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Loosely adapted from the novel of the same name by T. H. White, which became part one of The Once and Future King.
This film version was made in 1963, as the 18th entry in the Disney Animated Canon. It was Walt Disney's penultimate film and the last one released while he was still alive. At the start of the story, the king Uther Pendragon has died. Soon after, a sword stuck in an anvil appears in London with a message that says that the person who can remove the sword is the legitimate successor to the throne. However, no one is able to succeed at this task.
Cut several years later to the main protagonist, twelve-year-old Arthur, also called Wart. He is an orphan who was taken in and raised by Sir Ector. Arthur, who is training to be a squire, is under the apprenticeship of Sir Kay, his older foster brother. One day, while accompanying Kay on a hunting trip, Wart inadvertently distracts the knight, causing the aim of his arrow to go off target, missing the deer and losing the ammo. The younger boy goes into the forest to retrieve it. While doing so, he accidentally crashes into the house of the magician Merlin. Upon meeting, the wizard declares that he will tutor Arthur, a decision that greatly changes the boy's life.
The film is a well-loved part of Disney canon, and the character of Madame Mim has a very large fanbase in several countries. In the Netherlands, she appears almost weekly in mainstream Disney comics.
- Abhorrent Admirer: The two female squirrels who fall for Wart and Merlin... well, the one who falls for Merlin, at least.
- Action Girl: The girl squirrel for biting the wolf who thought Wart was a nice snack.
- Affably Evil: Madame Mim is cheerful, amiable, and actually pretty friendly when Arthur blunders into her house, and while he can tell she's unpleasant, he doesn't even realize she's dangerous until she tells him she has to kill him which she says with about as much fanfare as someone saying it's suddenly started raining.
- Amazing Technicolor Wildlife: Whenever a person is magically transformed into an animal.
- Anachronism Stew: While it's far from the only adaptation to do so, this sets King Arthur in mediaeval England, about a thousand years after King Arthur is actually supposed to have lived. It's particularly glaring when "England" is mentioned as the setting--England only came into existence because Arthur and other Welsh kings failed to stop the English from taking their land.
- Analogy Backfire: Merlin teaching Arthur that swimming like a fish is like flying a helicopter. Arthur doesn't know what he means. Merlin, realizing what he said, told him to forget it.
- Animate Inanimate Object: Some of Merlin's furniture, most memorably the tea service.
- Attractive Bent Species: The girl squirrel who falls in love with Wart.
- Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad: Madame Mim.
Madame Mim: I suppose Merlin sees some good in you.
- Even Merlin can't help riffing on this: "You should recover in a few weeks, and be as good... I mean, uh, as bad as ever!"
- Bag of Holding: One of Merlin's magic spells can pack an entire house in a single baggage.
- Beleaguered Assistant: Wart is this to Kay for much of the movie.
- Berserk Button: Mim does not like sunshine.
- And Merlin does not like the martial aspect of English nobility.
- Likewise, try pissing off Ector by coming up with (in his view) extremely far-fetched excuses for ducking out on your kitchen duties, or trying to defend Merlin's behavior, and you'll send him flying off the handle so far that you'll be doing dishes for the entire castle.
- Big Friendly Dog: The castle hounds, Tiger and Talbon. When Wart is brought home by Merlin, they run over to him, tackle him, and lick his face happily.
- Break the Cutie: What happens to Wart's cute little squirrel admirer when she discovers that he's not of her kind.
- Brick Joke: Remember the very muscular, intimidating wolf from the opening scene? He reappears as a mangy, flea-bitten mongrel who is constantly having boulders dropped on him, getting the wind knocked out of him after chasing the main protagonists, chomping down on a tree branch, and getting stuck through a pair of branches.
- Canon Immigrant: Madam Mim is mistaken as one of these by those who have only read The Once and Future King. Her part was eliminated from that edition, but is present in the original.
- Catch Phrase: Whenever Wart stumbles or falls it's accompanied with the same "Wha, what, whoa!" This happens at least five times during a fairly short movie.
- The Catfish: Actually a pike in the castle moat.
- Literally the purple one whose Merlin run into when he's in fish form.
- Cats Are Mean: Mim, when she turns herself into a cat.
- And later on, a tiger during her Wizard Duel with Merlin.
- Children Are Innocent: Part of Merlin's motivation. He wants to teach Arthur some valuable lessons an adult in medieval England wouldn't be receptive to.
- The Chosen One: He doesn't quite know throughout the whole movie yet, but Merlin knows Arthur is destined for something.
- Cow Tools: In Merlin's cottage.
- Cute Shotaro Boy: Arthur has to be one of Disney's most adorable protagonists.
