DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material.
By the mid nineteen eighties, something had gone very wrong at the Disney animation studios.
To an outsider, this might not have been immediately apparent. Sure, the movies weren’t as good as they had been, but Rescuers had been a huge hit, and The Fox and the Hound had been a decent success financially. But inside the studio, things were starting to go sour. The last of the Nine Old Men were retiring, and the animation staff had dwindled to a mere two hundred or so, a situation made worse when Don Bluth essentially said “screw this noise” and left with a fifth of the studio’s animators.
The animation department, once the heart and soul of Disney, was increasingly being seen as more of an appendix, and an inflamed, extremely expensive appendix at that. Some members of the board were openly asking if the Disney company should even be making animated films, and instead suggested focusing on the theme parks and merchandise.
Roy Disney, Walt’s nephew and a senior executive of the company, fought tooth and nail to keep the animation wing open, saying that without new characters being created, the theme parks were essentially museums, commemorating something wonderful that was now dead.
At the heart of this dispute was the Black Cauldron. Twelve years in production, massively over budget, the Black Cauldron was supposed to be the movie that put Walt Disney animation back on the map, charting a new course away from the traditional children’s movies the studio was famous for and moving into darker, edgier territory. But it was quickly reaching the point where even if it was a massive hit, it would be hard pressed to earn back the money that had already been spent on it. The movie’s two directors Ted Berman…
and Richard Rich…
…were not hugely experienced, and Disney management was starting to have serious misgivings about what was going on over in the animation building.
Jeffrey Katzenberg (yes, that one) had been brought in by new Chief Operating Officer Michael Eisner to run the motion picture division, which included turning around the animation unit. On arriving at the animation unit’s new facilities (a crappy little industrial estate where they had been sent after being unceremoniously evicted from the main Disney lot) Katzenberg asked to see the partially completed film. Production Manager Don Hahn described what happened next:
“Katzenberg entered the screening room and closed the door behind him. We waited, not a man among us dared to speak so much as a word. Occasionally, from behind the door would emerge strange sounds, a low growling like some strange beast from the tropics, or a whine of pain and horror. At last, Katzenberg emerged from the darkened room and I think I may have cried aloud in horror, such was the change that had come over him! His hair had turned purest white and his fingers now shook as he raised a cigarette to his trembling lips and desperately drew upon it. His eyes stood stark and white in his face, now gaunt and greenish. He seemed too weak to stand and slumped into a chair, muttering darkly to himself, his gaze oscillating about the room but not meeting the eyes of any man there. And then, with a terrible fury that seemed conjured from the aether he leapt to his feet and cried “You fools! You monomaniacs! Have you no care for this abominable thing you have unleashed?! This thing will be the death of us all, I say!”
For you see, in their desperation to replace the magic and inspiration of Walt Disney, the animators had turned to a false power. A most powerful and ancient evil. A being known…as the Horned King.
And he’s standing in my living room right now.
Yeah…see. I really don’t want to watch this film.
YOU ARE THE GREATEST DISNEY VILLAIN OF ALL TIME can I please go now?
You mean, if I can watch this movie from start to finish and review it I might survive?
Alright. It’s fine. I can do this. I mean…it’s a Disney movie for God’s sake! How scary can it really be?
The movie begins with the following narration:
“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 form of a great black cauldron. For uncounted centuries The Black Cauldron lay hidden, waiting, while evil men searched for it. Knowing whoever possessed it, would have the power to resurrect an army of deathless warriors. And with them, rule the world.”
Surprised I didn’t go with a Lord of the Rings joke? Trust me, my supply is limited and must be used sparingly.
So we’re introduced to our hero Taran, a young assistant pig-keeper who lives with Dallben, a master pig keeper. Taran is bored with his life as a simple farm boy, and is eager to join the war against the Horned King because he’s an idiot and a fool to even dream of opposing the power and majesty of His Highness and has no idea what he’s dealing with can I please go now?
Of course master!
Dallben tells Taran not to be an idiot and sends him out to
clean those two droids before dinner feed Hen Wen the pig. But Taran whines because he was going to Tosche station to pick up some power converters wants to be a great hero and wow…this is a record. I already hate him and we are not yet four minutes into this thing. This is not a character I want to spend an hour and a half with. He monologues like a Danish prince while he feeds Hen Wen giving such choice lines as “Is this to be my lot? Looking after a pampered pig? I’m a warrior, not a pig-keeper.” And whoah, getting a little ahead of ourselves aren’t we Taran? Last I checked, you were an assistant pig-keeper. It’s four more years of studying advanced pigology and a further year of basic pigonomics before you get to call yourself a pig-keeper. You have to earn that, buddy.
Taran starts mouthing off about how he’s going to be a great warrior, picking up a stick and waving it around and chasing Hen Wen and some geese. Nice. Scaring small animals for fun. Thankfully, the farm goat takes it on himself to show Taran what’s what.
Dallben comes out to see what all the fuss is about, and Taran whines that he’s always going to be an assistant pig-keeper. But Dallben says that Hen Wen is a “special pig” and tells him to give her a bath. Now, I’m not a master pig-keeper with a degree in applied pigistry but even I know that pigs don’t need to be bathed and are perfectly content to sleep in eight inches of their own filth. They’re like the Ke$has of the animal kingdom.
Anyway, Taran starts to wash Hen but suddenly she starts freaking out and Dallben brings her inside. Dallben sets a bowl of water on the floor and casts a spell over Hen Wen. She starts to drink and in the water Dallben and Taran see…some recycled animation from Fantasia.
See, it turns out that Hen Wen is a prophesying pig, and that when she drinks she can reveal things that were, things that are, and things that have not yet come to pass. And I gotta say, that is a fantastic concept. How much more awesome would Lord of the Rings have been if they’d done that?
