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"The Black Cauldron" is not a typical Disney animated feature. For one thing, it's not a G-rated musical. In fact, it was the first-ever Disney feature to receive a PG rating. The story comes from the works of Lloyd Alexander, in the spirit of J.R.R. Tolkien. In it, Taran, a young pig-keeper must protect Henwen, a prophetic pig who can divine the whereabouts of a powerful weapon known as the Black Cauldron. The demonic Horned King is after this bastion of black magic to create an invincible army of the undead. This movie boasts impressive art shot in 70mm widescreen format, art which includes the contributions of a young Tim Burton. Sadly, this feature did poorly in theaters, possibly being too frightening, or going over the heads of Disney's usual target audience. Just the same, "The Black Cauldron" deserves a good look!
"The Black Cauldron" certainly doesn't fall into the genre of animated
Disney family favorite, but instead feels much like the more grim and
complicated fantasy films that were made in the eighties. Does it stack up
to such films as "Return To Oz" and "The Dark Crystal"? Well, although not
as complex as the aformentioned, this film is not without its
The story of Taran, the pig-keeper's journey from gawky boy to gawky boy-hero apparently works better as told through the course of five books, and indeed it is the plot that feels put together, with a lot cut out of it for it's slim 1:20 running time. Also suffering because of the short time is any character development, or a reason why the charcter of Dallben (an old minstrel) are in the film at all. However, this film still has a lot going for it.
The film has a wonderful pacing to it with some fantastic action scenes. It is adventurous and fun. An engaing film for any fantasy fan. What really makes the film though is it's terrifying and dastardly villain, The Horned King. He is basically a Skeletor knock off with absolutely no sense of humor. He looks like he stepped right out of an Iron Maden album cover, and that is a monumental good thing. The true threat felt by the presence of this decidedly un-Disney character keeps the tension of the film high.
It is this contrast, between the unconventionally ghoulish villans (definatly enspirered by Bakshi's animated adaptation of "Lord of the Rings") and the stock Disney characters makes the audience care more-so for the cutesy characters than usual. This is especially true for the cutsey character of Gurgi, who is much more tollerable than almost all other Disney sidekicks and especially more tollerable than a certain J*r J*r B*nks that we have all been over exposed to lately.
So I would recommend "The Black Cauldron", it's a fun and well animated adventure film. Compleatly scary and strange for Disney to make, but still very very good for other reasons nonetheless.
There were many good things going on in the Black Cauldron. First, there were NO SONGS, which really helped move things along. Second, the villain was truly frightening, the supporting cast was a lot of fun, and the movie's breakneck pace held my interest and entertained me throughout. But, there were some bad things as well. Taran wasn't really a character at all. Every important thing that happened to him was by luck or accident. And at the end of the story he's right back where he started. Also, the plot was little more than a succession of action sequences, with little sense holding it together. The heroes simply fell out of one situation into the next, perhaps the result of squeezing two full-length novels into one movie. And don't get me started on the ending. Our hero stumbles through the picture so that -- his furball sidekick can become the true hero of the piece. Yech. Still, I was entertained, and I'd see it again. But for those looking for the REAL Black Cauldron, read "The Chronicles of Prydain" by Lloyd Alexander. You'll be glad you did.
I saw "The Black Cauldron" when it first came out. I was about six at the time, and ever since then, I had always wondered why I had never heard about it again. I only had vague memories about it, but I remembered enjoying it. I had heard somewhere that Disney was so ashamed of the film that they had promised never to release it. However, upon viewing it today, I have no idea what they were so ashamed of. The movie is very entertaining in its own way; yes, it's very dark, and maybe not appropriate for young children, but I enjoyed it. There is some excellent bits of animation in it, and it's a pleasure to see some vintage Disney before it started churning out the overblown, empty films it has made recently. The movie is able to keep a quick pace so that you never get bored. All in all, I would say that it is not one of Disney's best efforts, but it is certainly nothing to keep hidden away for 10+ years.
For years before I saw this film, I had been a fan of Lloyd Alexander's
books. To me, The Chronicles of Preydain rank alongside Tolkien's Middle
Earth and Lewis' Narnia as one of the greatest fantasy worlds of all time.
Based deeply in Welsh legend and Mythology (many elements come directly from
The Mabinogion, almost the bible of Welsh mythology) Preydain is easily one
of the deepest, and most developed worlds out there. So, needless to say,
when I heard that Disney had a film in the pipeline, I got very excited.
Then I saw it...
