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Overall Rating

Awesome: 10.53%
Worth A Look42.11%
Average: 26.32%
Pretty Bad: 10.53%
Total Crap: 10.53%

1 review, 13 user ratings

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Black Cauldron, The
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by brianorndorf

"The one that nearly shattered Disney Animation"
4 stars

It was the film that broke Disney, both in spirit and in the savings account. After nearly 50 years of industry highlights, astounding audiences with storytelling perfection, The Walt Disney Feature Animation Studio ran into a brick wall with “The Black Cauldron,” almost in slow motion. It was a massive box office whiff from a studio used to hitting triples and home runs, brought about great professional misery for the animators working on the film, and essentially killed off the “Nine Old Men” era of Disney Animation, a business that would soon be reborn in the light of the Katzenberg/Eisner dawn. By all accounts, “Cauldron” was a disaster for everyone involved.

Yet, as these stories typically tend to turn, it’s really not such a catastrophic moviemaking effort.

A young farm boy, Taran (voiced by Grant Bardsley) works in the care of enchanter Dallben (Freddie Jones), a flighty old man concerned about a special pig named Hen Wen. A sow with special oracular powers, Hen Wen knows the location of the dreaded Black Cauldron, a magical weapon that could be used to destroy the world if placed into the wrong hands. After the Cauldron is the wicked Horned King (John Hurt), who’s eager to bring about a legion of undead warriors, known as “The Cauldron Born.” When Hen Wen is kidnapped by dark forces, Taran sets out to retrieve his pal, teaming up with the sweet Princess Eilonwy (Susan Sheridan), a daft balladeer named Fflewddur Fflam (Nigel Hawthorne), and Gurgi (John Byner), a mischievous, clumsy creature with a strong preference for apples.

“The Black Cauldron” was adapted from Lloyd Alexander’s book series, “The Chronicles of Prydain,” which spread the struggles of Taran over five hearty young adult novels. The Disney movie runs roughly 75 minutes. Now, that’s not the most generous amount of time permitted to bringing such vast material to the screen, but whatever the picture lacks in lucidity, it certainly makes up for in widescreen ambition.

Gulping down a flagon of thick J.R.R. Tolkien mead, “Cauldron” traces uncomfortably close to “The Lord of the Rings” saga, putting forth a similar tale of fragile heroism, a path of doom spotlighting multiple characters, and an all-powerful object used to control the world. The mirror effect is a bit disconcerting at first glance, but it doesn’t take long for Disney traditions to assume control of the narrative, injecting a cartoon mindset into the picture, thought the shadows still remain.

That heightened sense of evil is perhaps why “Cauldron” failed to come alive during its initial theatrical release in 1985, scaring off the Disney loyal as the company indulged a more sinister tale of villainy. There’s a bleakness to the picture that’s intriguing, but ultimately too unwieldy for directors Ted Berman and Richard Rich, who struggle to maintain the sword and sorcery grit of the source material while enduring studio demand. It leaves the film patchy and inhibited, a feeling engorged by the rickety screenplay, which leaps around blindly to introduce as many characters as it can. The effect is unsettling, torching any potentially ripping pace to pay attention to conflicts with witches, flying elves, and other creatures. Taran isn’t truly much of a hero, but more a submissive tour guide for this land of capricious adventure, stumbling through the story. There isn’t much tension to the picture, and despite some colorful flights of fancy with traditional Disney Animation characterizations, the film is hopelessly stuck in neutral for most of its running time.

Where “Cauldron” shines brightest is in the animation, which eschews a cheery, lyrical tone of Disney fantasy to head into the darkness, with the production seeking out a slightly more modern method of filmmaking. Though I know animation purists cringe at the thought of such a comparison, “The Black Cauldron” comes across like a Ralph Bakshi production at times, with a surreal, menacing quality to the images that create more of a threat than anything found in the writing. The Horned King is a brave step forward for the Mouse House, submitting a villain with ghoulish skeletal features, creating an arresting figure of death. Matters retain more of a bounce when dealing with the likes of Gurgi and his mandated efforts to brighten the picture, but the film retains a beautifully ominous mood, accentuated by a sinister animation effort that deserved a more focused script.

“The Black Cauldron” has been beaten down throughout the years as the picture that choked out Disney Animation, forcing them to reorganize the studio and intensify their efforts. It’s a flawed jumble of a film, but a picture of immense artistic accomplishment and dedication to atypical faces of wickedness. Despite its tattered reputation and sleepy execution, there’s still so much to admire about this red-headed stepchild of a film.

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originally posted: 03/08/11 00:59:50
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User Comments

10/19/15 WALTER The next two Disney classics are THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE AND OLIVER AND COMPANY. 2 stars
3/21/11 Guido Sanchez I feel like the potential is there, but frankly the movie doesn't stand up and bores. 3 stars
3/16/11 John clark An old classic to me, older kids will love it 3 stars
2/10/10 JM Synth So-so storytelling/characters, but it's one of the handsomest Disneys of the last 50 years 3 stars
1/14/07 abchakraborty Worst disney film ever made. The plot is garbage and lacks any of the magic of disney.LAME! 1 stars
12/13/06 David Cohen Read the books and see what this dismal, ill-plotted mess could have been 2 stars
4/02/06 chris f very good enjoyable movie 4 stars
8/25/05 ES excellent movie, probably my fav from Disney, good action, cool villain 5 stars
9/04/03 Gray seems to want to be a kids movie and a horror at once so it fails at both 3 stars
9/26/02 Tchaikovsky Fucks Your Mother I'm obsessed with the greatness of Disney cartoons, but this one was just a little boring.. 3 stars
8/19/01 J Not bad. But sadly not as good as PG-rated animated movies such as "The Iron Giant", etc. 4 stars
8/04/01 Matt This is by far the best Disney movie ever! Underrated, under appreciated, and a must have! 5 stars
4/09/01 Gary This is by far the worst Disney movie ever, and the only one rated above "G" 1 stars
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  24-Jul-1985 (PG)



Directed by
  Ted Berman
  Richard Rich

Written by
  Ted Berman

  John Huston
  John Byner
  John Hurt
  Freddie Jones
  Arthur Malet
  Adele Malis-Morey

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