Hen Wen shows them a vision of the Horned King searching for the Black Cauldron and Dallben says that if he finds it then that’s basically game over. They also see that he’s looking for Hen Wen, so Dallben hurriedly gathers some supplies and tells Taran to bring Hen Wen
to the Inn of the Prancing Pony to the cottage outside the forbidden forest and wait for him there. Taran says that he’s not afraid of the Horned King. Let’s give Lord of the Rings a rest and take another drink from the Star Wars well.
Dallben embraces Taran and sends him on his way, and Taran promises that he won’t fail him and that he’ll keep Hen Wen safe from danger.
We now cut to the Horned King’s citadel, a black, dilapidated castle where giant fell winged beasts circle malevolently wait just a damn minute here!
Sure, the Horned King’s castle does look a lot like Cirith Ungol as it appeared in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy which came out after The Black Cauldron. But while the book of The Black Cauldron is drawn from Welsh mythology, the movie is clearly more in the realm of traditional eighties fantasy movies which all drew heavily on Tolkien. So maybe The Black Cauldron is the one doing the ripping off? But it was the first movie to come out, which means that it was the first to visually represent…I’m so confused! Who’s ripping off who?! Who do I call a whore?!
I’m so sorry!
What have I done!?
We’re introduced to our villain, walking down the stairs of his crypt and…talking to his corpse pile. Seriously. He has a massive pile of skeletons in his basement and he’s caressing them and talking to them and he’s voiced by John Hurt and Elmer Bernstein is reusing his “Zuul” theme from Ghostbusters on the soundtrack and this may be the creepiest thing I have ever seen.
Anyway, his Horned Majesty tells his dead buddies that soon they will be “cauldron born”, raised back to life by the power of the Black Cauldron and that they will make him a “God among mortals”. Which confuses me. Because, no offence my dread liege.You look kinda undead. But the dialogue would seem to indicate that he’s a mortal human being.
Meanwhile Taran has gone and lost Hen Wen in the forest. Because, you know. He’s an assistant pig-keeper. It’s not like he could be expected to KEEP A FUCKING PIG!
Taran desperately searches the forest for Hen Wen. What he finds instead is…well, I’m not going to say it’s the worst thing ever because you have to consider things like Nazis and the Khmer Rouge but by God he’s up there!
What can I say about Gurgi?
He’s like rancid…
He makes me want to kill every…
Blood death murder kill stab pain…
He’s like Jar Jar Binks had sex with Gollum and then gave birth in a haystack. I can’t stand him. I would spend an eternity in a bath tub full of the mice from Cinderella over ten minutes with this guy. I would gladly, gladly, enjoy a never ending tea party with Edgar Bergan and his satanic puppets over seconds with this excerable, intolerable, feculent monstrosity…
I do not much care for Gurgi is what I’m trying to get across here.
Okay, Taran moves up a step in my estimation by threatening to beat Gurgi with a stick unless he gives back the apple that he stole from him. But Gurgi has pretty much settled on the apple as his own personal “precious” and tells Taran that he’s seen Hen and will help him find her in exchange for the apple. Okay, we all know how this story goes and it ends with Taran lying paralysed in a cave about to be eaten by a giant spider. But fortunately Gurgi’s devious plan doesn’t get a chance to work. Taran hears Hen Wen screaming in panic and runs to find her being carried away by two of the Horned King’s “gryphons” (they look like wyverns to me, but what do I know? Oh yeah. Everything. They’re goddamn wyverns! I don’t care if the movie calls them gryphons. This is a film that calls its pig “Hen”. When it comes to species names they’re a bunch of amateurs). Anyway, Taran arrives just in time to see Hen being carried away.
Taran tries to save her but the second wyvern knocks him to the ground and we get what I think may be the first ever instance of blood onscreen in a Disney movie when Taran cuts his lip. The wyverns take Hen to your typical scary ass looking castle and Taran swears to go in after Hen. Gurgi tries to stop him, because in case the red sky, barren black landscape and lightning didn’t make it clear, that joint is bad news. But Taran tries to guilt Gurgi into coming with him, and makes him feel like shit when he refuses. I should feel sorry for Gurgi, because he’s under no obligation to save Taran’s bacon, but that would mean having some kind of empathy for Gurgi and I’m sorry, you can’t ask that of me. You just can’t.
Taran sneaks into the castle and witnesses the Horned King and his chief lackey, Creeper, trying to make Hen Wen show them where the black cauldron is. When Hen Wen refuses, Taran calls out to her and gets captured.
The Horned King has him brought before him and says “I assume my boy, that you are the keeper of this oracular pig?” and that is a line right there and if you think John Hurt doesn’t milk every syllable then, baby, you don’t know John Hurt.
The Horned King orders Taran to make Hen Wen show him where the Black Cauldron is, but Taran refuses. Well, I say “refuses”, but it’s more like he begs and pleads and calls the Horned King “sir” and stammers and says he can’t like a little wussy cowardly…
At once my Lord!
The Horned King takes Taran’s refusal quite calmly, and says that in that case the pig is of no use to him and Creeper puts Hen Wen on a goddamn chopping block and prepares to have her beheaded while Taran watches.
Seriously? This is the line right here. This is too far. It doesn’t help that Hen Wen is probably the only truly appealing character in the whole film. I mean, sure, we’ve seen characters in mortal peril in Disney movies before but for some reason this feels different. Maybe it’s just because this movie feels so uncertain of itself and weird and quite frankly nasty that part of me can’t help feeling like they’re actually going to kill Hen Wen and cut to the Horned King enjoying a BLT.
This right here is messed up. With this movie Disney were trying to get away from the legacy of their previous films. In that sense it is the greatest success in the history of human endeavour. We are a LONG way from home, people.
Well of course, they don’t actually kill the pig. Taran caves and puts the spell on Hen Wen to get her to show where the Black Cauldron is.
