Our new animated movie, 101 Dalmatians had moved in a bold direction and broke new ground with a unique contemporary style. After initially raising a ruckus, Walt Disney didn’t have much to say about the styling of his next animated feature film, The Sword in the Stone. Ub Iwerks and his team had made improvements to the photocopy process and we continued to use the Xerox line much the same way we had in the previous film. After all the turmoil it would appear the Old Maestro had finally accepted the Xerox process of “inking” cels.
After working on an earlier forest scene with Wart and Kay, Directing Animator, Milt Kahl moved on to this sequence that would establish the relationship between the wizard, Merlin, Wart, and Archimedes the owl. It was early on in the film and Milt was still exploring the characters. In time, I joined Milt Kahl’s team along with key clean-up assistant, Stan Green. Stan had already worked with Milt on Sleeping Beauty so he knew what to expect. You’ve probably heard we worked pretty clean on The Sword in the Stone. The animators were intent on maintaining the loose drawing quality in their scenes so our clean-up work on the scenes was minimal. In time, management even came up with a new term for the way we worked. Rather than “clean-up,” they called our new process, “touch-up.”
The afternoon tea with Merlin was a fun sequence to work on. The magician, Merlin brought the crockery to life and the animation was pretty cute as well. Remember the little sugar dish spooning sugar into Wart’s teacup? Milt pretty much set things up for the picture with this conversation between Merlin and Wart. The amazing Kahl was able to take what storyman, Bill Peet had given us and take it to the next level. The creative collaboration at the Disney Studio was always impressive especially if you were able to view it in person. Finally, you probably already know that Milt Kahl based the crotchety old wizard, Merlin on our boss, Walt Disney.
In many ways I still appreciate “The Sword in the Stone.” The movie had a certain quality and charm even though it never connected with audiences back in the sixties. The story never quite came together even though we had Walt’s premiere story man on the film. Oh well. Sometimes, things simply don’t work as well as we'd hoped. Before I forget, I’d like to mention that the amazing background artist, Walt Peregoy should be credited for all the beautiful backgrounds in the film. I’m serious when I say he damn near painted all of them himself. I’m not joking because I watched him do it.
One thing continues to bother me about Bill Peet’s adaptation of The Sword in the Stone. At the end of the movie the wizard, Merlin returns from the future wearing a Hawaiian shirt, sunglasses and sandals. Apparently, he had been vacationing in Bermuda. Though it was a totally wacky idea, that goofy notion totally took me out of the movie. It felt wrong back then - and it still feels odd when I watch the film today.
Yet, warts and all - it’s a pretty darn good Walt Disney film and I’m happy I had the opportunity to work on it.