This article is about the movie. For object of the same name, see Sword in the Stone (object).
The film begins in England with the death of the king, Uther Pendragon. No heir is named, and so England is threatened to be torn apart by war. Miraculously, the mystical "Sword in the Stone" appears in London, with an inscription proclaiming that whomever pulls it out is the rightful King of England. Many try to remove the sword, but none succeed and the sword is soon forgotten.
Some years later, Arthur (a.k.a. Wart), a 12-year old orphan training to be a squire, accompanies his older foster brother Kay on a hunting trip. Wart accidentally prevents Kay from shooting a deer and goes to retrieve the arrow to make up for his mistake. In the woods, Wart falls into the cottage of Merlin, a powerful wizard. Merlin announces he will be Wart's tutor, packs up and the two return to Wart's home, a castle run by Sir Ector, one of Uther's knights and Wart's foster father. Ector does not believe in magic and refuses to allow Merlin to tutor Wart. Merlin creates a blizzard and disappears, which persuades Ector to let Merlin stay, albeit in a decrepit old tower with countless leaks. Ector's friend and fellow knight, Sir Pellinore, arrives with news about the annual jousting tournament to be held on New Year's Day in London, only this time whose winner would be crowned King of England. Ector proposes that Kay be knighted and compete for the title, despite Kay's obvious ineptitude in both jousting and sword fighting.
Merlin begins his tutoring by transforming Wart and himself into fish and going into the castle's moat. Wart is chased and attacked by a pike, and is saved by Archimedes, Merlin's owl. Wart is sent to the kitchen as punishment after he tried to tell his lesson to a disbelieving Ector. Merlin arrives and magics the dishes to wash themselves. He then takes Wart for another lesson, wherein he transforms Wart and himself into squirrels. Merlin teaches Wart about gravity, and about male-female relationships (as two female squirrels become infatuated with them). When they return to human form, Wart's female squirrel cries sadly when she sees he is really a boy. When they return to the castle, Ector accuses Merlin of using black magic on the dishes. Wart defends Merlin, and Ector punishes Wart by first setting him with a mountain of chores, then essentially told Wart he cooked his goose for "popping off" and choosing another boy as Kay's squire. Wart is devastated, but Merlin convinces him to continue with his education.
For his 3rd lesson, Merlin transforms Wart into a sparrow. Wart then accompanies Archimedes on a flying lesson. Wart is attacked by a hawk and flies down the chimney of Madam Mim, a witch who is a rival to Merlin. Mim's magic uses trickery, as opposed to Merlin's scientific skill. Mim turns into a cat and chases Wart around her cottage. Merlin arrives, having been summoned by Archimedes, and begins to rebuke Mim. Madam Mim challenges Merlin to a Wizard's Duel, a battle of wits where the players try to destroy one another by transforming into different animals. Mim sets several ground rules, including the rules that only real animals may be used (no imaginary ones like pink dragons), and no disappearing. During the battle, both wizards transform themselves into a variety of creatures, such as a turtle, a rabbit, a caterpillar, a walrus, a mouse, a crab, a goat, a crocodile, a fox, a hen, an elephant, a tiger, a snake and a rhino. Finally, Mim transforms into a purple dragon which is supposed to be against the rules (though Mim notes that she never explicitly outlawed purple dragons). Merlin is able to think quickly, and transforms himself into a germ and infects her. Mim is put to bed, ill, though it is said she would recover in a few weeks.
At Christmas, Kay is knighted, but his squire comes down with the mumps, and so Ector reinstates Arthur as Kay's squire. Wart excitedly tells Merlin and Archimedes the news. But Merlin is disappointed that Wart still prefers war games to academics. Wart tries to explain that he cannot become a knight as he is an orphan, so a squire is the best position he can attain. This aggravates Merlin, who transforms himself into a rocket bound for Bermuda.
Ector, Kay, Pellinore, Wart, and Archimedes travel to London for the tournament. Moments before Kay's match, Wart realizes that he has forgotten Kay's sword at their inn, which is now closed because of the tournament. Archimedes notices a sword in a stone in a nearby churchyard and points it out to Wart. Arthur pulls the sword from the stone, unwittingly fulfilling the Sword in the Stone’s prophecy.
When Arthur returns with the sword, Ector and Sir Bart recognize it as the Sword in the Stone, and the tournament is stopped. Demanding that Arthur proves he pulled it, Ector replaces the sword in its anvil. Kay attempts to remove it himself, but he and none of the other men succeed in removing it. Wart manages to pull it out a second time with ease. The knights all proclaim, "Hail!! King Arthur!!", as the crowd, Sir Ector, and Kay all kneel to Arthur.
The film cuts to Arthur, now crowned king, sitting in the throne room with Archimedes, feeling completely unprepared to take the responsibility of royalty. Overwhelmed by the cheering crowd outside, Arthur calls out to Merlin for help, who arrives (in 20th-century attire) and is elated to find that Arthur is the King that he had seen in the future. Merlin tells the boy that he will rise and lead the Knights of the Round Table, accomplishing many amazing feats and becoming one of the most famous figures in literature and even in motion pictures (such as this film and the 2004 film).
