Here we have a shining example of how much opinion can change over the years, from childhood to adulthood. Back sometime in the 90s, when this came out of "The Disney Vault" for a short time, I rented it, watched it and really enjoyed it. However, one should probably also understand that this was pretty much my introduction to King Arthur's legend - a legend that really isn't done justice in this film, upon seeing it now.
This particular version begins with the death of the King of England, Uther Pendragon, leaving no heir to the throne. For whatever reason, a sword appears in London, embedded in an anvil (yes, anvil, not stone) with an inscription that states, whoever pulls it out of the anvil becomes the rightful King of England. No one ever does succeed, and that whole plot is dropped for the remainder of the movie. I'm not kidding, either. Things immediately go to the powerful Wizard, Merlin (Karl Swenson) and his meeting Arthur, commonly known in this movie as "Wart". He's the embodiment of the average underdog character, and the film generally revolves around Merlin giving Arthur an education.
Throughout the film, Merlin covers such things as using brain to defeat brawn, lessons in love and heartbreak, and other general school material. That's quite honestly most of what the film actually is, just Merlin being a teacher to Arthur. Their meeting is by chance, and Merlin foresees it as a meeting with someone of great importance, but that's about all we have to go by. We further realize that Merlin can travel back and forth through time, so logic dictates he understands that Arthur is to become King, and therefore wants to make sure he's set on the right path. But I will admit that the story doesn't exactly flow; it's a chance meeting, a school lesson, a really cool climax involving a crowbarred in villain, and then about 3-5 minutes of what we actually came to see.
The film does stay alive, however, providing some fun to go with the whole educational process. Usually this involves Merlin turning Arthur and himself into various animals to explore their lifestyles, and it's pretty much a land, water, air thing as said animals are a squirrel, a fish and a bird. So the magic is alive and well in this, and it all leads to that climax I referred to where Merlin has a "Wizard's Dual" with the evil Madam Mim (Martha Wentworth). She's not exactly at the top of the list of Disney villains, but for the short time she's there, she's perfectly enjoyable. It's just that she has little to nothing to do with the story; as I said, she's quite "crowbarred in". Yet, this whole fight between her and Merlin is probably the best part of the movie, so it's a strange love-hate criticism where I wish she was a bigger part of things.
Along the way, we meet other likable characters like Archimedes (Junius Matthews), Merlin's stubborn, talking owl, and Arthur's foster brother, Kay (Norman Alden) who is being prepped to take over as King by his father, Sir Ector (Sebastian Cabot). Arthur, being the underdog through this, thinks it an honor to become Kay's squire, but a lot of the story involves Merlin trying to push him towards something more. I suppose the big takeaway from this one is something along the lines of "don't just settle, you can be more". The problem is, when Arthur does finally pull the sword (if that's a spoiler, you probably shouldn't be here) he does it in an attempt to arm his foster brother. He stumbles into kingship so abruptly, it happens, he questions himself, and then Merlin shows up to say "nah, you're king" and suddenly he's okay with it. I'll be honest, it feels rushed.
All criticisms aside, however, I wouldn't consider this a bad movie either. It has flaws, but none so much that I feel like I'm walking on eggshells with my review ('Peter Pan', man. I'll never get over that). I would say that for young kids, this would actually make for a pretty good educational tool. But having said that, whether you enjoy this or not is gonna depend on what you're after. If you wanna see the legend of King Arthur, you're not really gonna get it. If you're the kind of kid who wants to see Arthur learn, in an almost 'Harry Potter' style, then it's perfectly fine. I think i have just seen too much of Arthur since my childhood that this doesn't really do it for me like it used to. It's interesting, but Disney's library certainly has better titles.