The Horned King leans in to see and Taran splashes him with water which burns him for…some reason…and he and Hen Wen make a run for it. They get as far as the castle walls and Taran throws Hen Wen into the moat but gets captured before he can jump after her. Taran gets thrown in the dungeon and is left to reflect on the fact that he’s a pig keeper who could not keep one damn pig. However, he’s quickly saved by the arrival of Princess Eilonwy who’s also been kept prisoner but has managed to find a secret passage connecting the various cells. Eilonwy is joined by OH JESUS NO! NAVI!!!!
Wait, wait, false alarm! False alarm everybody. It’s not Navi. Put the guns down.
This is Eilonwy’s “bauble”, which the Horned King wants to use to, you guessed it, find the Black Cauldron. Taran tells Eilonwy that his pig can tell the future and her reaction is basically “great story, bro”. They come across a tomb that belonged to the castle’s previous owner and Taran finds an ancient sword lying on his body. They also see Creeper dumping a cart full of dead bodies in the basement and decide that that’s more than enough creepy shit for one day and that it’s time to be hittin’ the old dusty trail. But we’re not done yet. They come across an elderly bard named Flewddur Fflam because Welsh is the only language in the world to be written by cats walking on keyboards. While high.
I mean, I live in Ireland, and we have some pretty unusual spelling for names over here but we doff our hats to the Welsh every time. I mean, they take this whole “Let’s give everything and everyone a name that no sane person could hope to spell or pronounce purely to troll the English” thing to the level of an artform.
Anyway, Control-V-Flewddur Fflam is being interrogated by the Horned King’s men on suspicion of being a spy. They chain him to a wall and threaten to release a dog on him.
Eilonwy and Taran free Flewddur Fflam but are pursued by the guards and get separated. Taran has to draw his sword when one of the guards tries to axe him a question, and lo and behold it turns into a glowing magical sword because this was a fantasy movie made in the wake of Star Wars and if it didn’t have a glowing sword there would be riots in the streets.
Taran reacts to this good fortune by laughing like a loon and twirling and twirling like a pretty ballerina.
Jesus. This kid has actually just managed to make He-Man look butch. No mean feat.
Anyway, using the sword Taran, Eilonwy and Flewddur Fflam are able to get out of the castle with their extraneous “f”‘s intact. Creeper has to tell the Horned King that they’ve escaped and is understandably nervous because HK doesn’t get mad, he gets chokey. But the Horned King is pretty zen about the whole thing, saying that Taran will lead them straight to the pig. Oh look at that, time for another Star Wars reference.
At this rate I’m going to be referencing the Ewok movies and the Christmas special before we get to the credits. Okay, moving on.
Flewddur Fflam, Taran and Eilonwy are resting in a forest clearing and talking about their death-defying escape. Taran says that he wasn’t frightened and Eilonwy calls bullshit on that because they were basically being held prisoner by Satan if he had no skin. Taran huffily says that he got them out of the castle…which is entirely beside the point. Yes. He did get them out of the castle. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t shitting masonry all the while. Eilonwy makes the rather valid point that the incredible, indestructible magic sword probably had something to do with it and Taran gets all up in her grill saying “What does a girl know about swords anyway?”
Eilonwy gets all huffy and blah blah blah and then Taran storms off and yakity yakity and Eilowny starts crying and hamana hamana hamana sad music blah blah and then they realise that they have to work together and blah bloom ggrraaaaggggghhhhhhhhh…
Jesus, this is trite. It was trite in Fox and the Hound and it’s even more trite now which is impressive when you consider that it’s the same damn scene. Thankfully, this piffle gets interrupted by Flewddur Fflam screaming and they run to see what’s the matter. Oh good. Something’s happening. Maybe now things will get better. After all, how could they get any worse?
Gurgi’s back and he says that he’s found Hen Wen’s tracks. They follow the tracks to a pond and then get sucked in by a magical vortex (just go with it).
They’re transported to a cave under the pond and get found by the Fair Folk, little fairies voiced by children who are all…fine young ladies and gentlemen who do the best they can.
They’re greeted by King Eidilleg and his engineer Doli who made the whirlpool. Apparently the purpose of the whirlpool was to keep people out of the cave, which is kind of like putting a hole in your roof to stop the rain getting in, i.e. it does the exact opposite and you would been much better off doing nothing at all. Doli is kind of hilarious though so I’ll let it go. Kind Eidilleg brings them to Hen Wen, and Taran is finally reunited with his beloved pig. Taran tells Eidilleg that the Horned King is looking for the Black Cauldron but Eidilleg says that he’ll never find it because it’s safely hidden in Morva and whoah whoah whoah!
Did you just give away the location of the cursed evil magical artifact that could mean the end of all life to the first drifters who lucked their way down here to Fraggle Rock? How do you know they’re not working for the Horned King? Because they have such a nice upstanding pig? Do the words “Keep it secret, keep it safe!” mean nothing to you?
You fail! This is basic wise fantasy king stuff!
Well anyway, Taran decides that they should head to Morva and destroy the Black Cauldron before the Horned King can get his hands on it. Doli goes with them and they soon find themselves in a creepy abandoned shack in the marshes of Morva. The shack turns out to be infested by hundreds and hundreds of frogs, which Doli tells them used to be people and go hopping out the open door. They also find a room full of hundreds of cauldrons, none of which could be said to be “white” so that’s kind of a problem.
They’re ambushed by three witches named Ordu, Orwen and Orgoch who are mighty pissed that they let all their frogs go. One of the witches (Orwen I think) takes a fancy to Flewddur Fflam but one of the other witches turns him into a frog and soon he’s lost in Orwen’s massive cleavage and this is not a joke people. I repeat. This is not a joke.
A note to screenwriters. If your script for a Disney movies includes the phrase “frog thrashing about between two massive tits” you need to reevaluate your target demographic.
Anyway, Ordu is mighty impressed with Taran’s sword and offers to trade him the Black Cauldron for it. Taran, over the protestations of Eilonwy, and let’s face it, the audience at home, agrees. The witches take the sword and the Black Cauldron bursts out of the earth. That’s when the witches reveal the stinger; the damn thing’s indestructible. The only way to destroy its power is for someone “pure of heart” to get into the cauldron of their own free will.