- Cynical Mentor: Merlin. Archimedes may also count.
- Department of Redundancy Department: One Wizards' Duel rule is that there is no disobeying the rules. The next rule is that there's no cheating.
- It was actually Merlin asking for clarification on the idea of rules: "Rule three: No Disappearing [teleportation/intangibility]" "Rule four: No Cheating!" If Mim was throwing out rules, he wanted to make sure she obeyed them as Archimedes himself warned she was only creating rules so that she could break them (which she did).
- Did Not Do the Research: As a matter of fact, the sword in the stone was NOT Excalibur, but the Clarent. Excalibur was given to King Arthur by the lady in the lake.
- Disney Villain Death: Subverted. Madame Mim plummets screaming off a cliff and into a bog to her apparent doom, trapped inside a tree with seemingly no hope of escape, to similar effect as the Evil Queen falling off the cliff in Snow White, but instead she pops up moments later having turned herself into a purple dragon.
- Eccentric Mentor: Merlin.
- Epic Fail: Kay loses a jousting match. To an immobile dummy.
- Evil Counterpart: Madame Mim is this to Merlin.
- Evil Is Hammy: Madame Mim.
- Evil Redhead: Ector and Kay aren't really evil, but they do act fairly antagonistic towards Arthur. (Well, as antagonistic as any stern dad and jerky older brother of any kid hero in a cartoon where Adults Are Useless.)
- Excalibur in the Stone: What do you think?
- Expy: Harry Potter and Dumbledore are expies of Wart and Merlin.
- Familiar: Merlin's owl, Archimedes.
- Foreshadowing: Possibly an unintentional example; when Merlin overdoes his cleaning spell and it messes up the castle, the angered Sir Extor and servant woman call him an "old goat". Later towards the climax of Merlin and Mim's wizard's duel, an old goat is exactly what Merlin turns himself into.
- The opening of the film shows a wolf, hawk and squirrel in the forest.
- For the Evulz: Madame Mim.
- Frogs and Toads: The frog in the moat, although he is really small.
- The Genie Knows Jack Nicholson: ...and Merlin knows about indoor plumbing. And Bermuda.
- Partially played with in that the creators seem to be going with T.H. White's concept of Merlin living through time backwards. Merlin himself reveals that he's seen "centuries into the future" and that he's even been there. And what's the best way to portray that in a children's film, apparently? Have him spout wacky anachronisms!
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: The scene with the squirrel listed on the Tear Jerker page very nearly has Merlin discussing the birds and the bees with Arthur. And then there's the Furry Fandom implications...
- Hair of Gold: Arthur.
- Happily Ever Before
- Hawaiian-Shirted Tourist: Merlin, upon returning from a holiday in twentieth-century Bermuda.
- Heroes Want Redheads: Pretty much subverted, and averted, with Wart's encounter with the female squirrel who, according to Merlin, is a redhead.
- Heroic BSOD: Arthur undergoes a minor one after losing his chance to become Kay's squire.
- Humiliation Conga: When Ector and Kay try to interfere with the magically-animated cleaning implements, an assembly line of slapstick ensues.
- Hypocritical Humor: Merlin finds Wart's plight of being harassed by a lovestruck female squirrel hilarious...until a much older and fatter squirrel falls in love with him.
Wart: Merlin, I don't wanna be a squirrel anymore. It's nothing but trouble.
- Impossible Hourglass Figure: Madame Mim's beautiful form.
- Instant Awesome, Just Add Dragons: The wizard's duel culminates in Madam Mim breaking one of her own rules and turning into a dragon.
- Insult Backfire: Madam Mim's "Thank you, my boy, but that's nothing" response when she says that she takes delight in the gruesome and grim and Arthur comments "That's terrible."
- It Will Never Catch On: When Merlin predicts the invention of manned flight.
Archimedes: If man were meant to fly, he would've been born with wings!
- Jerkass: Kay. The frog in the moat also seems to come off as one.
- Jerk Jock: Kay, again, albeit the medieval version (meaning swordplay and jousting instead of football). The idea that Wart wants to be one as well hits Merlin's Berserk Button.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Archimedes.
- Kay is implied to have at least a few gold flecks in there as well. At the end when his father demands he bow to Arthur, Kay does so sullenly at first... then after actually looking at him, does so sincerely.
- And Ector, who is rather quick to apologize to Arthur for the way he's treated him.
- Late to the Punchline: Merlin after Wart's admittedly rather brilliant joke about Archimedes "staying out late every night".
- Loophole Abuse: No pink dragons, so Mim turns into a purple dragon (it's still make believe, but she doesn't care).
