The Sword in the Stone was released on this day, December 25, in 1963.
This magical tale of young Arthur and Merlin inspired the impossible-to-pull sword and stone at Magic Kingdom. But do you know which Disney Legend inspired the character of Merlin?
Delayed Due to World War II
In 1939, Disney acquired screen rights to T.H. White’s literary work featuring Wart, a boy who would eventually go on to become King Arthur.
His adventures alongside Merlin the wizard ultimately led to the epic moment where Wart could pull the sword from the stone.
While the Walt Disney Company had the screen rights to the film, production was not scheduled to begin for some time.
During World War II, the company was contracted by the U.S. government to produce propaganda for the armed forces, so work on animated features was largely put off.
Walt announced that production on The Sword in the Stone would begin in 1944; however, the movie was not storyboarded until 1949.
Even then, it would be years before significant progress was made on the project due to the complexity of the story in White’s original work.
Wart Has Three Voices
The lengthy production time for The Sword in the Stone largely improved the finished product by giving Disney writers and animators more time to work out the storyline.
But the lengthy time frame complicated the voice work for Wart.
Wart was intended to be about 12 years old. Teenage TV actor Rickie Sorensen succeeded in providing the voice work for Wart at the beginning of the production– but the project took so long his voice began to change.
Eventually, Sorenson’s voice became unusable for someone attempting to portray a 12-year-old, so director Wolfgang Reitherman had his sons Richard and Robert take over the role.
Introducing… The Sherman Brothers
Richard and Robert Sherman are household names among Disney fans today, but before 1963, this was not the case.
The music for The Sword in the Stone was written and composed by the Sherman Brothers, marking the first time the duo contributed their musical talents to a Disney animated film.
Following the Sword in the Stone, the Sherman Brothers would go on to produce the music for Mary Poppins (1964), The Jungle Book (1967), The Aristocats (1970), and more.
They would go on to score Disney theme park attractions like “it’s a small world”, Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, Carousel of Progress, and Journey into Imagination.
Walt Disney Inspired Merlin
Disney story artist Bill Peet found inspiration for the film’s star wizard in Walt.
Peet was tasked with adapting this classic tale into an animated film and giving life to characters otherwise only seen through one’s imagination upon reading the original work by T.H. White.
White’s description of Merlin comes across accurately in the film with an emphasis on his age and, at times, a difficult and otherwise playful personality.
And, of course, the iconic beard, but still the character’s mannerisms (and his nose) were borrowed right from Walt.
Walt Disney also served as the inspiration for the Sorcerer in Fantasia as well!
The Mysterious Madam Mim
The villain of the film, Madam Mim, was a witch whose powers are thought to be nearly as strong as Merlin’s. She is included in the original novel but kept out of later editions.
Her character playfully menaces and hits on all the points audiences hope to see in a traditional fairytale vision– but she is surprisingly unknown.
Despite not knowing much of her origin, Madam Mim is a fascinating character.
Viewers essentially know that she is the film’s antagonist, and while we never quite see what caused the rivalry she has with Merlin, it’s evident that she feels as though she’s in competition with him.
She can be simultaneously cheerful and treacherous and has a way of expressing herself matter-of-factly and unlike your typical Disney villains.
From an artistic standpoint, her animation was done by character designers Milt Kahl and Frank Thomas, two of Walt’s famous Nine Old Men.
The Sword at Disneyland
Both the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland have photo ops featuring The Sword in the Stone.
The sword is, as one would imagine, stuck inside a stone in the heart of Fantasyland.
While nearly impossible to retrieve from the stone today, some guests may remember a time when the parks held a ceremony that would deem one Guest a “leader of Fantasyland” if he or she were able to pull the sword from the stone.
More recently, the sword has stayed put, but the photo op remains.
You most likely would not have the chance at actually pulling the sword out, but it’s still a fun experience and photo nonetheless!
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