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When England’s left without a king,
It seems that swords will likely ring
For a successor to be named,
And yet a method is proclaimed.
A sword is set within a stone,
And he who frees it gets the throne.
The sword becomes the nation’s judge.
Though many try, it will not budge.
The wizard Merlin says a sooth,
That he will welcome soon a youth,
But Archimedes, Merlin’s owl,
Scoffs and mocks him with a scowl.
But sure enough, that very day,
An arrow search for grumpy Kay
Has scrawny Arthur crashing through
Their cottage roof, as Merlin knew.
He stays for tea, and it is stated
That Arthur must be educated.
When Arthur says that he must leave,
He sees a thing he can’t believe.
The wizard shrinks his many things
To fit in one bag, which he brings.
Then, carrying his magic goods,
He leads young Arthur through the woods.
They go to Arthur’s home, a castle
Where the “Wart” is but a vassal
For his foster father Ector,
Who’s more employer than protector.
The wizard tries to teach the boy
And thinks his student would enjoy
A different view. He grants a wish
And turns the lad into a fish.
He shows the small fry how to swim,
And, when attacked, he cheers for him,
As Arthur’s hounded by a pike,
Which tries to eat the little tyke.
Once Archimedes saves the day,
The boy must work and walks away,
But Merlin’s magic does his chores
And washes plates and sweeps the floors.
When Merlin turns them into squirrels,
Young Arthur learns the world of girls,
And things he’d never reckoned of
Like gravity and the woes of love.
Still later, Wart becomes a sparrow,
Flying higher than an arrow,
But when a hawk tries snatching him,
He finds the home of Madam Mim.
This wicked witch plays cat-and-mouse
With Arthur all around her house.
But Merlin saves him (he’s in school),
And fights with Mim a Wizards’ Duel.
They change themselves to varied beasts
And try to make their foe deceased.
Though Mim breaks rules, she’s left infirm
When Merlin beats her as a germ.
When Arthur’s glad to be Kay’s squire,
Merlin’s mad he won’t aspire
To bigger, more refined pursuits.
Thus, to Bermuda Merlin shoots.
In London, Kay fights for the crown
But needs a sword that’s not around.
So Arthur finds the stone-held sword
And pulls it out; the town is floored.
He pulled the sword from out the stone
And must be destined for the throne.
He’s frightened to be chief of state,
But Merlin tells him he’ll be great.

The Sword in the Stone, based off of the book by T. H. White, is a lesser-known Disney classic that nonetheless is a whimsical fantasy that kids and adults alike can enjoy. My dad once called it a perfect drive-in movie, the kind to keep the kids safe in the car and glued to the screen while the parents got popcorn. The plot is episodic and so seems rather weak, considering that the actual Sword in the Stone is only at the very beginning and end. Still, these comical vignettes featuring a young Arthur transformed into various creatures are quite entertaining and nicely merge Arthur’s wide-eyed wonder with Merlin’s anachronistic, curmudgeonly wisdom. The duel with Madam Mim is also both funny and exciting, and Arthur’s pulling out the sword is a truly classic scene.

It also has some references to other films, such as Merlin cleaning up with animated brooms like in Fantasia. His ever-spacious travel bag is also reminiscent of Mary Poppins, which actually came out the next year. While the songs are less than memorable, they are some of the early work of the Sherman Brothers, who went on to write much better songs for Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and The Jungle Book. One song in the film did stick out because of its similarity to Andy Serkis’s ad-libbed tune in the Forbidden Pool scene of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Perhaps he was subconsciously inspired by this much earlier Disney ditty.

The Sword in the Stone may not be able to claim the iconic depiction of these characters, but I much prefer its portrayal of Arthur and Merlin than some other films’, like the awful Shrek the Third. While it certainly isn’t the best Arthurian film adaptation, it is nonetheless a classic of childhood that teaches the age-old lesson of brains over brawn.

Best line: (Merlin, speaking of Archimedes the owl) “When he stays out all night, he’s always grumpy the next morning.”  (Arthur) “Then he must stay out every night.”

Artistry: 4
Characters/Actors: 6
Entertainment: 6
Visual Effects: 4
Originality: 5
Watchability: 5
TOTAL: 30 out of 60

Tomorrow: #310: The Karate Kid

© 2014 S. G. Liput