Gurgi volunteers, but just before he jumps in Ordu reveals that whoever gets into the cauldron will never get back out alive.
Eilowny is furious, but the witches point out that they wanted the Black Cauldron, and they’ve got it. It’s not their fault that they can’t do anything with it. The witches fly away cackling madly and our heroes are left with the cauldron.
Doli finally explodes, saying “What a bunch of dundering misfits! Things never work out when you’re working with people!” which coincidentally is my family motto. Doli tells Taran that he should go back to feeding pigs.
He vanishes. Taran starts moping and says that it’s all his fault.
That without his sword he’s nothing.
And that he’s useless and let them all down.
Eilonwy tries to cheer him up, saying that he’s not nothing, he’s somebody and also that he must believe in himself and that she believes in him. To which I say, so what, why and why? This pap gets mercifully cut short by the arrival of the Horned King’s men who take them prisoner. Except Gurgi because apparently I was Stalin in a former life and must be made to suffer.
Cut to the Horned King’s corpse room and Eilonwy, Taran and Flewddur Fflam watch in horror as the Horned King uses the cauldron to raise his army of undead medieval skeleton warriors and wait just a damn minute here!
The dark forces of the cauldron start to shake the castle apart and even the castle rats start running for their lives.
The Cauldron Born rise and the Horned King sends them forth to wipe out all life of earth and he and Creeper go upstairs to get a better view.
Taran tells Eilonwy that he didn’t want it to end this way.
What? Shackled in the dungeon of an omnicidal lich king while his unholy army of the undead brings down the black curtain on the age of man? Who doesn’t want it to end like that? Well anyway, Gurgi shows up again (oh, I am tumescent with joy) and frees them. Taran says that he’s got to stop the cauldron,which is impossible because the only way to do that…
There’s an idea.
Taran? I am 100% behind you on this.
Taran gets up on the ledge over the cauldron and prepares to throw himself in but Gurgi stops him.
GODDAMN IT GURGI I HATE YOU SO MUCH…
Oh wait. Gurgi says he’ll throw himself into the cauldron instead because Taran has lots of friends who’ll miss him but Gurgi has nobody. Impeccable reasoning I might add. Gurgi? I am 100,000,000% behind you on this.
And to any maths geeks reading this it’s called “hyperbole” and it’s something that you use when you’ve known the touch of a woman.
Gurgi jumps from the ledge and lands head first in the cauldron, exploding in a blaze of fire.
Anyway, after having to swallow Gurgi, the Black Cauldon decides it’s had enough of this shit (as indeed any of us would) and its power begins to fail. The Horned King watches enraged as his skeleton army goes to pieces and not in the “Mariah Carey in the early 2000’s” sense of going to pieces but in the actual “physically falling apart” sense of going to pieces. More like Michael Jackson, really.
Taran tells Flewddur Fflam and Elionwy to get out of the castle while he checks the cauldron just in case Gurgi’s still alive and my God why would you even joke about that, Taran? That is not funny.
The Horned King meanwhile has come back to see what’s the problem with the cauldron and tries to motivate his troops/ By which I mean he starts shaking the corpses, roaring “Get up you fools, KILL!” and his eyes start glowing bright red.
The Black Cauldron has started to act like a black hole, sucking everything into it. The Horned King tries to throw Taran into it, but instead gets caught in it’s vortex and then suffers without a doubt the most gruesome death I have ever seen in a Disney movie, his skin being torn from his hands and face before he gets sucked in bone by bone.
As the castle collapses in on itself Taran, Eilowny and Flewddur Fflam manage to escape by boat because the Horned King’s castle has suddenly decided that it’s on a lake. They reach the shore in time to see the castle sink beneath the waves and watch as the Black Cauldron drifts towards them. The witches show up and are all “Oh, you don’t need this cauldron anymore, do you? We’ll just take it off your hands and be on our way…” but Flewddur Fflam tells them that if they want it back they’d better make an offer. The witches offer to trade Taran back his sword but Taran refuses, saying he’s not a warrior and the one thing he really wants is…
DON’T YOU FUCKING DARE, TARAN!
I’M WARNING YOU! I’VE GOT A 0/20 SCORE FOR LEAD CHARACTER HERE WITH YOUR NAME ON IT IF YOU EVEN…
Let’s just get this over with.
The witches bring Gurgi back to life and they all go walking off into the sunset while in the Pig Farm-of-abandoned-secondary-characters Dallben, Doli and Hen Wen watch them in one of Hen’s visions. Dallben proudly says that Taran has done well and the movie ends.
If you ever go to Disneyland, here’s a fun game to play. See if you can find a single ride, character or piece of merchandise relating to this movie. There’s a reason for that. There’s a reason that Disney tries very hard to pretend that this movie doesn’t exist, almost (but not quite) to Song of the South levels of denial. Hell, maybe even more so. Song of the South at least inspired Splash Mountain.
The reason is, it’s terrible. It is just awful, an awkward, misbegotten, unpleasant mess . And I know this movie has a cult following. But so does L. Ron Hubbard. Terrible things can have cult followings.
When this movie came out in 1985 it was such a massive flop that it barely made back half it’s costs and very nearly killed the animation department outright. To add insult to injury, it marked the first time a Disney movie went head to head with another animated feature film at the box office and lost. What movie was it? An early Don Bluth classic? Something by Warner Brothers? No.
In the excellent documentary about the Disney Renaissance, Waking Sleeping Beauty (thanks to everyone in the comments who recommended it), producer Don Han described losing to the Care Bears as “hitting rock bottom”. This was the animation studio at it’s very lowest point. For a studio that was once represented the absolute zenith of the animated art form to lose to such cynical cheaply produced manipulative dreck was the ultimate indignity.
How did Disney manage to pull themselves out of this black hole?
Well, we’ll never know. Because I’m pretty sure I’m about to die now.
