turns himself into.
    • The opening of the film shows a wolf, hawk and squirrel in the forest.
  • For the Evulz: Madame Mim commits evil because she herself is evil. There is no Evil Plan.
  • Frogs and Toads: The frog in the moat, although he is really small.
  • The Genie Knows Jack Nicholson: ...and Merlin knows about indoor plumbing, Bermuda and Helicopters. It's played with in that the creators seem to be going with T.H. White's concept of Merlin living through time backwards. Merlin himself reveals that he's seen "centuries into the future" and that he's even been there. What's the best way to portray that in a children's film, apparently? Have him spout wacky anachronisms!
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The scene with the squirrel listed on the Tear Jerker page very nearly has Merlin discussing the birds and the bees with Arthur.
  • Given Name Reveal: Subverted; in the novel Wart's name isn't revealed until the very end of the first book, after he's been crowned king. Here he introduces himself as "Arthur, but everyone calls me the Wart."
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Arthur is naive and innocent, but has a good heart that allows him to pull the sword from the stone.
  • Happily Ever Before: The movie ends at the start of Arthur's reign, and therefore before the fallout with Lancelot and stuff.
  • Hawaiian-Shirted Tourist: Merlin, upon returning from a holiday in twentieth-century Bermuda.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Inverted with Wart's encounter with the female squirrel who, according to Merlin, is a redhead. In Great Britain, a red squirrel is considered native wildlife and a gray squirrel is considered vermin.
  • Heroic BSOD: Arthur undergoes a minor one after losing his chance to become Kay's squire.
  • Hopeless Suitor: The two amorous squirrels who fall for Arthur and Merlin. Whereas the old lady squirrel who chases after Merlin is Played for Laughs, Arthur's girl squirrel companion is done so as well until the end where it... isn't.
  • Human Traffic Jam: The line of Merlin's belongings going into the bag during the "Higitus Figitus" sequence.
  • Humiliation Conga: When Ector and Kay try to interfere with the magically-animated cleaning implements, an assembly line of slapstick ensues.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • Merlin finds Wart's plight of being harassed by a lovestruck female squirrel hilarious...until a much older and fatter squirrel falls in love with him.
      Wart: Merlin, I'm tired of being a squirrel. It's nothing but trouble.
      Merlin: Oh, you got trouble!? Look at my- uh, look back there!
    • Also, during the Wizard Duel, after Merlin changes into a walrus to squash Mim, the latter changes into a elephant and calls the former a "big blimp!"
  • Impossible Hourglass Figure: Madame Mim's beautiful form is mundanely impossible because she used magic to achieve it.
  • Instant Awesome, Just Add Dragons: The wizard's duel culminates in Madam Mim breaking one of her own rules and turning into a dragon.
  • Insult Backfire: Madam Mim's "Thank you, my boy, but that's nothing" response when she says that she takes delight in the gruesome and grim and Arthur comments "That's terrible."
  • It Will Never Catch On: When Merlin predicts the invention of manned flight.
    Archimedes: If man were meant to fly, he would've been born with wings!
  • Jerkass:
    • Kay comes off as a Jerk Jock older brother.
    • Ector, occasionally. As shown when he gives Wart more chores for defending Merlin.
    • The frog in the moat, who kicks Fish!Wart around and does so again when they hide in the same hole to escape from a pike.
  • Jerk Jock: Kay, again, albeit the medieval version (meaning swordplay and jousting instead of football). The idea that Wart wants to be one as well hits Merlin's Berserk Button.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Kay is implied to have at least a few gold flecks. At the end when his father demands he bow to Arthur, Kay does so sullenly at first... then after looking at him, does so sincerely.
    • Ector, who is rather quick to apologize to Arthur for the way he's treated him. He also shows worry and remorse at the beginning of the movie, when he is worried that Wart is dead.
    • Archimedes may be a cynic, but he genuinely cares about Wart and sticks with him even when Merlin blasts himself off to modern-day Bermuda over Wart being chosen as Kay's squire due to circumstances beyond Sir Ector's control.
  • Jump Scare: Arthur peeks around the log to see if the pike is gone, sighs in relief, looks the other way...
    • Less scary example, Arthur in squirrel form hides in a tree from an angry woodpecker and the girl squirrel. He peeks out to find she's nowhere to be found. Guess who pops up from inside the same tree next to him?
  • Kissgusting: Wart and Merlin wipe their faces after their respective squirrel mates kiss them.
  • Late to the Punchline: Merlin after Wart's admittedly rather brilliant joke about Archimedes "staying out late every night".
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: When Merlin talks to Arthur about his future legacy:
    Merlin: "Why, they might even make a motion picture about you".
  • Loophole Abuse:
    • No make-believe creatures like pink dragons, so Mim turns into a purple dragon, it's still make believe, but she doesn't care. (Unless, dragons do exist in this world, just not pink ones; note that Wart mentions slaying dragons as an activity one would perform as a knight.)
