Disney Marathon: ‘The Black Cauldron’


For those just joining us, this is a movie marathon with a twist. Myself (cranky 40 year old blogger), my son Josh (10 year old Nintendo obsessive) and my daughter Amelia (drama llama 8 year old princess) are watching Disney movies in a random order and ranking them. We hope to see interesting differences in how we organise our lists.

Film: The Black Cauldron

Released: 1985

Director: Ted Berman and Richard Rich

Cast: Grant Bardsley, Susan Sheridan, Freddie Jones, Nigel Hawthorne, Arthur Malet, John Byner, Phil Fondacaro, John Hurt, John Huston

Plot: In a fantasy realm, teenage boy Taran is tasked with protecting a psychic pig and seeking the mythical Black Cauldron. If the sinister Horned King finds the cauldron first he will use it to rise an unstoppable army of the dead.

Review: It’s easy to see why people forget this is a Disney movie. It came out at a time when Disney animated movies weren’t pulling in big crowds and didn’t have a strong cultural impact. On top of all that, the style leans more towards the Don Bluth style, who was putting out more theatrical releases during this period. The combination of these factors, and the now traditional troubled production, lead to The Black Cauldron going from an ambitious attempt to adapt a complex, multi-book fantasy epic to being one of the least remembered Disney animated films.

Coming back to this movie post Lord of the Rings, it’s difficult to imagine Peter Jackson not taking visual cues from this adventure, or that Ralph Bakshi’s influenced this movie. Either way, it is seeped in the same fantasy style coloured in rich browns and greens. There plenty of plot and style similarities, although as they’re both derived from Celtic and Anglo-Saxon based folklore this isn’t terribly surprising. Unless this is your first ever Western fantasy story you’re going to feel comfortably familiar before long. Taran (Bardsley) is every part the young adventurer coming from humble beginnings but chosen by fate, guided by a wise old man and targeted by a sinister villain.

It’s a little unusual that his main quest involves protecting a psychic pig, but aside from that…

Taran and his magical pig have set out to locate and destroy the powerful magical artefact. Failure to do so will give the powerful villain The Horned King (a phenomenal John Hurt) the chance to solidify his rule. On a journey that takes him through a forest, dungeons of The Horned King, the realm of the Fair Folk and marshes occupied by witches Taran meets and is joined by Princess Eilonwy (Sheridan), aged bard Ffewddur Fflam (Hawthorne) and furry, funny talking merchandise opportunity Gurgi (Byner). It’s not a story to get especially excited by, before they move through introductions and settings with some speed that we never get a chance to invest in any of it.

As nice as the movie looks, and as interesting as the premise and characters are, this is a pretty soulless movie. It’s hardly surprising that this movie feels rushed and hollow, given the addition of dark and scary imagery didn’t sit well with some of the Disney higher ups. Jeffrey Katzenberg famously grabbed the film and started editing it himself. Although Eisner talked him down, the compromise still saw a solid 12 minutes left out. Some of these cut scenes toned down the violence and horror elements, but also cut out many moments of the main characters chatting amongst each other.

Disney Animation has not taken a risk like this since, and given the tepid critical response and poor box office it’s no surprise. This isn’t just a Disney take on the fantasy genre, it’s just a fantasy film like many others before and after it. Nowadays it’s remembered for the trauma it inflicted on younger children and being swept under the rug. Also briefly Disneyland’s most terrifying ride in the Tokyo park, where a visiting child has to stand up to The Horned King. This guy is easily among Disney’s most terrifying creatures, right up there with Chernobog from Fantasia in terms of nightmare fuel.

Coolest Easter Egg: It’s easy to spot, so look for Tinker Bell among the fairies in the Fair Folk kingdom. Her distinct proportions are in stark contest to the rotund looking creatures of this world.

Weirdest Trivia: There’s a series of character designs submitted by newcomer Tim Burton, who’d worked as an animator on The Fox and the Hound. That would’ve been a unique movie.

Rating: FOUR out of TEN

THE RANKING

ME

Look, it’s not that bad. But I can’t imagine choosing to sit down and watch it again any time soon.

Click those titles if you want to see what we said about the other movies.

