“Well Disney writing team, profits are up and families all over the world keep watching our films! Well, most of them anyway, I don’t think even Walt’s seen ‘Fun and Fancy Free’ if truth be told. Anyway, so I took the liberty of watching through our back catalogue again to see what could help us going forward. I felt it important we remember what works and more importantly, what we can learn from and improve so we keep things from becoming stale. Firstly, Mary, you were responsible for the endless Latin American dance scenes interspersed with Donald Duck’s attempts at sexual harassment that took up the final two-thirds of ‘The Three Caballeros’ yes? Yeah, so you’re fired. Moving on, I have noticed that rather a lot of our films contain some of, or all of the following:
- Multiple drawn-out scenes of frolicking animals. Or as we call it, “Filler”.
- Lead protagonists, often princesses, playing and dancing with frolicking animals.
- Animals displaying human traits and intelligence
- Animals chasing or trying to copulate with other animals, usually with a bit of frolicking thrown in.
It’s extremely cute, but eventually even the biggest softie who watches our films in order, will start to find these scenes… slightly repetitive. I want you to think of something with a different feel for our next film”
“How about we do an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book?”
“No, that still involves someone playing with various animals. We’ll do that one once we’ve run out of other ideas.”
“How about Sword in the Stone”
“A 1938 novel about King Arthur’s ascent to the throne in Medieval England”
“Perfect, I’m pretty sure you won’t be able to get distracted by frolicking animals retelling that story!
George, despite your history of killing mummy-deer and creating donkey slave children, I know you’re the right man to help us mix it up, keep it fresh and show the extraordinary depth we possess! Now get working!”
I’ve heard a lot of good things about 1963’s Sword in the Stone (or SITS as I will refer to it from now on). It’s possible that I saw some of it when I was young. I think I remember seeing something with ‘Stone’ in the title that I enjoyed, but then I also think I saw something with stone in the title that bored me. Perhaps I’m confusing this with the 1984 romantic comedy ‘Romancing the Stone’? I’m sure I liked one of them, hopefully it’s SITS. It depends. This Disney classic does feature Danny DeVito yeah?
We have Arthur, or as he’s more commonly known, Wart, who lives in a castle with his mean Foster-Father, Ector and his brutish son Kay (Ector’s son is Kay, not Arthurs, I know they sometimes mated young in the extremely-olden days but let’s not go there). He is downtrodden and expected to all the chores, while Kay receives preferential treatment. If at this point, you’ve thought of a fifth century Harry Potter and a Vernon and Dudley Dursley, then you and I are of accord. To be honest, once we are introduced to the ‘Dumbledore-without-enigmatic-lovability-and-rational-thought’ that is Merlin, I realise that subconsciously JK Rowling clearly had a desire to create a story that took the basis of SITS and add heaps of character depth and logical motives (and Quidditch).
Merlin, who can time travel, knows that Arthur / Wart will amount to something special, so when Arthur / Wart unexpectedly, or to be more accurate, expectedly drops into Merlin’s home, the Dumbledore-light decides to help him to achieve greatness by moving in with him. Fun Fact: Today, when an old man takes an interest in a young boy, he’s usually not allowed to shack up with him. Shook, yes? Just what has the world become!
At this point in the story, England has no King and the legend is that the next King would be the one who could pull a sword out of a rock. All fairly standard and logical stuff. But this sword in the stone has been forgotten about. Probably because it’s stupid. So, they’re having a jousting competition in London to find the next King. Ector has entered Kay. Wart is to be the squire for him. Merlin knows he can do much better, so he decides it’s time for some lessons…
“So, tell me George, what have you and the writing-team come up with so far? I can’t wait to hear the new and original ways that Merlin will teach Arthur new skills!”
“Well after a lot talking, we’ve got something you’re going to love! Merlin is going to teach Arthur about Physics by turning them both into Fish!!!”
“Erm…Right, so that would involve animals again yes?
“It’s in the original story Sir!”
“Really? I’m regretting this idea already. What exactly will they do when they’re fish?”
“Well they’ll play around with other aquatic creatures. They’ll get chased by an extremely large fish. And generally, they’ll… you know… frolic.”
“I see. Not quite the ‘new and interesting’ I was expecting. And how are they going to escape from this extremely large fish?”