    • Merlin one-ups her on this magnificently - while there's a rule that says "no turning into plants or minerals" he turns himself into a germ - which is neither - to infect her and win the duel.
  • Love at First Sight: Both the young squirrel and old squirrel go through this upon meeting Arthur and Merlin respectively and try to earn their mates' affection.
  • Love Hurts: One of the most heartbreaking examples. The girl squirrel really loved Arthur and immediately starts sobbing in confusion and grief when he reveals himself to be human.
  • Mad Scientist Laboratory: Merlin's cottage is filled with devices of strange purpose and function.
  • Magic Versus Science: Defied. Merlin is a wizard, alright, but he is quite knowlegeable about science; special mention goes to him using his knowledge of germs and disease to infect Madame Mim. He even outright tells Arthur that magic can't solve everything. In the end, it seems that a combination of the two can give one an advantage in life.
  • Modest Royalty: It's implied Merlin wants to teach Arthur to be this sort of king.
  • Mood Whiplash: Two for the price of one. The sequence of sudden mood changes at the end of the scene with the squirrels runs thus:
    • The girl squirrel is cheerful and amorous until Arthur becomes human again and breaks her heart.
    • Then comes the hilarity of Sir Ector and Kay trying to fight off the "possessed" kitchen.
  • Morphic Resonance: Whenever a person is magically transformed into an animal their face will remain the same.
  • Muggle Foster Parents: Sir Ector, to Wart/Future King Arthur.
  • Mundane Utility: Merlin uses his magical abilities to have the household chores do themselves so Arthur can go out adventuring with him.
  • Musical Chores: The Mundane Utility example uses music.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Wart has this look when he realizes he has broken the little female squirrel's heart by turning back to his human form. This scene was such a Tear Jerker for some fans that some have attempted Fix Fic where Arthur asks Merlin to turn her into a human. This spawned a good handful of art that is dangerously adorable.
    • Sir Ector has his moment when he realizes that Wart is the new King of England
  • Never Say "Die": In the Wizard's Duel, Merlin and Mim are trying to 'destroy' each other.
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: Wart is a strange case. By the sound of his voice changing radically throughout the movie, it would seem as though time is passing and he is growing older, but he doesn't seem to physically change at all, making it seem as though they couldn't keep a steady voice actor (indeed, Wart is voiced by three different voice actors: Rickie Sorenson, Richard Reitherman and Robert Reitherman).
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Arthur was voiced by two of the directors' three young sons (the third voiced Mowgli and Christopher Robin) and a third, unrelated child actor. Not one of them had even the slightest trace of the British accent you'd expect from King Arthur.
  • Nutty Squirrels: The two female squirrels that take a liking to our hero and his mentor.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: The pike. Where'd it come from?
  • Only the Chosen May Wield: The eponymous Sword in the Stone can only be drawn by the One True King of England.
  • Palate Propping: Used by fish-Wart against a pike.
  • Parental Favoritism: Ector's partiality to Kay is somewhat justified by the fact that Arthur/Wart is only his foster child. While he could stand to be nicer to Arthur, he's not really mean either... more just strict and demanding, which seems to be his personality in general. In fact, at the start of the film, he's berating Kay for letting Arthur go off into the woods by himself. Kay may be the favorite, but Wart at least isn't The Unfavourite.
    • Society also played a role in this. To be a knight in that period, you must be of noble birth. Kay is, Arthur isn't, so Kay gets all the combat training and respect. Playing second fiddle to him as a squire is the best Arthur could hope for by law.
  • Pet's Homage Name: Merlin's Familiar is an owl named Archimedes, for the ancient Greek mathematician.
  • Polly Wants a Microphone: Archimedes, the talking owl.
  • The Power of Love: Discussed by Merlin and Arthur following the incident with the squirrels.
    Merlin: Ah, you see, lad... that love business is a powerful thing.
    Arthur: Greater than gravity?
    Merlin: Well, yes, boy, in its way, I'd, uh- Yes, I'd say it's the greatest force on Earth.
  • Prequel: To the King Arthur mythos. (Unofficially, of course.)
  • Private Tutor: Merlin acts as a tutor to Arthur.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!:
    • I! HATE! SUNSHINE! I! HATE! HORRIBLE! WHOLESOME! SUNSHINE! I HATE IT, I HATE IT! I HATE! HATE! HATE!..., etc.
    • "And, if you don't mind, I happen to be! A! Bird!
  • Rags to Royalty: Wart goes from being a marginalized orphan to Arthur, King of England, overnight.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • The bearded knight and Sir Pellenore, who protest at multiple people trying to pull the sword out together, and insist that Arthur be given a chance to pull out the sword (again).