  1. Zootopia
  2. Robin Hood
  3. Aladdin
  4. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  5. The Lion King
  6. Wreck-It Ralph
  7. Alice in Wonderland
  8. Beauty and the Beast
  9. Moana
  10. Big Hero 6
  11. Lilo & Stitch
  12. The Great Mouse Detective
  13. The Little Mermaid
  14. Frozen
  15. Peter Pan
  16. Tangled
  17. The Sword in the Stone
  18. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  19. Enchanted
  20. Mulan
  21. Raya and the Last Dragon
  22. Cinderella
  23. Emperor’s New Groove
  24. The Rescuers Down Under
  25. Fantasia
  26. Ralph Breaks the Internet
  27. The Three Caballeros
  28. The Jungle Book
  29. Fun and Fancy Free
  30. Sleeping Beauty
  31. The Princess and the Frog
  32. Hercules
  33. The Rescuers
  34. Oliver & Company
  35. The Aristocats
  36. Saludos Amigos
  37. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  38. The Black Cauldron
  39. Home on the Range
  40. Bolt
  41. Dinosaur
  42. The Fox and the Hound
  43. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
  44. Pocahontas
  45. A Goofy Movie
  46. Tarzan
  47. Fantasia 2000
  48. Treasure Planet
  49. Meet the Robinsons
  50. The Wild
  51. Chicken Little

AMELIA

Amelia quite enjoyed the Fair Folk, the lead characters and the pig…but as expected the scary elements were a bit much for her. Ever since starting on the Percy Jackson book series she’s been patrolling the house for monsters, wielding a toy katana and grappling hook, so she’ll sleep fine.

  1. Raya and the Last Dragon
  2. Frozen
  3. Moana
  4. Tangled
  5. The Little Mermaid
  6. The Rescuers
  7. The Rescuers Down Under
  8. Peter Pan
  9. Emperor’s New Groove
  10. Zootopia
  11. Lilo & Stitch
  12. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
  13. The Great Mouse Detective
  14. Home on the Range
  15. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  16. Mulan
  17. Hercules
  18. Alice in Wonderland
  19. Cinderella
  20. Wreck-It Ralph
  21. Bolt
  22. Pocahontas
  23. The Black Cauldron
  24. Enchanted
  25. Dinosaur
  26. The Aristocats
  27. The Princess and the Frog
  28. Robin Hood
  29. The Jungle Book
  30. Fantasia 2000
  31. The Lion King
  32. Beauty and the Beast
  33. The Three Caballeros
  34. The Fox and the Hound
  35. The Sword in the Stone
  36. Saludos Amigos
  37. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  38. Tarzan
  39. Oliver & Company
  40. Aladdin
  41. Treasure Planet
  42. Big Hero 6
  43. Fun and Fancy Free
  44. Sleeping Beauty
  45. A Goofy Movie
  46. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  47. Meet the Robinsons
  48. Chicken Little
  49. The Wild
  50. Fantasia

JOSHUA

It was sort of like a Disney movie, but more spookier.

  1. Zootopia
  2. Big Hero 6
  3. Raya and the Last Dragon
  4. Aladdin
  5. Emperor’s New Groove
  6. Treasure Planet
  7. Moana
  8. Ralph Breaks the Internet
  9. The Three Caballeros
  10. Saludos Amigos
  11. Wreck-It Ralph
  12. The Rescuers
  13. Frozen
  14. Mulan
  15. The Princess and the Frog
  16. The Lion King
  17. Lilo & Stitch
  18. The Jungle Book
  19. Robin Hood
  20. Bolt
  21. The Sword in the Stone
  22. Beauty and the Beast
  23. Oliver & Company
  24. Peter Pan
  25. The Rescuers Down Under
  26. Sleeping Beauty
  27. Tangled
  28. The Great Mouse Detective
  29. Cinderella
  30. The Little Mermaid
  31. Meet The Robinsons
  32. Enchanted
  33. The Black Cauldron
  34. The Hunchback Of Notre Dame
  35. Home on the Range
  36. Pocahontas
  37. A Goofy Movie
  38. The Aristocats
  39. Fantasia
  40. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  41. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
  42. Fun and Fancy Free
  43. The Fox and the Hound
  44. Fantasia 2000
  45. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  46. Dinosaur
  47. Hercules
  48. Tarzan
  49. Alice in Wonderland
  50. The Wild
  51. Chicken Little