The Sword in the Stone (1963)

79 mins | Comedy | 25 December 1963

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HISTORY

According to a 1 Feb 1939 Var news brief, Walt Disney acquired film rights to T. H. White’s novel The Sword in the Stone in late Jan 1939, less than a year after the book’s publication. The advent of World War II likely affected Disney’s production activities, and it was not until mid-1944 that he announced plans to make several animated features, in succession, in the coming years. A 21 Jun 1944 DV news item indicated that scripts for Cinderella (1950, see entry), Alice in Wonderland (1951, see entry), and The Sword in the Stone were being prepared by Disney’s staff of writers. Four years later, the title was still an anticipated project, as noted by 6 Jun 1948 NYT and 22 Nov 1948 LAT articles discussing Disney’s release schedule. However, reports in the 12 Jun 1950 and Nov 25 1950 LAT suggested that Peter Pan (1953, see entry) had become the animation studio’s next concern, with Sleeping Beauty (1959, see entry) to follow.
       On 26 Jun 1960, the LAT published an interview with Walt Disney in which he insisted that his studio’s venture into television programming and live-action films did not mean he had abandoned animated features. The Sword in the Stone was “still on the drawing boards.” By that time, T. H. White’s tale of the boyhood antics of “King Arthur” had been revised and republished as the first volume of The Once and Future King (London, 1958), a four-part chronology of Arthur’s life and the rise and fall of ... More Less

