- Directed by Ted Berman and Richard Rich
- July 24, 1985
- Based on The Book of Three and The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander
- Narrator-John Huston
- Taran-Grant Bardsley
- Princess Eilonwy-Susan Sheridan
- Dallben-Freddie Jones
- Fflewddur Fflam-Nigel Hawthorne
- King Eidilleg-Arthur Malet
- Gurgi, Doli-John Byner
- Creeper-Phil Fondacaro
- The Horned King-John Hurt
- Orddu-Eda Reiss Merin
- Orwen-Adele Malis-Morey
- Orgoch-Billie Hayes
- The Horned King’s Henchmen-Peter Renaday, Wayne Allwine, James Almanzar, Fondacaro, Steve Hale, Phil Nibbelink, and Jack Laing
A young man who seeks adventure must stop the Horned King from getting his hands on the mystical Black Cauldron.
The Black Cauldron is an early 80s 2-D animation film that is probably far darker than anything Disney did before or since. It lacks many of the traditional touches of Disney animation such as cute animal sidekicks, lighthearted humor, and even bouncy songs. In fact if the name ‘Disney’ was removed from this you wouldn’t even know it was produced by the House of Mouse. That is how different it is from anything else they have ever done.
It is a dark animated fantasy film peppered throughout with shades of Lord of the Rings. We have a young dreamer in search of adventure getting just what they wanted and realizing their dreams have serious consequences in the real world. Not a bad lesson to have in a kid’s movie-even one on the mature side.
Our young assistant pig tender Taran is granted his wish as much by circumstances as he is by his shortsighted desire for greatness. That’s something I found a little unique. This is not a hero seeking to do the right things but rather a hero seeking greatness for themselves. By the end he realizes he wanted what he wanted for the wrong reasons and such things come with a heavy price.
There are some issues with the narrative in The Black Cauldron and it’s my understanding chunks were cut out at the behest of higher-ups, but those missing pieces don’t harm the film in total. This is a visually stunning work of animated fantasy. The imagery is great and the script as well as the story maintains a dark and foreboding tone overall.
I feel a strong need to mention the character of Gurgi. Perhaps one of the more disturbing elements I have encountered in a Disney movie or just any animated feature. He shows up as a playful thief and minor nuisance who joins Taran on his quest though whether he really understand what’s going on or not is a bit up in the air.
And what happens to him is not only a narrative issue but also a bit of a downer. While Gurgi is cute and adorable, he goes dark in the end. In the story the Black Cauldron can never be destroyed but its magic can be stopped. Whether that is permanently or just the most recent spell cast with it is not clear and that is another narrative flaw. The only way to stop it is for a living being to willingly step inside. Essentially commit suicide.
And that is what Gurgi does. Why? Because Taran has many friends and as Gurgi puts it he only has one. That’s the creature’s logic. Basically more people will miss Taran than will miss Gurgi and that is just so heartbreaking.
And perhaps one of the most disturbing evil parts in a Disney film is the villain’s-the Horned King-plan to use the Black Cauldron’s evil magic to create an army of undead soldiers to conquer the world. When is the last time anybody did that in a Disney movie? And that’s really a cool plot if you ask me.
Taran is an assistant pig tender. How he reached that point is unrevealed, but he is not happy. The thing is the pig Hen Wen has a magic ability to find things and when used accidentally comes to the attention of the Horned King. A magic pig is a nice twist but gets pushed aside pretty quickly.
The Black Cauldron has a family friendly edge but the execution and appearance has something more mature to it. It borders on animated horror at times. The focus here is on story and character building rather than cute elements. This wasn’t meant as a piece of fluff but rather something deeper. With themes of friendship and duty and sacrifice, it’s a meatier film than most Disney projects.
The main problem with this is that it moves too quickly. There’s a lot in the story and some of the relationships as well as elements of the plot get rushed through. For example Princess Eilonwy just kind of shows up and joins things. There’s an explanation as to why but it feels rather abrupt. Given how quickly she joins she could’ve easily have been a plant but was not. And somehow that felt like a bait and switch.
The Black Cauldron is an oddity in the Disney filmography that probably won’t appeal to Disney fans but will appeal to fans of dark fantasy. If you are of the former this is not for you but if you are of the latter check this out. Currently available on Disney+.
One thought on “The Black Cauldron”
I’ve never seen this, but I recall back when it was being made all sorts of rumours of it being a dark fantasy very unlike Disney’s usual material and resulting production problems. You review certainly suggests Studio-mandated changes to that end, and I guess it results in a film that’s neither one or the other as far as a untypical/typical Disney animated film. A few years later of course there was something of a renaissance of Disney animated movies (Beauty and the Beast etc) but that didn’t come soon enough to save this film.
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