The Sword in the Stone is a movie I think I may have seen when I was younger, but I remember it so indistinctly that I may only be recalling half-glanced clips and previews from video/DVD releases. I must confess that I think the character design for Merlin looks really goofy, and I don't have high hopes for this movie. I've always wondered what T. H. White thought of this film adaptation, the Disneyfied version of King Arthur's youth.
So as the film is opening the first thing I notice is that yes, this is a Bill Peet film. He had such a distinctive drawing style, so when he designed characters or directed one of the movies you can tell instantly. His designs suit a modern story like 101 Dalmatians very well, but I have to admit I'm not so crazy about the characters in The Sword and the Stone. Arthur - called Wart by his peers - is such a scrawny little thing, and Merlin's so very boxy. Madam Mim is so round and purple that she doesn't seem threatening at all - just bumbling. (BTW - does she exist outside the Disney film?) It sounds a little silly, I know, but everything just looks too cartoonish in this film. I'm disappointed with the visuals - they just don't match the epic quality I expect in a tale from the Arthurian legends.
So Wart is a clumsy little boy who wants to be a knight, but will settle for being the page of his foster brother Kay. One day he stumbles into the home of Merlin, wizard extraordinaire, and Merlin decides he'll give the boy a proper education. This is done through a series of transformations, helping Wart learn about the natural world. Eventually Kay and Wart end up in London, where a tournament is taking place to determine the future king of England, and Arthur pulls out the sword in the stone.
I was bored during most of this movie. It just felt like nothing was really going on. Wart wanders into the woods and finds Merlin, Merlin wanders into the castle, together the wizard and the boy wander the countryside taking on the shapes of fish and squirrels and birds. Eventually Wart wanders into the clutches of Mad Madam Mim, who makes a poor villain because she appears so late in the film (they really underutilized the potential of the character) and after Merlin defeats her, Wart wanders off to London to fulfill his destiny. AAAAAARGH.
Part of the problem is that there aren't ANY memorable songs in the film. The majority of the songs are "sung" by Merlin, but he tends to speak them rather than belt them out, Broadway-style. Sometimes he kinda mumbles and I can't even tell what he's saying. Speaking of sound problems, Arthur's voice is totally wonky. I mean, puberty is hitting him with a sledgehammer because he sounds different in every single scene. (I had to look this up on IMDB - THREE different actors provide Arthur's voice. What the heck was the point of that, Disney?)
Also, random nitpick: At one point Merlin claims that "The Times" won't be around for another 1200 years, which would place the story someplace in the mid-sixth century. Does this medieval world look like the sixth century? I mean, I know you can't expect Disney to go for historical accuracy, but still...
I guess I'd give this 4/10. Maybe I'd bump it up to 5/10, because it wasn't worse than Brother Bear, which I rated 5/10, too. But maybe that's just a sign that I need to bump Brother Bear down...