    • Merlin himself, who teaches Wart all sorts of valuable lessons that would normally be closed to Wart (although Merlin does have irrational moments, they're few and far between, hence he's still this trope).
  • Robe and Wizard Hat: Merlin wears both in a midnight blue.
  • Running Gag: Remember the very muscular, intimidating wolf from the opening scene? He reappears as a mangy, flea-bitten mongrel who is constantly having boulders dropped on him, getting the wind knocked out of him after chasing the main protagonists, chomping down on a tree branch, and getting stuck through a pair of branches.
  • Sequential Symptom Syndrome: When Merlin describes the symptoms of malignalitaloptereosis to Mim.
  • Shape Shifter Showdown: The nature of the Wizard Duel is the pair of them taking different forms for combat.
  • Shipper on Deck: Merlin to Wart and the red girl squirrel, but mostly because he finds it amusing than heartwarming.
  • Sneeze of Doom: When Mim, sick with malignalitaloptereosis emits fire from sneezing that forces Arthur and Archimedes to duck and cover.
  • Spinning out of Here: Merlin spins as he arrives at places.
  • Spit Take: Sir Ector does this when Sir Pellinore tells him that the winner of the New Year's events wins the throne of England.
  • Stalker with a Crush: The female squirrels that pursue Arthur and Merlin.
  • Stalking Is Funny If It Is Female After Male: Squirrel Merlin thinks this when it's squirrel Arthur being chased, but after he gets a female squirrel pursuing him, he no longer thinks it's funny any more.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Squirrel-Arthur and the girl squirrel, although it's a pretty one-sided romance.
  • Stock Audio Clip: See Catchphrase.
  • Stock Footage: Disney was suffering financially while this film was being made, so there's a substantial amount of recycled animation. For instance, Kay trips in the exact same way when chasing Arthur at the climax that he does when chasing him into the woods at the film's beginning. Merlin's "pack all the house in the bag" spell is recycled for his "clean the dishes" spell, and Kay's eating a chicken leg during Merlin's arrival is repeated thrice in the same scene.
  • Succession Crisis: England has been kingless for over twelve years.
  • Take That: Some see the character of Madame Mim (who hates sunshine) as one to critics who disliked the light tone of Disney's films.
  • Talking Animal: Archimedes. People who are transformed into animals keep their ability to talk. Interestingly, the girl squirrel, for all her incoherent chatter, says one line of understandable human dialogue, "Oh no!" when her beloved Arthur is in danger of falling to his death.
  • Ten Paces And Turn: During the Wizard Duel. Madame Mim proceeds to break this protocol like every other rule she made for the duel such as "no teleporting" and "no cheating".
  • Through a Face Full of Fur: Or rather through a face full of scales/skin in her case as a dragon and then in her normal form, Madame Mim. One of the side effects she has is changing into various colors (including red from hot flashes and blue from chills) before stopping at green and breaking out in red spots, thanks to Merlin infecting her as a germ.
  • Title Drop: The last line of the opening song, and Sir Ector exclaims "It's the Sword in the Stone" when he reads the first few words of the titular blade's inscription and realises what it is.
  • Tsundere: Archimedes has shades of this. He's insulting and bad-tempered, but seems to genuinely have affection for Arthur, so much so that he risks his life to save him from the pike when Arthur is transformed into a small fish.
    Arthur: That big fish almost swallowed me, and Archimedes... he saved me!
    Archimedes: I did nothing of the sort! I intended to eat him! Young perch is my favorite dish, you know that!
  • The Unintelligible: The girl squirrel. She only squeaks and chitters emotionally. However, she mutters an "Oh no!" when she sees Arthur about to fall from a breaking branch.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: In response to Merlin causing a blizzard to appear in the castle, all Kay has to say is an annoyed "So what?"
  • Vain Sorceress: Mim defies this trope. She says she could be beautiful if she wanted to be, and in fact, does change herself into such a form as it it were a parlor trick. Then she admits that such a form is only skin deep and she's happy being ugly.
  • Verbal Tic: Archimedes' "Who? What, what?"
  • Villain Song: "The Magnificent, Marvelous, Mad Madame Mim."
  • Violently Protective Girlfriend: The girl squirrel is a somewhat mild example.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: As magic users, Merlin and Mim can turn into things like animals...and germs.
  • Wicked Witch: Madame Mim lives in a cottage in the woods brewing up trouble. When she hears coughing, she hopes that it's a serious illness.
  • Wizard Beard: Usually a problem, as it gets caught on things rather frequently.
  • Wizard Duel : Merlin vs Madame Mim
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: The Wizard Duel at the end. It involves shape shifting into different animals on the fly to gain an advantage.
  • You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Madame Mim's purple hair. Considering she's a witch and no else does, it could be an effect of her magic.

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alternative title(s): The Sword In The Stone
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