Movie Review: The Black Cauldron (1985)

TitleThe Black Cauldron
Release Date: July 26, 1985
Director: Ted Berman and Richard Rich
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Walt Disney Feature Animation |
Silver Screen Partners II

Taran (Grant Bardsley), a boy with dreams of the glory of battle is given the responsibility of caring for an oracular pig, Hen-Wen (Frank Welker). On his journey he’s distracted by Gurgi (John Byner), a creature who seems to be the illicit love child of The Lorax and Elmo (and maybe the ancestor of Dobby the House Elf), and Hen-Wen is abducted by the minions of The Horned King (John Hurt, channeling Emperor Palpatine).

Taran breaks into The Horned King’s castle and while helping Hen-Wen escape, he is imprisoned himself. He is released by fellow prisoner Princess Eilonwy (Susan Sheridan) who has a magical orb. Together they rescue another prisoner, a minstrel named Fflewddur Fflam (Nigel Hawthorne), who has a magic harp.  Along the way, Taran picks up a magic sword and all three escape the castle.

They are reunited with Gurgi and follow Hen-Wen’s tracks where they fall into a whirlpool leading into an underground fairy kingdom.  They determine that they must destroy the powerful weapon that The Horned King seeks, the Black Cauldron. Now numbering six, with Hen-Wen and the fairy Doli (John Byner) on their quest.

I’m afraid of given away the plot of the first half of the movie.  But it’s hard to set up all the characters and plotlines going on here any other way.  It’s unfortunate, because with the surplus of characters, there isn’t much character development.  Eilonwy and Fflewddur Fflam don’t really do much after we’re first introduced to them except act as cheerleaders for Taran, and their magical objects play no role in the outcome of the movie.  After setting up needlessly complex interweaving plots, the end of their quest is rather anticlimactic.

For a Disney animated feature, The Black Cauldron is known for being darker and scarier than usual. And yet, the animation style is trademark Disney and there’s lighter, comic relief stuff everywhere that gives the film issues with tone.  I think they would have done better to adopt a bold, new animation style to match the high fantasy of the story and set it further apart from traditional Disney fare. As is the case with most 1970s/1980s animation, you have to imagine how this movie would’ve improved with the resources and TLC given to the Disney Renaissance films.  All that being said, it’s a moderately enjoyable story with a great lead character on a journey of discovery and should be enjoyable for parents and braver children.

Rating: **1/2

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