The Black Cauldron
Rating -

  Animated (US); 1985; Rated PG; 80 Minutes

Grant Bardsley: Taran
Susan Sheridan: Eilonwy
Freddie Jones: Dallben
Nigel Hawthorne: Fflewddur
Arthur Malet: King Eidilleg
John Byner: Gurgi/Doli
Eda Reiss Merin: Orddu
Adele Malis-Morey: Orwen
Billie Hayes: Orgoch
Phil Fondacaro: Creeper
Pete Renaday, James Almanzar, Wayne Allwine, Steve Hale, Phil Nibbelink and Jack Laing: Henchmen
John Hurt: Horned King

Produced by Joe Hale; Directed by Ted Berman and Richard Rich; Screenwritten by David Jonas, Vance Gerry, Ted Berman, Richard Rich, Joe Hale, Al Wilson, Roy Morita, Peter Young, Art Stevens, Rosemary Anne Sisson, and Roy Edward Disney; based on the five novels of the series The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

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Review #1

Written by DAVID KEYES

As far back as memory serves, Disney's animation studios have produced their audiences some excellent films, but none so classic as "Bambi" or "Pinocchio," of which his studio was still in its golden era. When Disney died in 1967, his last great movie was "Sleeping Beauty," and afterwards, the studios fell into recession, making low-quality films with poor animation techniques and a lack of memorability. It wasn't until 1983 when the studio began to return the magic of earlier years, when they presented the audience "The Fox And The Hound," a film of which approached Walt's original vision of animated magic.

But then in 1985, the studio was under new management, and many of the original Disney animators had already left. They produced "The Black Cauldron," the first film of their modern-day era of animated films. The film did not receive well-deserved recognition because of it's first-ever PG rating, dark and surreal landscapes, and creepy characters woven into the grizzly story.

I have no doubt in my mind that Disney's studios regret doing "The Black Cauldron," one of their biggest commercial flops ever, but actually, the movie is a visual, enriched, and traditional triumph. "The Black Cauldron," which recently got its first U.S. video release, is an energetic and ambitious animated tale where we envision the magic that Walt gave us in "Snow White" and "Pinocchio." The characters are odd, the animated techniques are ingenious, and it serves a purpose in reminding us that even today's animation can't compare to the brilliance that hand-drawn animation offers its audience.

"The Black Cauldron" follows the tale of a young boy named Taran, who dreams of one day becoming a great warrior in the mythical lands of Prydain. He finally gets the chance when he learns (from a psychic pig named Hen-Wen) that the Horned King (the most ruthless creature in all the land), is in search of the mythical Black Cauldron.

The Black Cauldron is the source of power in all their world. Since Hen-Wen can predict where it is, she is extremely valuable to the Horned King, and she fears he will soon come looking for her.

This requires a little explanation: this Cauldron, as the Horned King discovers, can created endless undead armies that can destroy worlds. With the Cauldron in his possession, he can literally take over all of Prydain with his soldiers of 'the cauldron-born.'

As Taran discovers this, he feels it to be his duty to become the great warrior he's dreamed of being by reaching the black cauldron before the Horned King can get to it. The movie sets up as mainly his quests across the open lands, and discovering the place where the cauldron lies. Along the way, Taran meets two intriguing characters: the beautiful Eilonwy, and the cute Gurgi, both of whom are characters that Taran at first does not seem to get along with.

In most ways, these characters reflect some others from Disney animated features. Taran is an over ambitious young lad, who seems curious, and often makes the worst of decisions. He is reminiscent of Pinocchio. Eilonwy provides the traditional values of the fairy-tale princesses that Disney brought to us in "Snow White" and "Sleeping Beauty," so she can easily be ranked up there with Aurora or Snow White. The annoying little Gurgi brews up mischief with Taran: once by stealing his apple, and another time by backing out of a trip with Taran to the Horned King's castle, thereby displaying him as a coward in Taran's eyes. He's a cute little fellow, with a certain level of annoyance, and I guess he sort of reminds me of Thumper from "Bambi." You'll often see a guy named Creeper on the screen, too, and though he is not the most favorite of characters, he certainly has the willpower to keep people's attention focused upon him. He works for the Horned King, and gets blamed for every problem that goes wrong. How can you not think of Sir Hiss from "Robin Hood" in this case?

But most of everyone's attention is focused directly on the Horned King himself, who is prolific in nearly every sense. He doesn't speak much in the film, and his character development is not as strong as it should be, but he looks and acts like he's among the great Disney villains: he absorbs his audience with the brilliance of a dark voice and silhouetted face. Looking at him, and his magnificent creations from the cauldron, you almost wish that Taran would fail so we could witness what animation could bring us if the Horned King succeeds in his goal.

I imagine that "The Black Cauldron" failed at theaters probably because of the fact that it was dark and grizzly, but if you think about it, is it any more dark and grizzly from "Snow White" and "Pinocchio?" Those films, if released for the first time today, might have been considered for PG ratings, because they are frightening and creepy to the point where small children might shrink down to their seats in utter fright.

True, "The Black Cauldron" is not among "Bambi" or "Beauty And The Beast," but in a list containing the great Disney films, this one places seventh, behind "Bambi," "Beauty And The Beast," "Sleeping Beauty," "The Hunchback Of Notre Dame," "Mulan," and "Pinocchio." I imagine you can call that praise.

1998, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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