I can't say that I hated it. More that I was disappointed. This wasn't the Preydain I knew. It was more a fairy tale kingdom than celtic Wales. And what did they do with the characters? Gurgi a cute fuzzy monster? Elonwy turned into a typical damsel in distress? And where were Coll, or Gwydon? I'm sorry, but I didn't know these people. The characters were all different? And what about the rich sense of legend? The books had been based deeply on mythology, but the movie took the first two books, sprinkled bits and pieces of them into a script, and added a ton of fairy tale and fantasy cliches.
I've always wondered what it is with Disney writers that makes them feel it necessary to screw around with anything and everything (witness the amount of "creative license" taken with Pocahantas or Mulan.) I'm sorry, but you don't have to have cute characters or happy endings on everything. But Disney's writers think that you must. And in this case, it cheapened the ending of the film. One of the major plot points of The Black Cauldron is that the cauldron can only be destroyed by a living person sacrificing themselves by throwing themselves into it. This was kept in the film. Yet, when Disney did it, they still copped out to the happy ending by having the three Enchantresses, Ordu, Orwen, and Oregch bring him back to life... Jeeze!
It went on from there. The absence of the true villan of the Preydain chronicles, Arawn, the lord of the dead, the turning of the fair folk (who in celtic mythology were more akin to elves and dwarves) into stock, albeit grouchy, faries.... The list goes on... Disney ruined one of my favorite stories, and I can't ever forget that. Even my love for Disney masterpieces like Beauty and the Beast or 101 Dalmations is tarnished by what they did to some of my favorite books of my youth...
"The Black Cauldron" provides us with "Exhibit A" of the disorganized
nature of the Disney organization from the mid-1970s through the
mid-80s. The company's feature films were attracting smaller and
smaller audiences, and no real creative force had emerged since Walt
Disney's death in 1966. By the mid- to late-70s, it was clear that new
ideas needed to be tried. The phenomenal success of "Star Wars"
appeared to offer a sure-fire way to box-office success: sci-fi/fantasy
movies. At the same time, Disney Studio's full-length animated features
continued their descent from the heights scaled in 1959's "Sleeping
Beauty", at first downscaling the subject matter, then progressing to
less and less impressive animation, and finally combining the first two
trends with boring storytelling (see "The Fox and the Hound" - 1981).
It was in this context that pre-production began on "The Black Cauldron" in the late 1970s. From an artistic standpoint, its goals were two-fold. First, the film was to recapture the lead in animation quality that Disney had traditionally held, while the second goal was to incorporate the advances in animation and subject matter made in the 1970s (i.e., playing "catch up"). Some early decisions were good: the source material was top-notch. Lloyd Alexander's "Chronicles of Prydain" are fantastic works of fantasy for the young adult - I loved them as a middle-schooler in the mid-80s, and the choice to film the story in 70mm widescreen harkened back to the glory days of "Sleeping Beauty." Unfortunately, not much else worked. The studio's writers did a terrible job of condensing the first two books of Alexander's series, and we end up caring little for the characters that emerge, or for the plot as it unfolds. Also, the movie's tone is uneven. Overall, the work is very dark and un-Disney, which would've been fine had it been executed better. Further, the grimness of the plot doesn't mesh with occasionally clumsy and earthy attempts at humor, and the character animation fluctuates between sober naturalism and exaggerated, cartoonish mannerisms (stretching ears, gaping mouths, etc.) Still, some of the shots are stunning and rank among the best in the history of hand-drawn animation (e.g., multiplaned exterior shot of the Horned King's castle, beautiful backgrounds within the same, Hen-Wen's capture by the Horned King's creatures). The result of this mish-mash was a box-office flop ($25 million to make, $5 million in ticket sales upon its 1985 release).
In short, see this film for its often-impressive animation and intermittent charm. Be sure to get the newly-available widescreen version on DVD. Bemoan the end of the era of stunning hand-drawn animation (Disney has closed up its shop; "Home on the Range" was its penultimate hand-drawn feature). Don't expect a classic, but appreciate the vision of its artistry - even if the final product didn't quite mesh satisfactorily. "The Black Cauldron" is a noble failure.
I must say first that my opinion on this film is slightly biased. I was
of the handful of people to have seen this film on its initial theatrical
run. I was also 11 and a boy (a target audience of this film). I owned the
Gurgi and Hen Wen plushes, got excited by the preview on the "Pinocchio"
After seeing the movie, I remember being entertained (maybe not enthralled) by the film and was saddened by Gurgi's sacrifice at the end.
Years passed. And passed. And passed. And people seemed to have forgotten "Black Cauldron" in the wake of "Little Mermaid" and her successors.
I must admit that I became somewhat obsessed with finding out why Disney thought of the film so poorly and why everyone gave me "blank stares" when I mentioned it. To say the least, I longed for a video release of the film.
