Disney’s 1963 animation of The Sword in the Stone was the last full length animated feature that was released while Walt Disney was alive. The film is based on the 1938 novel by T.H. White of the same name. This animation was a part of the ‘English Cycle’ of Disney films that included Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, 101 Dalmatians, The Jungle Book, Robin Hood and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Even though Disney followed the general plot of T. H. White’s original book, much of the substance of the storyline was changed. Both T. H. White and Walt Disney made changes to the original White manuscript storyline of the Arthurian Legend of The Sword in the Stone.
The original 1938 novel chronicles early life of a boy named Wart who is befriended by Merlin the magician. Merlin tutors Wart to prepare him for the time when he would become the king of England. The setting is medieval England and White includes in the story his vast knowledge of medieval culture, especially in hunting, falconry and jousting. Many of Merlin’s lessons for Wart consisted of being turned magically into animals. Wart also had human adventures, including meeting the outlaw Robin Wood (Robin Hood).
T.H. White substantially revised the original 1938 stand alone novel when he published The Sword in the Stone as the first part of a 1958 four part series, The Once and Future King. The new version included several new story lines, one of which included a strong pacifist message. In this story Arthur is turned into a wild goose that files so high that he cannot determine national boundaries. The new version also leaves out some of the passages that were in the original and were used for the Disney film, such as the battle between Merlin and Madam Mim.
Both Walt Disney and T. H. White used The Sword and the Stone to portray their unhappiness with the political and professional problems they were encountering. Walt Disney identified himself with the Merlin character and it has been suggested that he felt that Merlin’s battle with Mim portrayed his personal battles with critics. T. H. White’s revision of his original story reflected the more somber mood after World War II and his dissatisfaction with the wartime censorship and delay in the publication of his 1941 The Book of Merlyn.
The Sword in the Stone DVD, 45th Anniversary Edition with Bonus Features