- Arthur/Wart: Rickie Sorensen, Richard Reitherman and Robert Reitherman
- Merlin: Karl Swenson
- Archimedes: Junius Matthews
- Sir Ector: Sebastian Cabot
- Sir Kay: Norman Alden
- Madam Mim and Granny Squirrel: Martha Wentworth
- Sir Pellinore: Alan Napier
- Sir Bart: Thurl Ravenscroft
- Scullery Maid: Barbara Jo Allen
- Girl Squirrel: Ginny Tyler
- Wolf: Jimmy MacDonald
- Tiger and Talbot: Mel Blanc
There are several scenes with animation recycled from other Disney films, as well as original animation that itself would be recycled in later productions. The deer Kay tries shooting at with his arrow was copied from Bambi's mother from Bambi. When Sir Ector and Kay are in the kitchen fighting against the enchanted dishware, Sir Ector swings his sword backwards and hits Kay on the head, with Kay groaning. Jasper and Horace in One Hundred and One Dalmatians were animated in the same way during the fight scene with Pongo and Perdita, and archive audio of J. Pat O'Malley (who voiced Jasper) was used for Kay's groan. Also, the footage where Wart is affectionately licked by the two castle dogs is reused in The Jungle Book four years later. The scene where Arthur is a squirrel jumping from one tree to the next was reused in The Fox and the Hound in 1981. When Wart goes into the forest to retrieve Kay's arrow, he pushes aside a branch and weaves in and out of a few small trees. This animation was reused in The Black Cauldron.
- "The Sword in the Stone" (Sung by Fred Darian)
- "Higitus Figitus" (Sung by Merlin)
- "That's What Makes the World Go Round" (Sung by Merlin and Arthur)
- "A Most Befuddling Thing" (Sung by Merlin)
- "Mad Madame Mim" (Sung by Mim)
- "Blue Oak Tree" (Ending of the song, sung by the Sir Ector and Sir Pellinore)
- "The Magic Key" (Deleted Song, sung by Merlin)
The film was originally released to theaters on December 25, 1963. In the United States, it was re-issued to theaters on December 22, 1972, and released jointly with Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore on March 25, 1983.
- Main article: The Sword in the Stone (video)
The film was first released in VHS format in the UK in 1983 and in the US on March 1986, as well as another VHS release in July 1991. Both of these were in the Walt Disney Classics line. The film was released on VHS again on October 28, 1994, as part of the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection. The film was released on VHS again, along with a DVD release, of the film in March 2001 as part of the Walt Disney Gold Classic Collection. A special DVD edition was released for the 45th Anniversary of the film in June 2008. The Deluxe Edition, which included lithographs, a book, a lenticular card, and a certificate of authenticity, was also released in June 2008. For its 50th Anniversary, the film was released on Blu-ray on August 6, 2013.
The film was a financial success at the box office and the sixth highest grossing film of 1963 in North America, earning estimated rentals of $4.75 million It was better received by British critics than American critics, who thought it had too much humor and a "thin narrative." Rotten Tomatoes reports that 74% of critics gave positive reviews based on 23 reviews with an average score of 6.1/10. Its consensus states that "A decent take on the legend of King Arthur, The Sword in the Stone suffers from somewhat indifferent animation, but its characters are still memorable and appealing." Nell Minow of Common Sense Media gave the film four out of five stars, writing, "Delightful classic brings Arthur legend to life".
In his book The Best of Disney, Neil Sinyard states that, despite not being well known, the animation is excellent, a complex structure, and more philosophical than most other Disney features. Sinyard suggests that Walt Disney may have seen something of himself in Merlin and that Mim, who "hates wholesome sunshine", may have represented critics.
The American Film Institute nominated The Sword in the Stone for its Top 10 Animated Films list.
Madam Mim was adapted into the Duck universe where she sometimes teams with Magica De Spell and/or the Beagle Boys. She also appeared in the Mickey Mouse universe where she teamed with Black Pete on occasion and with the Phantom Blot at one point. She was in love with Captain Hook in several stories; in others, with Phantom Blot. In many European Disney comics, she lost her truly evil streak and appears morbid yet relatively polite.
Mim has appeared in numerous comics produced in the United States by Studio Program in the 1960s and 1970s, often as a sidekick of Magica. Most of the stories were published in Europe and South America. Among the artists are Jim Fletcher, Tony Strobl, Wolfgang Schäfer, and Katja Schäfer. Several new characters were introduced in these stories, including Samson Hex, an apprentice of Mim and Magica.
The Sword itself appears in all of the Disneyland-style parks, located in front of their respective Carousels, with Disneyland's being King Arthur Carrousel. A sword pulling ceremony hosted by Merlin where a lucky child who pulled the sword would be declared the temporary ruler of Fantasyland was a common show until the ceremony ended several years ago.
- This is the last animated feature released when Walt Disney was alive.
- The film makes a cameo appearance on Once Upon a Time in the episode "The Dark Swan" as the film a young Emma goes to see and receives a cryptic warning from a disguised Merlin.