Here’s the thing…
I mean yes, you are certainly the scariest Disney villain. I mean, you’ve got incredible menace and presence. And you’ve certainly got a terrifying character design. But that’s not enough. You’re missing that one thing that marks the truly great Disney villains, the Jafars, the Shere Khans, the Scars, the Maleficents…
Well…charm. Disney villains aren’t just about being evil. They’re about showing how evil is seductive. There’s nothing appealing about you. The great Disney villains work because part of you wants them to succeed. They make being evil look fun and sexy. You…well let’s face it. You’re not sexy. And there’s no layers to you. You’re just ugly, and repellent.
Oh, and you’re character model fluctuates wildly from scene to scene. And my God, you have the worst lip-synching I have ever seen in a Disney movie. Shit, I have seen animé characters whose lips match their words better than yours.
So all in all? 16/20. And I’m being generous.
I TAKE IT BACK I TAKE IT BACK! 20 out of 20! 100 out of 20! PLEASE DON’T KILL ME OUT OF 20!
NO! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!
TO BE CONTINUED (?)
I see nothing but total blackness.
The Leads: 05/20
I see nothing but total blackness.
The Villain: 16/20
I see nothing but total blackness.
Supporting Characters: 04/20
I see nothing but total blackness.
The Music: 04/20
I hear nothing but the silence of the dead.
FINAL SCORE: 36%
NEXT TIME: ???
NEXT UPDATE: 01 April 2013
Neil Sharpson AKA The Unshaved Mouse, was a playwright, comic book writer and blogger living in Dublin.
He is no more.
Great as usual! Although I don’t like this movie as everyone else doesn’t also, I do consider Princess Eilonwy my favorite Disney princess!
Not trying to incite a flame war here, but… why?
I don’t remember the movie that well, but she seems kind of… meh. We don’t really see any trademark princessy traits, she doesn’t seem to play much of a role in the story, she doesn’t really seem to have any endearing qualities and there’s nothing all that appealing about her design.
Just curious. What makes her special? Do you think she should be included in the canon?
I have to ask, too…why? Not only is her being a princess totally pointless in the story (she has no land, no underlings, nothing), she is also a very pointless characters. The only thing she does is constantly telling Taran off. Princess or not, she is easily one of the most forgettable characters in Disney Canon.
I guess when I saw this movie when I was younger, she was the youngest Disney princess and hence closer to my age in real life; so because of our similar ages at the time, I developed a crush on her! I also quite enjoy her voice!
Nowadays, I still like her mostly because nobody else likes her; so I feel I’m doing her a good deed, lol! I also would rather her be included in the “Disney Princesses” line instead of Mulan who wasn’t a prince’s wife nor a king’s daughter!
I actually really really like Eilonwy when she first appears. She’s smart, funny and capable. But as the movie goes on and Taran assumes more of a leadership role she kind of shrinks to nothingness.
Ugh, geez, this is so frustrating to me. (I refer to the idiocy that is Eilonwy in this film, because she’s so entirely unworthy of the literary character she was based upon.)
@ Mouse, have you ever seen the “Disney Princess Round Table” spoof written by Peter David? You can see it here: http://www.peterdavid.net/2010/04/19/disney-heroines-roundtable/
It’s great for a howl or two, though outdated now, and hilariously addresses Eilonwy’s being ignored in the pantheon of princesses.
I have been longing to see somebody tackle an update of this skit that would include all the latest modern princesses, and I wonder if you might be the mouse for the job. It fits in line with your humor and style.
Oh man, I don’t think I could step on David’s turf. He’s a legend. Plus he’d get Zak Kebron to break my shins.
“The Black Cauldron” is based on a book, not a fairy tale or legend. Successful or not, Eilonwy would have never become part of the line up, because she only fulfills one of the three requirements for being a princess…Mulan for example fullfils two, because her movie is based on a legend and, even more important, she is the protagonist of her movie.
I guess I’m looking at it via the linguistic definition of the word, “princess”, rather than the connotation that Disney has give the term.
The way I see it, Mulan is a princess in all but name, whereas Eilonwy is a princess in name only. When you consider how Disney “princesses” usually sing, have a basis in fairytale/folktale/legend, are involved in a romantic plot/subplot, are usually the protagonist of the movie, and have a goal/dream that goes beyond romance (eg, to learn about the world outside her own, to find her purpose, to discover what life’s about, etc), Eilonwy doesn’t really make the cut. She’s more like Alice or Wendy, given her age, her role in the story and her source material.
But each to their own.
Not that I have seen this movie (and man, just looking at the Horned King makes me want to never do it), and I really love “Mulan”. But I have to say that Eilonwy and Kida from “Atlantis” should be in the princess line-up, because they are princesses, especially since Mulan has gotten a place there without actually being one! Then again, I would really love to see Esmeralda and Megara in the princess line-up too (Hercules is after all the daughter-in-law of the king of the gods, and the mythological character upon which she is based was a princess). The only good reason to exclude Eilonwy is that she seems to be younger than the other princesses. Then again, Snow White is supposed to be only fourteen years old, and how much younger than that is Eilonwy?
Whoops, of course I mean “Megara is the daugher-in-law of the king of the gods”…
That wasn’t harrowing at all. I can get along fine without my fortnightly dose of Mouse. Sure, he was addictively witty and insightful and clever, and I learned a lot about animation from him. But he’s gone. I’ll just have to go cold turkey, I suppose.
Who am I kidding?! Where’s a parrot warlock I can sell my soul to? Where’s the morbidly obese octopus drag queen looking to trade in young women’s voices? Where’s the wisecracking genie, the fairy godmothers, the voodoo sorcerer? Why can’t I have magic hair that glows when I sing? And why, oh why, is everybody in this godforsaken mundane magicless library staring at me?
Bring back the Mouse!