- Merlin one-ups her on this magnificently - while there's a rule that says "no turning into plants or minerals" he turns himself into a germ - which is neither - to infect her and win the duel.
- Love At First Sight: Both the young squirrel and old squirrel go through this upon meeting Arthur and Merlin respectively and attempt to earn their mates' affection.
- Love Hurts: One of the most heartbreaking examples. The girl squirrel really loved Arthur and immediately starts sobbing in confusion and grief when he reveals himself to be human.
- Mad Scientist Laboratory: Merlin's cottage.
- Mood Whiplash: The girl squirrel is cheerful and amorous until Arthur becomes human again and breaks her heart.
- Morphic Resonance: Whenever a person is magically transformed into an animal.
- Muggle Foster Parents: Sir Ector, to Wart/Arthur.
- Mundane Utility: Merlin uses his magical abilities to have the household chores do themselves so Arthur can go out adventuring with him.
- Musical Chores
- My God, What Have I Done? / Heel Realization: Wart has this look when he realizes he has broken the little female squirrel's heart, turning back to his human form.
- My Name Is Not Durwood: Arthur is called "Wart", mostly by his caretaker/guardian and his son.
- Ector also keeps referring to Merlin as "Marvin".
- Natural Spotlight
- Never Say "Die": In the Wizard's Duel, Merlin and Mim are trying to 'destroy' each other.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Arthur was voiced by the directors' three young sons (none of whom sounded anything alike). Not one of them had even the slightest trace of the British accent you'd expect from King Arthur.
- Nutty Squirrels: But of course.
- One-Scene Wonder: Madame Mim.
- The girl squirrel also plays this to a T.
- Only the Chosen May Wield: The titular Sword in the Stone.
- Palate Propping: Used by fish-Wart against a pike.
- Parental Favoritism: Ector's partiality to Kay is somewhat justified by the fact that Arthur/Wart is only his foster child. While he could probably stand to be nicer to Arthur, he's not really mean either... more just strict and demanding, which seems to be his personality in general. Kay may be the favorite, but Wart at least isn't The Unfavourite.
- Ector does take Arthur's side over Kay's at least once. At the start of the film, he's actually berating Kay for letting Arthur go off into the woods by himself.
- Society also played a role in this. To be a knight in that period, you must be of noble birth. Kay is, Arthur isn't, so of course Kay gets all the combat training and respect. Playing second fiddle to him as a squire is literally the best Arthur could hope for by law.
- Polly Wants a Microphone: Archimedes.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: I! HATE! SUNSHINE!
- I! HATE! HORRIBLE! WHOLESOME! SUNSHINE! I HATE! HATE! HATE!..., etc.
- Rags to Royalty: Wart goes from being a marginalized orphan to Arthur, King of England, pretty much overnight.
- Robe and Wizard Hat
- Sequential Symptom Syndrome: When Merlin describes the symptoms of malignalitaloptereosis to Mim.
- Shapeshifter Showdown
- Sneeze of Doom: When Mim, sick with malignalitaloptereosis emits fire from sneezing that forces Arthur and Archimedes to duck and cover.
- Spinning Out of Here: Merlin spins as he arrives at places.
- Spit Take: Sir Ector does this when Sir Pellinore tells him that the winner of the New Year's events wins the throne of England.
- Stalker with a Crush: The female squirrels that pursue Arthur and Merlin.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: Squirrel-Arthur and the girl squirrel, although it's a pretty one-sided romance.
- Stock Audio Clip: See Catch Phrase.
- Succession Crisis: England has been kingless for twelve years.
- Take That: Some see the character of Madame Mim (who hates sunshine) as one to critics who disliked the light tone of Disney's films.
- Talking Animal: Archimedes. Not to mention that people who are transformed into animals keep their ability to talk.
- Ten Paces and Turn: During the Wizard Duel.
- Which Madame Mim proceeds to break like every other rule in it.
- To the Pain
- Verbal Tic: Archimedes' "Who? What, what?"
- Villain Song: "The Magnificent, Marvelous, Mad Madame Mim."
- Violently Protective Girlfriend: The girl squirrel is a somewhat mild example.
- Voluntary Shapeshifting: As magic users, Merlin and Mim can turn into things like animals...and even germs.
- Wicked Witch: Madame Mim.
- Wizard Beard: Usually a problem, as it gets caught on things rather frequently.
- A Wizard Did It: Of course.
- Wizard Duel : Merlin vs Madame Mim
- Xanatos Roulette/ Xanatos Gambit/ Batman Gambit: The Wizard Duel at the end. Full stop.
- You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Madame Mim's purple hair.