The Black Cauldron (1985)

This weekend I finally got around to seeing The Black Cauldron, one of the few Disney animated movies that I haven’t seen yet. This film wasn’t released on VHS until 1998 and is from that period of Disney when was really scraping the bottom of the barrel. In 1979 because of stagnation in the animated studio they hadn’t released a film in 2 years, Don Bluth and several animators jumped ship to form their own studio (they went on the do American Tale, and eventually Anastasia). So there were a whole new group of animators. Black Cauldron was an attempt to make a film for the older children but the folks at Disney were looking into building their live action film and theme parks at this time. So there wasn’t a big emphasis in animated films.  This eventually lead to the Disney Renaissance of the 90s so there is some good that came from the film as well as many of the animators who worked on the film including Tim Burton and John Lasseter. Please be warned that spoilers are bound to follow.

The Black Cauldron is roughly based on the first books of Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain, which in turn are based on Welsh mythology. This film is forgotten since it is dark (earning it a PG rating) and some people claim that it is the fill Disney tried to kill as Jeffery Katzenberg cut out 12 minutes of the film. Many people online think that if these cut minutes were returned to the film it would have been a much better film. The Black Cauldron is about an assistant pig farmer, Taran who is sent off on a quest to prevent the Horned King from getting his hands on the titular cauldron which can be used to summon an army of the undead. Taran get captured trying to rescue his pig who happens to have oracle abilities, and is thrown into the Horned King’s dungeon. While in the dungeon he is rescued by Princess Eilonwy who is also a captive, they stumble into a wandering bard who is also a captive and the three of them set off to escape. Taran finds a sword which is imbued with magic and Taran lives his hearts desire to be a hero. After they escape they run into Gurgi, a small pest who bothered Taran earlier while he was looking for his pig. This time Gurgi is helpful and leads them along the path that pig took and they stumble into a whirlpool which leads them into the fairy kingdom.

From the fairy kingdom they are quickly brought to the place where the Black Cauldron is located it is owned by three witches and they make a deal the cauldron for Taran’s sword. After the deal the witches tell the Taran, Eilonwy and the bard that the cauldron cannot be destroyed and the only way for it to lose it’s power is for someone to willingly climb into the cauldron under his\her own free will. As soon as they get the Cauldron the Horned King’s men are there and capture and take the cauldron with them.  For the ending you’ve got the rough idea of how it will end, and you have to watch it to find out or read about it online.

The film itself is dark for an animated film which is one of the hard parts of watching the movie, you get some moments of levity notably with Gurgi, but it is a heavy film. A unique thing about the film is that the music was done by Elmer Bernstein. Critic call this film ambitious but flawed and I agree there seems like there could be some more character building as well, perhaps some of this was in the 12 minutes which were cut. If you haven’t seen this film it is worth watching if you want to see all of Disney’s animated films. Black Cauldron is a decent film and explores the world of Welsh mythology and that is a unique world to explore but it’s not the type of film that you want to watch with someone under the age of like 12.


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