Posted December 20, 2010 by editor in Retrospectives

Disney: The Black Cauldron

Fantasy was all the rage in the mid 80’s. We had labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, Krull, The Neverending Story, Legend, and many forgotten small budget films about knights, and elves etc that it was quite a craze. One day we hope it will be repeated in a similar form instead of franchise upon franchise.  But back then it was a time of ideas. And Disney had the idea of contributing their own fantasy spectacular in the form of The Black Cauldron.

An adaptation of Lloyd Alexander’s books The Chronicles of Prydain, The Black cauldron condensed them down to a single narrative. The story though is fairly basic in its aims.  A young male farm hand is set off on a quest to protect a pig. Loses pig and then must become a hero in order to save both pig and all humanity. The hero’s journey introduces him to a few sidekicks along the way including a beautiful young maiden, a minstrel and a furry little creature called Gurgi. Gurgi’s path is that of the sneaky thief who our hero berates at every chance – this climaxes with Gurgi making the ultimate sacrifice in order to redeem himself which – if you cared- would case the odd tear down the cheek. Until he springs back to life that is? (Disney!  Will you ever learn to let some good characters go).

What hampers this film is its dark visuals. What immediately springs to mind is Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings animated half epic. It’s a horrible film to look at and we can only pray that it is given a good clean for Blu-ray one day. Still – didn’t stop it being the first film that I owned a semi-completed sticker book for. Yes excitement shot through my veins as I’d get colorful laminates of distressed pigs, Ogre warriors, floating cauldrons, playful witches, mini Trolls and cute furry characters with apples in their little paws.

This was all destroyed when I finally got round to seeing a copy on VHS. Perhaps I had outgrown it even in a few short years – or perhaps it is just that poorly put together and just a bit of a rip-off and cash in on other better films.

It’s also a shame that the Black Cauldron has some of the world’s poorest voice-over acting known to man. Not even the likes of John Hurt or Nigel Hawthorne can raise it above an acceptable bar. The sound mix for it too needs a good polish.

It is off though how fantasy films have so many ingredients that can go into a very imaginative film and come out so dull. Cauldrons, witches, trolls, magic, swords, armies of the dead, mythical creatures, curses, quests. It all sounds so wonderful. Retrospectives can often show that a forgotten film has a second life in a new generation – sadly The Black Cauldron is not one of these films. There is far too little here to make it stand out.

The Black Cauldron, like allot of fantasy films back then, failed to set the box office alight (which is odd for a Disney animated film) – which makes you wonder why so many were made back then if they were not reaping the rewards. It is probably high up on the “Forgotten” Disney Classics list along with the Package films of the 1940’s.

Steven Hurst