I’ve been waiting two weeks to respond to this one (I was trapped in an alternate dimension, you know how it goes). Thanks very much. Nice to know I was missed 🙂
Fun fact about the movie – there is a total of 12 minutes and 15 seconds of the movie missing. The reason? so that the studio, besides for time, would be able to avoid a PG-13 rating when it was released. The original version contained violence and graphic imagery that would be… unusual for a Disney movie (putting it nicely). but that didn’t matter, as later live action films would get the pg-13 rating by Disney.
O_O OH GOD WHAT’S GOING ON!?!?!?!?
*pulls out a crucifix*
Actually…I heard that Disneyland Tokio has a black cauldron castle, complete with horned king aso underneath it. Apparently the movie is way more popular in Asia.
For my part: I hate, hate, hate this movie! I wanted to like it so much, because I really, really like pigs (what? They are cute! Just look at HenWen! She is the best part of the movie. Sadly she isn’t enough to make up for the rest).
I really don’t have to add anything to the review, because I nailed the problems with this movie quite well. I mostly thought it confusing…for example I thought for a very long time that Elonwyn isn’t a princess but a scullery maid, because that’s what the horned king calls her in the end, and I thought it would fit with the overall theme of the movie that everyone in this group pretends to be more than he is, but apparently she is suppose to be a princess…without a country???? I really don’t get why she even is one. Or why it matters that the Horned King reigns over a land where nobody lives either way.
But the main reason I hate this movie so much: It ended out “Christmas Disney movie” tradition. It’s the reason I never saw “The great mouse detective” in theaters, something I rue to this day. I only saw this movie years later…but I gave Oliver and Company a shot, and I dislike that movie nearly as much as The Black Cauldron. Let’s just say, it’s very lucky that “The Little Mermaid” is one of my favourite fairy tale, or Disney would have lost a customer in me with those…movies.
Japan doesn’t count. Japan never counts. I agree that Hen Wen is the most likeable character. I think one of this movie’s biggest flaws is a lack of focus. Hen Wen starts out as the main driver of the action and gets shunted aside towards the end.
An insightful and roaringly funny review. One very minor correction, though. The name of the chairman is Katzenberg, with two E’s.
Thanks very much. That’s fixed now.
How do you give the music 4/20? It’s Elmer Bernstein, you fuck! Sure, it’s similar to Ghostbusters, but it certainly stands on its own. Is this just because it has no songs?
A fuck am I?! Perhaps you’d like to see how “fuck like” I can be?!
*Transforms into a massive fuck*
It not having songs has nothing to do with it, I’ve rated some movies that have very few or no memorable songs very highly for their music (Bambi and Fantasia are the first that spring to mind). The problem is that 1), the Horned King theme is the ONLY memorable piece on the soundtrack and 2) It’s not “similar” to the Ghostbusters piece. It’s the same damn piece! I don’t care if it’s Elmer Bernstein or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, bring something original to the table or GTFO.
Oh yeah. Reference to Larry.
Glad you like! Larry was one of my all-time favorite jokes so I was glad to find a way to work him back in.
Excellent review as always, Mouse. 🙂 In my teenage years/adulthood I’ve gone back and rewatched the Disney animated films on DVD at different times (yes, even the package films), but to be honest this is the one movie that I haven’t seen since the 1990s.
I remember taking a survey for Disney online last year (I think it may have been for D23) and one of the questions that really struck me went something like this: “Do you prefer Disney films made from 1985 (The Black Cauldron) and before, or from 1986 (The Great Mouse Detective) and after?” It seemed like a really strange separation point (like wouldn’t The Jungle Book and The Aristocats be a better one?), but looking back it does kind of make sense. Before The Black Cauldron, the studio was run by animators who had been personally trained by Walt Disney, along with a new generation of animators like Don Bluth and John Lasseter who hadn’t really known Walt, but had been raised in that creative culture by people who had known him; unfortunately, that culture had begun to stagnate and grow stale due to micromanagement and people not truly understanding Walt’s vision, which ended up leading to films like The Fox and the Hound. During The Black Cauldron’s production, a new team of outside managers led by Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg entered the studio with their own culture and film making vision. There was hemming and hawing over control of the studio, and The Black Cauldron’s failure was the breaking point that ultimately forced out the old, Walt-era line of thinking and brought in a new, different vision. So while Walt Disney died in 1966, I guess you could say that he didn’t truly leave the studio until 1985. Though of course that’s just my own pompous take on it.
It’s not really such an odd seperation point at all, because they tested computer animation with “The Black Cauldron” for the first time and really used it in “The Great Mouse Detective”, especially in the clock tower scene. And that was the real start of the Disney Renaissance, Imho. Computers allowed the animators to do stuff which simply wasn’t possible beforehand, and it made animated movies for the first time something which could be done for a reasonable prize, without using a lot of shortcuts. The main reason I’m not bothered by the reused animation pre the DR, is that I totally get why they had to do it. I have way less patience when I see them copying from older movies from the 90th onwards, because from then on, I see it as lazy.
GURGI IS THE DEVIL.
Haha this was the first review I ever read by you. I was on TGWTG and was bored so I looked at the recent uploads or new uploads or whatever it’s called and found this. I was like “what’s the black caldron? How come I hadn’t heard about this Disney movie?” Now I know. I also didn’t get any of your running jokes. As I’m now rereading, I get a lot of them.
Yeah, the running gags kinda started to pile up so I started to put the link to Snow White at the start of each review
Actually I’m amazed you kept with it if this was the first review you read. You must have been completely lost!
This is my first post here! I’ve been reading your blog since Dumbo (or The Three Caballeros) and I have been one of the few lurkers here that roam the blog without posting a single comment (until now, of course). With that said, I enjoy reading it and I hope you continue it until the very end of the Disney canon.