According to a 1 Feb 1939 Var news brief, Walt Disney acquired film rights to T. H. White’s novel The Sword in the Stone in late Jan 1939, less than a year after the book’s publication. The advent of World War II likely affected Disney’s production activities, and it was not until mid-1944 that he announced plans to make several animated features, in succession, in the coming years. A 21 Jun 1944 DV news item indicated that scripts for Cinderella (1950, see entry), Alice in Wonderland (1951, see entry), and The Sword in the Stone were being prepared by Disney’s staff of writers. Four years later, the title was still an anticipated project, as noted by 6 Jun 1948 NYT and 22 Nov 1948 LAT articles discussing Disney’s release schedule. However, reports in the 12 Jun 1950 and Nov 25 1950 LAT suggested that Peter Pan (1953, see entry) had become the animation studio’s next concern, with Sleeping Beauty (1959, see entry) to follow.
       On 26 Jun 1960, the LAT published an interview with Walt Disney in which he insisted that his studio’s venture into television programming and live-action films did not mean he had abandoned animated features. The Sword in the Stone was “still on the drawing boards.” By that time, T. H. White’s tale of the boyhood antics of “King Arthur” had been revised and republished as the first volume of The Once and Future King (London, 1958), a four-part chronology of Arthur’s life and the rise and fall of chivalry. The sprawling fantasy epic enjoyed vast circulation and became a NYT bestseller.
       By spring 1961, various contemporary sources had taken a renewed interest in the picture. A 10 Apr 1961 LAT column suggested that The Sword in the Stone would receive a Christmas 1962 release, while the 18 May 1961 DV speculated a budget of $4.5–$5 million. Prior to the picture’s release, an article in the 1 Nov 1963 Sarasota Journal clarified that the seventy-nine minute film, which took three years to make, cost “a shade under $3 million.”
       In a 1988 interview, long-time Disney animator and “storyman” Bill Peet recounted his experience working on The Sword in the Stone. The interview was later published, in 1999, in the “cartoon arts” magazine, Hogan’s Alley. Peet recalled that, following the completion of One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961, see entry), he “worked alone,” separate from the other animators. Inspired by White’s novel, he wrote a script, created storyboards, and designed characters for The Sword in the Stone. Meanwhile, his fellow animators were developing another project. Walt Disney called a meeting to review progress, and was delighted with Peet’s characterization of “Merlin.” Peet acknowledged that he designed Merlin to resemble his boss: “I gave him Walt’s nose and character. A little playful, but sometimes not. He’s cantankerous, argumentative. He can’t be wrong.” Although Disney immediately tasked the team with animating The Sword in the Stone, Peet claimed the other animators were unenthusiastic about the project: “Woolie [Wolfgang] Reitherman, the director, warned me … ‘We’ll never finish.’” Regardless of creative differences he may have encountered, Peet called the finished film one of the highlights of his twenty-seven-year career at Disney.
       Director Reitherman stated in the 28 Dec 1963 St. Petersburg, FL, Evening Independent that casting voices for The Sword in the Stone proved to be a challenge: ”We must have tried seventy different actors for the voice of Merlin … but none evidenced that note of eccentricity that we were seeking.” Karl Swenson, who had auditioned for the role of “Archimedes,” the owl, impressed filmmakers so much that they asked him to play Merlin, instead. Reitherman also remarked on the difficulty of working with children, noting that Rickie Sorensen, who voiced “Wart,” matured over the long course of production to the point where his voice changed. Reitherman’s sons, Richard and Robert, provided additional line readings for “Wart,” resulting in audible inconsistencies throughout the film.
       A 16 Dec 1963 LAT news brief announced that the picture would open Christmas Day 1963 with a “companion feature” starring the “Three Stooges.” The Sword in the Stone received generally favorable reviews, though some critics noted that it held little appeal for adults. The 2 Oct 1963 Var called the movie “a tasty confection … primarily for the moppet market.”
       On 20 Jul 2015, HR announced that Disney executives would be developing a live-action remake of the 1963 animated feature. Screenwriter Bryan Cogman was set to write the script, while Disney producer Brigham Taylor planned to oversee the project.
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
21 Jun 1944
p. 12.
Daily Variety
18 May 1961
p. 6.
Evening Independent (St. Petersburg, Florida)
28 Dec 1963
Section A, p. 8.
Hogan's Alley
1999.
No. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Jul 2015.
---
Los Angeles Times
22 Nov 1948
p. 27.
Los Angeles Times
12 Jun 1950
Section B, p. 7.
Los Angeles Times
25 Nov 1950
Section A, p. 6.
Los Angeles Times
26 Jun 1960
Section F, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
10 Apr 1961
Section C, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
4 Nov 1961
Section C, p. 6.
Los Angeles Times
16 Dec 1963
Section D, p. 22.
Los Angeles Times
25 Dec 1963
Section E, p. 15.
New York Times
6 Jun 1948
Section X, p. 5.
New York Times
2 Nov 1958
Section BR, p. 8.
Sarasota Journal (Florida)
1 Nov 1963
p. 22.
Variety
1 Feb 1939
p. 20.
Variety
3 May 1961
p. 21.
Variety
2 Oct 1963
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Walt Disney Presents
A Walt Disney Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTOR
PRODUCER
WRITER
Story
ART DIRECTOR
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
MUSIC
SOUND
Sd supv
Music ed
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod supv
ANIMATION
Dir anim
Dir anim
Dir anim
Character anim
Character anim
Character anim
Character anim
Character anim
Character anim
Character anim
Eff anim
Eff anim
Eff anim
Char des
Char des
Background
Background
Background
Background
Background
Background
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the book The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White (London, 1938).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"That's What Makes the World Go 'Round," "A Most Befuddling Thing," "Higitus Figitus," "Mad Madam Mim," and "Blue Oak Tree," words and music by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
"The Legend of the Sword in the Stone," words and music by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, sung by Fred Darian.
PERFORMER
DETAILS
Release Date:
25 December 1963
Premiere Information:
New York and Los Angeles openings: 25 December 1963
Copyright Claimant:
Walt Disney Productions
Copyright Date:
9 August 1963
Copyright Number:
LP26593
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA
Color
Technicolor®
Duration(in mins):
79
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In the Dark Ages, England is without a king and will be without one until a great sword, stuck through an anvil and buried deep in a stone, is pulled out. One day Wart, a young boy learning to be the squire of his loutish foster brother Kay, enters the forest in search of an arrow and falls through the roof of the cottage where the wizard Merlin lives with his talking owl, Archimedes. Though Sir Ector, Wart's foster father, seems pessimistic, Merlin sets out to supervise the lad's education. In the process Merlin turns him successively into a fish, a squirrel, and a sparrow. In each guise the boy experiences great difficulties but learns a valuable lesson of life. After saving him in the nick of time from the evil Madam Mim, Merlin bests the witch in a duel of magic. Meanwhile, Kay has been training for a great tournament that will determine who shall be the new king. For the event, Wart journeys to London as Kay's squire, but, having forgotten Kay's sword, he returns to the inn and finds it locked. He finds a sword in a stone in a nearby churchyard and easily pulls it out to give to Kay. No one believes that he has performed the feat, but he repeats the miraculous deed and is immediately proclaimed the rightful heir to the throne and crowned King ... +


In the Dark Ages, England is without a king and will be without one until a great sword, stuck through an anvil and buried deep in a stone, is pulled out. One day Wart, a young boy learning to be the squire of his loutish foster brother Kay, enters the forest in search of an arrow and falls through the roof of the cottage where the wizard Merlin lives with his talking owl, Archimedes. Though Sir Ector, Wart's foster father, seems pessimistic, Merlin sets out to supervise the lad's education. In the process Merlin turns him successively into a fish, a squirrel, and a sparrow. In each guise the boy experiences great difficulties but learns a valuable lesson of life. After saving him in the nick of time from the evil Madam Mim, Merlin bests the witch in a duel of magic. Meanwhile, Kay has been training for a great tournament that will determine who shall be the new king. For the event, Wart journeys to London as Kay's squire, but, having forgotten Kay's sword, he returns to the inn and finds it locked. He finds a sword in a stone in a nearby churchyard and easily pulls it out to give to Kay. No one believes that he has performed the feat, but he repeats the miraculous deed and is immediately proclaimed the rightful heir to the throne and crowned King Arthur. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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