"Touching Up" The Sword in the Stone

Considering all the fuss made about the radical contemporary styling of “101 Dalmatians” we seldom heard much from the Old Maestro, Walt Disney concerning the styling of this particular animated motion picture. We continued to use the Xerox process to transfer our animation drawings to acetate cels much the same way we had in the doggie film and it seemed to work just fine. After moving to 1D-1, I chose a comfortable space by the window. The large office space had been used as a bullpen during “Sleeping Beauty” and was home to several artists. Now, it appeared the considerable space was all mine. It was more than pleasant working at the Walt Disney Studio in those days. Imagine the marvelous view just outside the office window. Birds nested in the brush and tiny squirrels scampered about while I worked. Hey! I could have been in a Disney movie. 

My very first job for directing animator, Milt Kahl was a forest scene with Wart and Kay. Kahl selected the sequence because it would help establish the relationship between Merlin, Wart and the owl, Archimedes. It was also odd because we were working in sequence. That is, we were following Bill Peet’s narrative as he developed his story. As you know, work on most films are seldom done in sequence. You start at the middle, the end, or wherever the director decides. John Lounsbury had already picked up an earlier section and our sequence would follow his. I still remember that first scene as though it was yesterday. A lone deer stood grazing in the meadow. Sizing up his prey, the hulk-like Sir Kay turns toward the kid and says, “Quiet, Wart!” Character actor, Norman Alden provided the voice. I completed the scene and walked a few steps down the hallway to deliver the scene to Milt Kahl. An hour or so passed and I hadn’t heard a word from the boss. Not one peep from the irascible directing animator. In time, I was assured by Milt’s key cleanup guy, Stan Green that I must have satisfied Milt Kahl. Because if I hadn’t - I would have heard about it by now. Kahl had a way of making it clear you had disappointed him. Regarding work on the movie you probably heard the Disney artists worked differently on this film. The animators were intent on keeping their sketches rough so our clean-up on the scenes was minimal. Management even came up with a new term for the way we worked. They called this process, “touch-up.”

Eventually, I found myself inside Merlin’s digs as the old wizard invites the young Wart to join him in a cup of tea. It was a fun sequence and the animated crockery was pretty cute as well. Milt pretty much set things up for the picture with this conversation between Merlin and Wart. And, you probably already know he based the crotchety Merlin on our grumpy boss, Walt Disney. In many ways I like the look of “The Sword in the Stone.” The film had a certain charm even though it never connected with audiences. Let me also add that color stylist, Walt Peregoy should be given credit for the beautiful backgrounds in the animated film. The amazing background artist damn near painted all of the backgrounds by himself. Near the films end, Bill Layne and Ralph Hulett jumped in to help wrap things up. One thing continues to bother me about this Disney adaptation. At the end of the story Merlin returns from the future wearing a Hawaiian shirt - and that totally freaked me out. It felt wrong back then and it still feels odd when I watch the film today. Too much like Doc Brown in “Back to the Future,” I guess. However, I’m told that it’s true to the T.H. White novel, so there you go.

Yet, warts and all - it’s a pretty darn good Disney movie even if its not one of Walt’s best.

My sketch of Merlin the Wizard and the owl, Archimedes. Two of the delightful characters from Walt's movie.

My sketch of Merlin the Wizard and the owl, Archimedes. Two of the delightful characters from Walt's movie.