Getting a mixed reception on its release, this feature-length cartoon account of young King Arthur’s magical misadventures from Disney – often dismissed as “Cinderella for boys” – is now considered the definitive version of TH White’s novel.
There are lacklustre songs by the Sherman brothers, but the film makes good use of its limited animation techniques (Disney was on a cost-cutting drive at the time) in relating the legend of Arthur, here nicknamed Wart, and the valuable life lessons taught to him by wizard Merlin.
While wandering through the forest, 12-year-old Wart literally falls on the house of the powerful and wise, but absent-minded wizard who lives there as a hermit with his educated pet owl Archimedes. Convinced that the young Wart is destined to a great future – despite his physical appearance – Merlin sets about teaching him great life lessons by changing him into a fish, a squirrel and a bird.
Memorable sequences include Wart’s transformation into a fish to witness the wonders of the underwater world (shades of The Little Mermaid to come) and him joining a battle between two duelling sorcerers before pulling Excalibur out of the stone and claiming his rightful inheritance.
The film grossed $4½ million at the box office – not bad by any means, but hardly remarkable for a Disney Christmas release. Despite a later reissue, the film has also never achieved the lasting affection audiences feel for other Disney cartoon features.
Merlin, the magician
Mad Madame Mim/Granny Squirrel