The Black Cauldron (1985)

PG   |    |  Animation, Action, Adventure


The Black Cauldron (1985) Poster

A young boy and a bunch of misfit friends embark on a quest to find a dark magic item of ultimate power before a diabolical tyrant can.


6.4/10
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  • Grant Bardsley in The Black Cauldron (1985)
  • The Black Cauldron (1985)
  • Grant Bardsley and Susan Sheridan in The Black Cauldron (1985)
  • John Byner in The Black Cauldron (1985)
  • The Black Cauldron (1985)
  • The Black Cauldron (1985)

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26 March 2006 | beatlesguru1
6
| Shambolic film still worth seeing
"The Black Cauldron" provides us with "Exhibit A" of the disorganized nature of the Disney organization from the mid-1970s through the mid-80s. The company's feature films were attracting smaller and smaller audiences, and no real creative force had emerged since Walt Disney's death in 1966. By the mid- to late-70s, it was clear that new ideas needed to be tried. The phenomenal success of "Star Wars" appeared to offer a sure-fire way to box-office success: sci-fi/fantasy movies. At the same time, Disney Studio's full-length animated features continued their descent from the heights scaled in 1959's "Sleeping Beauty", at first downscaling the subject matter, then progressing to less and less impressive animation, and finally combining the first two trends with boring storytelling (see "The Fox and the Hound" - 1981).

It was in this context that pre-production began on "The Black Cauldron" in the late 1970s. From an artistic standpoint, its goals were two-fold. First, the film was to recapture the lead in animation quality that Disney had traditionally held, while the second goal was to incorporate the advances in animation and subject matter made in the 1970s (i.e., playing "catch up"). Some early decisions were good: the source material was top-notch. Lloyd Alexander's "Chronicles of Prydain" are fantastic works of fantasy for the young adult - I loved them as a middle-schooler in the mid-80s, and the choice to film the story in 70mm widescreen harkened back to the glory days of "Sleeping Beauty." Unfortunately, not much else worked. The studio's writers did a terrible job of condensing the first two books of Alexander's series, and we end up caring little for the characters that emerge, or for the plot as it unfolds. Also, the movie's tone is uneven. Overall, the work is very dark and un-Disney, which would've been fine had it been executed better. Further, the grimness of the plot doesn't mesh with occasionally clumsy and earthy attempts at humor, and the character animation fluctuates between sober naturalism and exaggerated, cartoonish mannerisms (stretching ears, gaping mouths, etc.) Still, some of the shots are stunning and rank among the best in the history of hand-drawn animation (e.g., multiplaned exterior shot of the Horned King's castle, beautiful backgrounds within the same, Hen-Wen's capture by the Horned King's creatures). The result of this mish-mash was a box-office flop ($25 million to make, $5 million in ticket sales upon its 1985 release).

In short, see this film for its often-impressive animation and intermittent charm. Be sure to get the newly-available widescreen version on DVD. Bemoan the end of the era of stunning hand-drawn animation (Disney has closed up its shop; "Home on the Range" was its penultimate hand-drawn feature). Don't expect a classic, but appreciate the vision of its artistry - even if the final product didn't quite mesh satisfactorily. "The Black Cauldron" is a noble failure.

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Did You Know?

Trivia

The first Disney movie to not have "THE END" at the end. Instead, it just went straight from the final scene to the closing credits. A few later movies, such as The Great Mouse Detective (1986), Aladdin (1992), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), and The Emperor's New Groove (2000) would have "THE END" appear before the credits roll, but this was for a special occasion usually.


Quotes

Narrator: Legend has it, in the mystic land of Prydain, there was once a king so cruel and so evil, that even the Gods feared him. Since no prison could hold him, he was thrown alive into a crucible of molten iron. There his demonic spirit was captured in the...


Goofs

As Creeper prepares the Horned King's drink, the goblet changes colors between shots.


Crazy Credits

There are no opening or cast and crew credits.


Alternate Versions

Appalled by the film's darkness and graphic nature, and also concerned with its long length, Jeffrey Katzenberg requested that the film's release be delayed from its scheduled Christmas 1984 release to July 1985 so that the whole film could be reworked. The Black Cauldron (1985) was ultimately cut by twelve to fifteen minutes, all of which were fully animated and scored. As a result, some existing scenes were rewritten, reanimated, and reedited for continuity. Many of the cut scenes involved the undead "Cauldron Born", who are used as the Horned King's army in the final act of the film. While most of the scenes were seamlessly removed from the film, one particular cut involving a Cauldron Born warrior killing a person by decapitating his neck and another one killing another person by decapitating his torso created a rather recognizable lapse because the removal of the scene clumsily creates a jump in the film's soundtrack. Other deleted scenes include: many scenes of graphic violence such as the ones where Taran fights his way out of The Horned King's palace with the magic sword Dyrnwyn; shots of Princess Eilonwy wearing ripped garments, as she's hanging for her life with Taran and Fflewddur Fflam; whole sequences involving the world of the Fairfolk; scenes of the Horned King with a flowing cloak; one scene featuring one of the King's henchmen being mauled by one of the Cauldron Born warriors, which causes him to form horrifically detailed lacerations and boils, before he rots away to become one of the Cauldron Born warriors himself (a couple of animated cels of that particular scene can actually now be found on the Internet); and a more action-oriented, dramatic, and intense climatic fight scene between Taran and the Horned King before the latter is sucked into the Cauldron.

Storyline

Plot Summary


Synopsis (WARNING: Spoilers)


Genres

Animation | Action | Adventure | Family | Fantasy | Horror

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