Personal story I’d like to share about this movie: I remember one day when I was in kindergarden, my classroom had a small party with chips, cookies, cupcakes and whatnot (Sounds like the best kindergarden party, eh?) and one of my classmates brought in a VHS of this movie for our class to watch. I believe she owned the Gold Classics edition VHS of The Black Cauldron. I should know since I have a decent collection of Disney tapes lol. Anyways, we watched the film and I can remember most of scenes with the Horned King scared the crap out of me and a few other kids in the class. The Black Cauldron was the scariest movie I saw at that point, which leads me to this question: “Why would kindergarden teachers, I repeat KINDERGARDEN TEACHERS, allow 5-year-old kids to watch a PG-rated movie by Disney, of all companies, that needed to be edited TWICE to avoid a PG13 or R rating?” Oh, and if you’re wondering, my teachers let us watch the entire movie without them noticing or at least giving two shits about that PG rating.
I re-watched it as I grew older to appreciate it and the history behind it and is it me or am I the only one here who finds this movie to be kind of underrated? I don’t really think its THAT bad. I agree with you on some points, the characters aren’t quite developed, Gurgi is pretty annoying, much of the music feels recycled from Ghostbusters, and the villain is absolutely lacking in what you mentioned before, charm, even though he is probably one of the scariest Disney villians in the whole canon. But my reason for liking TBC is a bit similar to your reason for disliking BATB, in that we don’t really know why we like/dislike the particular movie. I suppose I like Black Cauldron because it’s very dark for a Disney movie and I think the story had potential. Also, Hen Wen is definitely the most likeable character (besides Princess Eilonwy).
I’m on TAC’s side; I think Princess Eilonwy is my favorite Disney princess for the same reasons he already stated and because I feel she is an aggressive yet resourceful character that needs more love. I can’t help but feel that Disney somewhat tried to give her a personality (though not much of it) compared to the Disney Princess that came before her. They were all mostly nice and passive but Princess Eilonwy is kind, good-humored, clever, confident and feisty when she is pushed to the limit. Eilonwy deserves some credit because you’d see that she’s the first of her kind; the kind of princess that rescues her prince. If it hadn’t been for Eilonwy, Taran would have never gotten the magic sword and escape the Horned King’s castle and make it out alive. Cinderella, Snow White, and Aurora never did this kind of thing in any of their movies.
BTW, I’m surprised you rated it pretty low on the animation quality since this movie’s animation is technically (and visually) better looking than some of the movies from the scratchy era despite the fact that it is kind of uneven. There are times when the film looks downright unpleasant but in others, the film seems to have some of the best animation since Sleeping Beauty. Nonetheless, great review!
And as another lurker blossoms into a commenter, the circle of life continues. I’ll let you in on a little secret. The scores don’t always reflect my personal preference. I introduced the five categories to try and inject a little objectivity to the whole process instead of just ranking them all on my personal whims. My favorite Disney movie, the one I’m most likely to stick on when I’m feeling blue, will not be the winner at the end if this. Likewise, while TBC is languishing at the bottom of the rankings right now, it’s not my least favorite by any means. I like the princess (in the first half at least) and I have a real soft spot for obscure, weird animated oddities. As for the animation…parts are lovely yes but other parts are quite shockingly rough and consistency is so important in animation. On a final note, I don’t really blame your teachers. Even with the PG rating, you don’t expect that from Disney.
I’ll give you a hint as to which is my personal favorite Disney movie. Its in the Renaissance era and you have yet to review it. Can you guess which one it is?
Mulan or Hunchback.
From previous blog posts, I can tell Tarzan means a great deal to you.
Not really. It wasn’t a favorite growing up (I was in my teenage “too old for Disney” phase by then.) Just rewatching it for the blog opened my eyes to it.
Funnily enough this was the first review of yours I read. (Continuity lockout was not a problem). Took me ages to comment as well. We lurk for ages but, then the tide of hilarity and good analysis breaks our will.
I have to admit to hating my favorite one when I was little, mainly because I couldn’t appreciate its atmosphere and characters. But I re-watched it last year, I was completely blown away by the beautiful animation and awesome characters.
Oh, and you guessed correctly. My fav is Hunchback! ^^
I am laughing so hard right now.
The source material for this movie holds a very, very dear place in my heart, and the only thing lacking in this review, in my mind, was similar treatment to the one you did for Peter Pan (also hilarious and spot-on), as they share the dubious honor of books that had so much potential to be amazing films, raped visually by adaptations that had no idea what they were actually supposed to be about.
I know you shouldn’t judge a film purely on how well it adapts a book, and if it were a good film in its own right I could, perhaps, forgive its more egregious departures from the text. Fortunately it fails on so many levels I am free to loathe it without looking like a bitter tight-assed literary purist. (Although, I admit, I am one…and of course I can’t leave this subject without highly recommending the Prydain Chronicles, particularly since you confess yourself a lover of children’s literature.)
Fantastic blog. Discovered you last night while researching some Mary Poppins material and have been reading for hours, giggling all the while.
Delighted you like it. Haven’t had a chance to read the Prydain series. Will try to.
You owe it to your daughter. Eilonwy is actually one of the strongest, funniest, most kick-ass heroines in kidlit – and this was during the sixties, before “girl with sword” became the Standard Fantasy Solution to male-dominated monomyths.
This movie works better if you imagine it as the tale of a visionary sorcerer with grand plans, repeatedly thwarted by a shiftless gang of provincial peripatetics, and told from the point of view of the villains.
Oh, and the Black Cauldron game by Sierra On-Line was actually pretty neat.
Your scary coachman picture is missing.
OH CHRIST IT’S LOOSE!!
“Someone of pure heart must go in by their own free will to destroy the cauldron” (Thucydides style quote)
Put some food in it with a trail and watch an animal willingly jump in. Problem solved
I remember finding this as a thrift store. My whole family was excited about seeing whatever it was that made Disney hate this so much. I am surprised none of us left in the middle of it, like we normally do when we are not enjoying a movie. The best comedic part was when our dog started barking at the tv.
I’ve got to say, good thinking on Roy’s part. Imagine a world where Disney’s only source of revenue was collecting a nice cut of money from Marvel and Lucas works. That is if it would ever have managed to annex them without continuing raking it in with its animated features and merchandise. Hard to picture.
