Disney is celebrating the 50th anniversary of one of its animated classics with a beautiful new Blu-Ray edition. Based on The Once and Future King by T.H. White that also inspired the musical “Camelot,” “The Sword in the Stone” is the story of the early years of King Arthur.
Nicknamed “Wart,” the future King Arthur is squire to a knight when he meets Merlin the magician, who promises to take on his education. Merlin turns the boy into a fish, a bird, and a squirrel to teach him lessons like the importance of brains over brawn. He gets to see this in action when Madame Mim, Merlin’s enemy, challenges Merlin to a duel by magic, and, though she cheats, Merlin is able to defeat her.
Wart still has his duties as a squire, and, having forgotten the sword for a jousting match, he runs to get it. He sees a sword stuck in a stone and pulls it out, not knowing the legend that whoever will pull the sword out of the stone will be the rightful king. He becomes King Arthur, and listens when Merlin reminds him that knowledge is the real power.
The Arthur legend has fascinated people for centuries, and this story about Arthur’s childhood as special appeal for children. Aside from the fun of seeing what it is like to be a bird, a squirrel, or a fish, and from having your very own wizard as a teacher, there is the highly satisfying aspect of having one’s worth, unappreciated by everyone, affirmed so unequivocally.
Parents should know that this film has some mild peril and family issues.
Family discussion: What made Arthur the one who could pull the sword out of the stone? What did he learn from his adventures with Merlin? How will what he learned help him to be a good king? How did Madame Mim cheat? How did Merlin fight back when she did?
If you like this, try: Older kids may like to see “Camelot,” the musical by Lerner and Lowe (of “My Fair Lady”), to find out some of what happened to Arthur later (note that the focus of that movie is on Guinevere’s infidelity with Lancelot). Mature teenagers might like the rather gory “Excalibur,” which has some stunning images.