Saturday, February 16, 2013

Disney Canon: The Sword in the Stone

When looking for other opinions of Disney's 1963 film The Sword in the Stone in the internet, the most popular opinion (or the most popular opinion worth writing about) seemed to be that the movie has a big, hot amount of homoerotic undertones and that old magician Merlin and young protagonist Ward are stand-ins for the kind of love that was so popular in the time of the greek philosophers Merlin surely admires.

To suggest that old Walt Disney decided to fill the movie with sexual undertones about a pedophiliac relationship is completely ridiculous (even though there is no better place than the internet to find people talking shit about Walt's supposedly sick and perverted life). To suggest that it was the idea of the men working in the production, maybe story supervisor Bill Peet, and that it slipped Disney's already aged mind is similarly unlikely. There is really no scenario in which these undertones where consciously put in the film. That doesn't mean, however, that these undertones aren't there. So, are they?

The truth is, I don't think so. The story is that of a young boy named Ward, who is thought thanks to a few magic tricks about life and values by old wizard Merlin in order to pull out the aforementioned sword from the aforementioned stone in order to become the legendary King Arthur. Now, the whole old man comes along to teach the young boy about life is the supposedly suspicious part of the plot. And old man? With a magic wand? Alone with a young kid? Taking him on "adventures"? It does lend itself to some candid interpretations, but the movie itself doesn't sport any particular traits or scenes that would support this theory. At least not that I can think of. If Merlin and Ward are lovers, then so are Harry Potter and Dumbledore... wait a minute, they might be on to something here... In all seriousness though, people love nothing more than spreading the word about how Disney's work is not as wholesome and innocent as it appears, and while a lot of it is charged with a lot of psychological darkness, The Sword in the Stone is not about a pedophilia.

This, frankly, kind of bums me out, because the movie isn't all that interesting otherwise. If it were, I wouldn't have spent three paragraphs talking about its hidden sexual agenda. No, The Sword in the Stone is just an ok movie. One that sadly foreshadows the decline of the Disney Animation Studio after Walt's death (which would come three years after the film's release). The animation shows how the xerox technique utilized in One Hundred and One Dalmatians doesn't work as well when you are not looking for a particularly modern look and your protagonists are not white with black spots. The story is episodic and straightforward. The comedy, except for a few jokes about Merlin being able to see the future, is not very sophisticated. And the songs are surprisingly disappointing.

This is not to say that this is a bad movie. It's just disappointingly average. More than any of the films we've looked at so far (except maybe for some of the package films), The Sword in the Stone feels very much like a kid's entertainment without further ambitions. And as a kid's entertainment, I guess it does work fine. I remember watching the film as a kid and enjoying it. I just watched it a couple of days ago and I can tell you I could picture myself watching it with my kids (if and when I have them). It's just that with a catalogue as rich as Disney's, The Sword in the Stone is a particularly unattractive choice. 

But hey, there's still stuff to enjoy here. More specifically, the duel scene, in which Merlin and crazy witch Madame Mim have a magic duel in which they transform themselves in many different animals. It's a playful, entertaining and quite funny scene that remains the most memorable part of the movie. (I couldn't find a video in english).

Solid and sometimes quite funny, The Sword in the Stone is that movie that is content with being good enough to be watched and doesn't aspire for something more. That kind of movie that can be very frustrating when you have a story as rich as the Arthurian Legend. I can only imagine what could have been done with a more epic treatment of the material... 

Next Time: I know the Canon has been incredibly irregular as of late, and I apologize greatly, but I swear I will be back next week with The Jungle Book to finish this "season".  

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