A year or two ago, I got my wish, and now that I'm older and "wiser" I'm able to make a better judgement of the film. Is it Disney's worst film ever? Absolutely not. "Black Cauldron" is probably the finest animated film of the 1980's ("Little Mermaid" not withstanding). It IS a scary film for young kids (hence the PG rating) but I think audiences today are able to deal with that more than they were back in 1985 (just look at "Dinosaur," "Road to El Dorado," and the upcoming "Titan AE" which are all rated PG). The story may not be up to Disney standards, but for a film of its genre (i.e fantasy) it has a very compelling and understandable story. The animation has its highs and lows. But this film was made by a large number of people over a long period of time, so it is inevitable that there should be some fluctuation in quality.
Lastly, I too have read Lloyd Alexander's books, and I too adore them. No, Disney's film does not even begin to compare to the books, but what movie does?
On its own terms, "Black Cauldron" stands as a remarkable achievement in animation, and a film for those people who don't just think cartoons are "babysitters for kids."
I first saw this movie when I was a kid (probably 7 or 8) and I loved it.
After that I didn't know what happened to it. Then last year (or so) it
appeared on video. Naturally I snapped it up.
Well? Had the years been kind? Somewhat. Of course the build-up I had given it could never have been lived up to, but I enjoyed it. Watching it again, without the preconceptions, I thought it was wonderful. Maybe not as good as I thought as a kid, but still great.
Sure, some of the animation isn't as polished and crisp as the likes of 'The Little Mermaid' or 'Beauty and the Beast' (2 of my favorites) but it still looks great (especially the cauldron scenes near the end). And the team didn't feel the need to squeeze songs in where they would have been unwelcome. There are NO songs in this movie.
Overall, I can see why some people don't like it, but that's surely true of any movie. This is an atypical Disney release, but a classic. One of my favorites.
This is a grade A Disney animated film from the so-called Dark Ages of
the studio and I feel that is an unfair label overall but is especially
unfair when it comes to this film which is one of the studio's darkest
and most enjoyable.
The plot concerns would-be warrior Taran who sets on a quest to stop the evil Horned Kig (voiced magnificently by John Hurt) from getting his hands on a mysterious object which could unleash all supernatural hell on Earth. Along the way, he acquires a traveling company that includes a beautiful princess, a bumbling minstrel and a cute creature named Gurgi.
The film has it all. The voice work is first rate with a cast including Nigel Hawthorne, John Byner, Phil Fondacaro, Arthur Malet, and Freddie Jones who all turn in good performances. Special mention needs to go to the narrator John Huston who's wondrous voice sets up the story quite well.
The animation is lush, the effects are impressive and a real sense of adventure is aroused. My only complaint would probably be the pace which is a little sluggish and the standard happy ending does seem a little forced in.
But those mere cracks are not enough to damage or destroy what is ultimately one of Disney's best. I certainly rank it in my top five and if you haven't seen it, check it out.
Always curious about The Black Cauldron, I finally got around to it
after seeing a DVD at the rental store. Despite a lot of grating
elements, I ended up liking it overall.
The movie starts off on the wrong foot. The voices come across as recorded at low fidelity, and when combined with the sometimes hard-to-understand British accents, can be somewhat off-putting. Issues with voice and script become even more pronounced with characters such as Gurgi and his Gollum-esquire speech patterns. Indeed, the second time I watched the DVD I threw the English subtitles on, and not just for Gurgi.
Other problems with voicing include an exceedingly dull lead actor for Taran (he simply can't emote), and an overly chirpy female lead for Eilonwy.
Most other elements of the film proved passable if predictable in the Disney mold of plot, hero design, sidekicks, etc. Where it branches out for the better is in avoiding any and all musical interludes and along the way offering some scenarios and graphic effects that are more mature than most other Disney animated feature films (though later in the '90s the likes of The Lion King, Hunchback, and Tarzan would also tangle with mature themes).
Animation is also spectacularly mixed in quality, an odd distinction among Disney films but a distinction nonetheless. Usually solid, there are high points such as external shots of a dark castle or a visceral chase sequence. There are also low points such as unnatural shifts in hair color that overemphasize different environments, or obvious spots where animation was rushed (a rock slide sequence).
Yet for all these lows and highs, as an animation fan I ended up siding with the high points. Many sequences are inviting to re-watch, even if the entirety of the movie may not be. For all the talk of failure that continues to surround this movie, one can see in the film itself elements of a more mature Disney that could have been extremely promising with a more seasoned batch of animators and a world less hostile to PG animated fare.
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