And yeah, Hamlet was a dark, mournful tragedy, but hey, man, at least it was a classy tragedy. I don’t think comparing Taran to Hamlet is fair to Hamlet. And hey, pigs apparently hate it when their beds are dirty, no need to stereotype here.
Ok, before I allow the Horned King’s cruel influence put a further wedge between us, I’ve got to say, your proposal for Lord of the Rings was a laugh. Maybe the Hobbits could have done well to take a page from Willow’s book, eh? And I loved the part where the Coachman ran off with his tail between his legs.
Also, wait, the Horned King is John Hurt? So… Does that mean that Merlin made a pact with him at some time and then the Horned King held him to it and got released that way? Dammit Merlin!!! Also, I wonder if the Horned King is related to the Witch of the West or something. That’s the only way I can think of to explain that splash hurting that much.
Fun fact, apparently the developers who designed Link and Navi based them on Disney’s Peter Pan and Tinkerbell. Not sure if this makes that movie worse or better. …Wait, you’re Stalin reincarnated? Well… I should have suspected this from your hanging out with a communist bird, but am I really supposed to believe that you “accidentally” helped give Saddam Hussein the power to take control of the entire world? I smell a rat, mouse.
Argh, the King’s dark aura strikes again. Nice words, come on… Your description of the cauldron failing just at the utter disgust of having Gurgi inside it was a laugh for sure. Though even if it definitely didn’t faze you, that scene was still pretty heavy. How many Disney movies have a deliberate suicide as a major plot point? (Incredibles notwithstanding, if that can be called a Disney movie) That was actually the main thing that traumatized my sister and led to her utter disdain for The Black Cauldron. I think your tagline of “there is nothing good, old-timey or Disney about this terror” is perfectly suited. And as I said in your Song of the South review, (and you also pointed out) Disneyland’s actually got a pretty big space dedicated to Song of the South, so the Black Cauldron actually manages to even surpass Song of the flipping South in terms of don’t-want-to-remember-it. I think that’s saying something. Hard to believe THIS was the movie that came out in the year ol’ Debbie is ever-preoccupied with.
…Basically, I’m too young to have any direct experience with 80s nostalgia, but looking at this makes it kind of hard to understand the people that did have it.
I like this film. It’s a little nostalgic for me, as I watched it after handing an essay in late and was tired and miserable. A good friend introduced us.
I think this film was actually a late tar and sugar. The horned king is so frightening and the fairies are so syrupy. Perhaps the difference is that in those earlier films the transition was done better and so it felt less jarring.
I also like Gurgi, rounding up my grand tradition of not being annoyed by the Scrappy ( no not even JarJar). So, you will know how serious I am when I say that this film could have been great if they had actually gone through with his death. In a weird way it would have made it the story of a selfish character who learnt to care for others and so been better. Perhaps?
Obviously that would have traumatised every child the horned king had not reached. So …
As for it’s LotR points. I think it’s a subversion. Gurgi is an anti-Gollum as though they thought: What if Gollum had sacrificed himself to save Frodo? Wouldn’t that have been tragic? Just when he was changing for the better.
The big problem is that it’s sort of goes against Disney’s follow your dream ideology as the message is that Taran must give his up.
“Taran tries to save her but the second wyvern knocks him to the ground and we get what I think may be the first ever instance of blood onscreen in a Disney movie when Taran cuts his lip.”
Actually I think that honor goes to Maleficent:
Funny story, a friend of my sister’s was just given a VHS of this movie for Christmas and was elated. Her membership for the Enemies of the Unshaved Mouse ought to come in the mail any minute.
I so believe your review over Ebert’s. 3.5/4? The 80’s must have been bad times…
Ebert made some weird calls. He loved Space Jam.
“And to any math geeks reading this it’s called “hyperbole” and it’s something that you use when you’ve known the touch of a woman.”
Well, some people can actually do basic math because they didn’t trade in their brains for bigger junk. Still, I believe you’ve known the touch of a woman. I mean, you’re clearly a dick so you’re not good for much else.
I’ve got a thing about bullying, lion.
I’m a huge fan of people who take personal offence at comedic lines not addressed at any real individual and then engage in personal insults to inflate their own sense of moral self aggrandisement. Gazelle.
So you didn’t mean it seriously?
Did I seriously mean that anyone who cares about math has never known the touch of a woman? No. I did not seriously mean that.
Then I’m sorry……cheetah? Giraffe? Whatever, I apologize.
No problem dude.
Nice review–just one nitpick. The Horned King’s flying creatures aren’t called “gryphons.” They’re called Gwythaints, which is the name given to them in the (far superior) book this movie was based on.
Chronicles of Prydain is an underappreciated landmark in YA fiction. Eilonwy in particular is fantastic.
I enjoyed this movie, I don’t give a Frak.
I did a post on my blog once about why I think movie helped inspire The Legend of Zelda.
I think that maybe trying to make this movie a stir-fry of several books in the Prydain Chronicles did it in. There just wasn’t enough development or context for certain characters…Eilonwy came across as generic and undeveloped, when she could have had more depth and dimension if they’d given us a little of her backstory (daughter and granddaughter of powerful sorceresses). Instead, all we know is…she’s a princess? But maybe not because the Horned King refers to her as a scullery maid? And she has this magic bauble that doesn’t really do all that much? So maybe she’s magical? It’s all rather disconnected.
Also, there are a few fascinating What Could Have Beens. The Cauldron-Born were supposed to be holographic projections that walked out of the screen into the audience, but they couldn’t get the technology to work. Also, you know that moment during the Cauldron Born scene where the music sort of skips? That’s because there was a scene in the next-to-final cut that depicted the Cauldron Born attacking one of the King’s human minions…and said minion’s flesh bubbles and dissolves off him as he dies in agony. You can find cels from it online, and dear GOD. If that had been left in, Disney would have had its first R-rated animated movie.