“They’ll get assistance from Archimedes!”
“Merlin’s highly intelligent, talking owl”
“OH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GEORGE! Right I’m going outside for a smoke to calm down….”
“Boy, it’s lucky I didn’t tell him about all the escapades involving the wolf…”
So, there’s a wolf that is constantly trying to eat Wart and failing. Merlin has an owl called Archimedes. This owl is highly learned but is mostly just a negative, cantankerous dick. He is a highly annoying example of a fictional owl. And as the snippet from the completely real and not at all fabricated writers meeting above shows, after moving in with Wart (they had permission to do this after scaring the crap out of Ector with magic), Merlin decides to teach Wart a lesson in physics. It’s also a way of showing how becoming something with real life and death problems forces the need to use one’s brain more.
And so, they become fish. I’m sure a lot of kids will find their fishy adventures hilarious, fun, and exciting all rolled up into one. I’m sure plenty of adults feel the same. I’ve watched seventeen Disney Animation Studio films in chronological order in a matter of months, and I been there and seen this sort of ‘animal in peril’ scene MANY times now. It’s not even like I don’t like a good cartoon fauna chase scene either. I love Tom and Jerry. I love Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote. This I think is symbolic of something I also felt as a child. That basically, I genuinely find that ‘Hanna Barbera’ and ‘Looney Tunes’ a lot funnier than Disney. There was a point during this journey through Disney, around the mid 1940’s, that the Animation Studio’s branch seemed more interested in showing off their artistic skills, emotional rollercoasters and Latin American propaganda, over making people laugh. And don’t get me wrong, that’s absolutely fine if you have a penchant for pretentious creativity with a pen, mixing tears with smiles or Paraguay. But I want a simple giggle, and I prefer Jerry hitting Tom with a frying pan before setting his tail on fire. Disney still adds humour, but still less than some of their animating rivals.
Wart has been given a lot of washing up to do by Ector. This much:
Now I don’t know about you, but I consider that to be rather a lot for a family of three. They probably have some live-in staff, but considering Wart has to wash up every day, that’s a ridiculous amount even if they had some two dozen servants to feed! Consistency Disney! Consistency! Merlin and his delightful owl appear, and Merlin uses magic to wash up everything automatically. I think it’s time for another lesson…
“So how is the adaptation coming on George? Did you get rid of that damn owl?”
“Well we’ve just covered Wart’s second lesson boss. And No.”
“Ok, and what is that lesson?”
“Gravity and instinct, I suppose.”
“Ah yes, that classic combination. Just what a future king needs. And how is Merlin going to teach him these things?”
“He’ll turn them into frolicking squirrels!”
“Oh for fu…. Frolicking squirrels?!”
“But wait, it gets better! There will be this sweet girl squirrel. And she’ll fall in love with Wart and decide that he’s her mate for life! And there will be this fat-chick-squirrel that wants to be humped by Merlin-squirrel too!”
“And how does this get resolved? Does this teach a valuable lesson?!”
“Not really. And Merlin will just turn them back into humans so he can scare the fat-chick-squirrel away”
“And what happens to the sweet girl squirrel?”
“Well when a female squirrel meets a male squirrel that she fancies, she will make him her mate for life. So obviously she’ll end up being emotionally ruined! She cries and everything!”
What is it about Disney making cute animals cry or suffer? Why is it that Disney make animals cry or suffer when there’s very little necessity for it in order to progress the plot? What the fuck is wrong with Disney?! The whole squirrel segment seems to damage the real female squirrels far more than it progresses Wart in his education. Perhaps the segment is not even supposed to teach Wart anything. Maybe it’s supposed to be just entertaining and we, the viewer, are supposed to be rejoicing in a sweet female squirrels’ new mate for life turning into a human boy, leaving her permanently damaged? And even if this batshit lesson does teach Wart some useful lessons, is the best way to do this have to involve EMOTIONALLY SCARRING A CUTE FUCKING ANIMAL?!!! Later on, after all the squirrel scarring, Ector sacks Wart as squire because of the whole magic washing up thing.
“George, please tell me you have something different to tell me this time. Got rid of that negative owl now maybe?
“No Archimedes is still there!”
