The Sword in the Stone’s Archimedes the Owl is awesome and underrated. He’s absolutely hilarious: dry, ironic, grumpy, and sarcastic. Everything we need in a sidekick for a bumbling wizard.
The Sword in the Stone (1963) is Disney does Medieval almost like Terry Pratchett (Merlin is somehow just his wizard style. Did he get inspiration for his books from Disney? We’ll never know). The Sword in the Stone uses the legend of Merlin- but only if you know about Merlin would you really catch it. In the legend, Merlin lives backwards. In Disney’s rendering, he knows the future. Sees it, perhaps has lived it. But he doesn’t know everything about the future. What he does know is that he has to train the future king of England.
Arthur, or “Wart,” is just trying to be a squire, but Merlin leads him towards being king. Most of the movie is about Merlin’s teachings, until Wart becomes a squire and inadvertently pulls the sword from the stone, becoming the rightful king. (You may see a little Mowgli in Wart, particularly when he comes back to the castle and is accosted by the castle hounds, who adore him.)
Archimedes is both the straight-man (well, bird) and comic relief and oddly, the brains in the movie. For all his callousness, he’s very loyal, staying with Wart every step of the way. He’s my favourite in this film–he just cracks me up, I have to admit.
You’ll find some Disney voice talent in Mad Madam Mim (Martha Wentworth). Wart is played by Rickie Sorensen (you may know him from Tarzan films or The Man of a Thousand Faces–he also played “Spotty,” one of the 101 Dalmatians, but is uncredited … thanks, IMDB). Archimedes (Junius Matthews) is better known as the voice of Rabbit in the earlier Winnie the Pooh films. This just names a few. Disney went for some experienced film and television actors for The Sword in the Stone, and it pays off. The timing, the lines, and the characters are what make this story work.