“Oh, for the love of… I swear to god George, if you had your way, the whole film would just be a boy playing with animals in a goddam jungle! Ok, well as I can see this ruddy owl is clearly not going to be scrapped altogether… just make sure he’s not too much of a focal point and all will be ok, I suppose.”
“So, Archimedes is taking over tutoring Wart and…”
“For fucks sake…”
“Wart is turned into a bird….”
“Of course, he is…”
“and after a good bit of….”
“he ends up in a witch’s kitchen and she tries to kill him!”
“Obvious… Wait, what?!!! Oh ok, interesting, whys that then?”
“Because she’s a dick. We haven’t decided exactly which bits from the book we’re taking or changing here, after our initial discussions we’ve decided unlike in the original novel, the witch won’t strip Wart naked”
“well that’s one good decision at least”
“so, for now, we’ve just added a placeholder for the next scene that says, “inconsequential time filling magic fight.”
The witch Madam Mim, and Merlin have a battle that lasts a long time and is remarkably unimportant in terms to the direction of the film. I’m pretty sure the need for more action was the driving force of this being included. After Merlin’s victory, Wart finds out that he is to be Kay’s squire again. Wart is happy but this causes Merlin to lose his absolute shit. Merlin feels that because Wart has been turned into multiple different forms of wildlife and has now almost been Killed, eaten and/or molested, he should now aspire to having bigger goals in life for some reason. You would think as Merlin can travel into the future and seems to know everything, that he would know that Wart HAS to go to London as he will pull the sword out?! But Merlin clearly hasn’t done his homework properly and buggers of to 20th century Bermuda in a sulk.
Wart goes to London but forgets to bring a sword. He pulls out the sword in the stone and becomes king Arthur. Merlin returns in stupid shorts and everyone is happy.
Based on everything I’ve written, it could be easily misconstrued that I really didn’t like this film, which actually isn’t really the case. The fact is that we’re in the middle of a pandemic lockdown (holy shit that feels weird to write), and Disney has an uncanny knack of making me feel like the walls are closing in on me even when I have the freedom of the whole wider world at my disposable, especially when someone sings. Speaking of Covid-19, considering his time-travelling abilities, I’m surprised Merlin didn’t mention the virus to Wart at any point. Probably because it would result in a lesson about properly washing your hands, and that’s fucking difficult to turn into another animal frolic.
Also, SITS was one of the few times that I was going into the film in question with a certain amount of expectation. I was legitimately expecting to really like this movie. Maybe not at the level of ‘Lady and the Tramp’, but I was expecting to like it more than I did. As a result, it was an unfortunate case of being the wrong film (a Disney film) at the wrong time…
There were enjoyable moments, don’t get me wrong. And more than in a lot of the films so far, but I found I was more triggered than usual by certain Disney tropes. If you hadn’t guessed, two of them are Frolicking animals and repetitive animal chases. I try not to go on about it though… But I thoroughly blame George for those issues though, even if there is a very strong chance that I completely made him up (the next film will be ‘The Jungle Book’, which I believe features a boy in a Jungle with a load of animals, so maybe this fictional George chap has far more influence than I realised…).
To summarise, I will do my best not to let external factors or repetitive tropes effect my reviews. HOWEVER: if I have to hear my wife and daughter singing many, many Disney songs in a house that I CAN’T ESCAPE… then I make no promises…
5.5 / 10 (one mark off for emotionally breaking a squirrel)
Well that was a surprise for me. I really thought he was going to like that film a lot. It’s one of my favourites! It’s quite amazing how he can take a scene that I found hilarious as a child and ruin it by pointing out how heartbroken a female squirrel gets. Dick! That is (was) one of my favourite Disney segments ever. The ‘fat-chick squirrel’ (as he so politically-correctly refers to her), used to have my brother and I rewinding the video over and over to re-watch and each time we would be literally rolling on the floor laughing! I still laughed as an adult.
Oh well. We can’t agree on everything I suppose (and we don’t, obviously, because that would be weird).
Onto ‘The Jungle Book’ next with… more frolicking animals… *sigh*. Fuck him, it’s awesome. He could shock me and thoroughly enjoy it, I guess. I mean, it has Baloo the Bear! What’s not to like?!
As for Sword in the Stone: