Steve’s Wonderful Reviews of Disney: The Black Cauldron

The Black Cauldron

Release Date: July 26th, 1985

Inspiration: “The Book of Three” and “The Black Cauldron” by Lloyd Alexander

Budget: $44 million

Domestic Gross: $21.3 million

Worldwide Gross: $21.3 million

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 55%

IMDB Score: 6.4/10

Storyline (per IMDB): Centuries ago, in the land of Prydain, a young man named Taran is given the task of protecting Hen Wen, a magical oracular pig, who knows the location of the mystical black cauldron. This is not an easy task, for The Evil Horned King will stop at nothing to get the cauldron.

Pre-Watching Thoughts: We continue on through the 1980s with the historical 25th film in the Disney film canon which is crazy to think that there’s only been 25 films in the span of 48 years though that does average out to a film every 2 years. After a long stretch of having seen the films at least once in my life, this is a film that I have never seen before and can already say that I have some reservations about it given its less than stellar reputation. But like I usually do, I am going in with an open mind and for all I know, this might end up surprising me by being really good so we will see what ends up happening.

Voice Cast: As I have mentioned a few times, we were starting to see a trend of returning actors dwindling down and we were soon probably going to get to the point where we have a fresh cast for each film. Now we could see some returning actors in some minor roles while the bigger roles go to newcomers, and that seems to begin here as we have only one returning actor and that is Peter Renaday who voices one of the Horned King’s henchmen so we basically have our first complete new cast since the early days of Disney. At the top, we have Grant Bardsley who voices Taran in what would be his defining role as he would retire by the end of the decade, and then we have Susan Sheridan who voices Princess Eilonwy in what ends up being one of only two films she would be in. We then have John Byner who does a dual job of voicing both Gurgi and Doli in what would be his only appearance in a Disney film, and then we have legendary English actor Nigel Hawthorne who voices Fflewddur Fflam in what would also be his only Disney film. Next, we have English actor John Hurt who voices the Horned King in his only Disney film appearance and it seems like this film would just have a lot of one-off appearances, and then we have Phil Fondacaro who voices Creeper as he was coming off his most memorable appearance as an Ewok in “Return of the Jedi”. We then have Freddie Jones who voices Dallben in his only appearance in an animated film, and then we have Arthur Malet who had appeared in “Mary Poppins” and “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” and he voices King Eidilleg as he was nearing the twilight of his career. Next, we have the trio of Eda Reiss Merin, Adele Malis-Morey, and Billie Hayes who voice the three witches Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch respectively, and then we have Wayne Allwine, James Almanzar, Steve Hale, Phil Nibbelink, and Jack Laing who voice the Horned King’s henchmen. Finally, we have John Huston who voices the narrator in what would be one of his final roles, and it is very interesting that almost everyone in this film are just one-offs though given most of them are English it would make sense given the film they were in.

Hero/Prince: Unlike some of our previous heroes and princes who you know are that from the minute you see them, we have the exact opposite here in what is a typical trope used in films of the ordinary person who becomes the unlikely hero at the end. Our hero in this film is the poster boy for that and that is Taran, the young man who lives with Dallben the Enchanter and looks after the pig Hen Wen not knowing of the pig’s power until Dallben shows him. Taran vows to keep the pig protected from the Horned King only to lose him and be captured, but he manages to escape by taking an enchanted sword and helps Hen Wen escape along with Princess Eilonwy and the minstrel Fflewddur Fflam. They find the black cauldron and he gives his sword to the three witches guarding the cauldron in exchange for it, but the Horned King’s minions find them and take the cauldron while keeping them prisoner. At this point, we should also make mention of the creature named Gurgi who is mischievous and sees Taran as his master though Taran doesn’t like him, and in the end Gurgi sacrifices himself and throws himself into the cauldron to stop the cauldron’s evil power and finish off the Horned King. The witches offer to give the sword back to Taran in exchange for the cauldron, but Taran instead wants Gurgi’s life restored which they ultimately agree to and Gurgi and Taran become friends. Taran is a classic example of the simple boy who dreams of being a warrior, but in the end he realizes the true meaning of friendship and foregoes his dreams in order to save his friend though Eilonwy reminds him that he is a true hero. I don’t know where either of them would rank amongst the other heroes and princes, but it will be interesting to see where they ultimately end up.

Princess: If you look at Disney’s lineup of who they consider to be the official princesses of Disney, you will not find Princess Eilonwy included in there even though she does call herself a princess. While we don’t know much about her like what kingdom she comes from and who her family is, we do know she is of some importance to the Horned King since he went out of his way to capture her. She uses her bauble to find Taran and they manage to escape from the castle along with Fflewddur Fflam, and despite some early misgivings she comes to trust Taran and joins him as they look for the black cauldron. They are captured again by the Horned King who uses the cauldron only for Gurgi to sacrifice himself to stop him, and they escape the castle as it is destroyed before giving the cauldron back to the witches in exchange for Gurgi’s life. In the end, Gurgi strategically maneuvers Taran into a kiss with Eilonwy though it is left ambiguous if they end up in a relationship. She is unlike your typical princess in that she is not afraid of adventure and is willing to fight if necessary, but other than that there is very little that is known about her and as a result she will probably not rank high against the more well-known princesses in the Disney canon.

Villain: When it comes to the villains of the Disney canon, most of them have evil intentions and do things that make them evil but at times they do have some tangibles that endear them to people and sometimes you may even sympathize with them. However, the villain in this film is about as evil as you can get and that is the Horned King who seeks the black cauldron to bring the dead to life and use them to rule the world. He first obtains Taran’s pig Hen Wen to show him where the cauldron is located only for Taran to free Hen Wen as well as escape along with Eilonwy and Fflewddur Flam, but after they find the cauldron the Horned King’s henchmen capture them and bring him the cauldron. He uses the cauldron to raise an army of undead soldiers only for Gurgi to sacrifice himself and destroy the soldiers, and the Horned King tries to throw Taran into the cauldron only to be sucked in himself which kills him and destroys his castle. The Horned King is about as basic a villain that you could get as he is bent on ruling the world and sees the cauldron as the way to do it, but like most villains he fails to comprehend the power of the cauldron and is ultimately destroyed by the very thing he tried to control. Because of this, he lacks the other intangibles that separates him from the other villains that have more charisma or personality than him, and as a result he will probably not rank too high though he won’t be at the bottom given some of the other villains that have been covered to this point.

Other Characters: I have mentioned that most of the recent films that I have watched have focused more on the main characters with the other characters playing a pretty minor role, and that seems to be the same case here though some of them do play a pretty big role in this film. The first is the minstrel named Fflewddur Fflam who is captured by the Horned King and saved by Taran and Princess Eilonwy, and he stays with them through their travels even being turned into a frog by Orddu the witch only for Orwen the witch to fall in love with him. We then have Hen Wen the pig who has the power to see into the future and the Horned King hunts him to find the black cauldron, but Taran is able to save him and then the Fair Folk take her under their protection before returning her to Dallben. We then have Dallben the Enchanter who keeps Taran under his care until he is forced to send him and Hen Wen away to protect them from the Horned King, and then we have Creeper who serves as the Horned King’s right hand man and is constantly abused by him until the Horned King is killed and he is overjoyed to be freed. We then have the Fair Folk led by King Eidilleg and they point our heroes in the right direction as Doli goes with them, and then we have the three witches named Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch who trade the black cauldron to Taran for his magic sword only to take the cauldron back in exchange for Gurgi’s life. Finally we have the Horned King’s henchmen who border on rowdy and a bit bumbling as they are pretty much cast aside for the undead warriors that the Horned King brings to life using the cauldron. Obviously, these characters play a role in this film whether it be minor or major, and it is always interesting to see how many play a major role versus those that play a minor role.

Songs: N/A

Plot: So not only was I not aware that this film was also adapted from a novel, but it was only one in a series of five books though this film mainly takes aspects from two of the films and not all five. It is also based on Welsh mythology which is a culture that you don’t seem to see a lot of adaptations of, and the plot involves the Horned King trying to find the Black Cauldron that he believes will help him rule the world. He learns of a pig that can see into the future so he kidnaps it only it’s keeper Taran to save him though he is captured in the process, and he meets with Princess Eilonwy and Fflewddur Fflam as they escape and learn of the cauldron’s location. Along with the creature Gurgi who believes Taran to be his friend and master, they meet a trio of witches who give them the cauldron in exchange for a magic sword Taran had found back in the dungeon. Unfortunately, the Horned King claims the cauldron and imprisons Taran and his friends until Gurgi frees them, and then Gurgi sacrifices himself into the cauldron to overload its power and the Horned King is sucked into the cauldron which kills him. The witches reclaim the cauldron and offer the sword back, but Taran instead asks for Gurgi to be brought back to life which he is and Taran heads into the sunset with his new friends. I had earlier mentioned that I would like to know the opinion of the author when they see the film, and I read that the author enjoyed the film on its own though believes it is a completely separate entity from his series. In a way, I guess that is a good thought to have in that he did like the film while hoping that those that watch the film would become interested in reading the series.

Random Watching Thoughts: We got a few firsts with this film as it is the first to feature the Walt Disney Pictures logo at the beginning and it is also the first film to not have opening credits; I want to know more about this king whose spirit would inhabit the black cauldron; I love how the narrator mentions that only evil men were looking for the cauldron; Interesting foreshadowing in the beginning as Dallben senses something terrible will happen; So there’s a war going on yet we don’t see any of it; I feel like this is the most un-Disney film that they made yet it somehow feels more Disney than “The Sword in the Stone”; I wonder how long it took Dallben to come up with the name “Hen Wen” for a pig; I thought that was a picky pig to shove that food out until Taran called him spoiled, but then he takes a bite and shudders as he swallows it; Such naivety by Taran that he thinks he wouldn’t be afraid in war; What did those poor geese do to deserve being teased like that?; Taran forgot the first rule when teasing a goat and that is never turn your back to them because they will attack; Hen Wen is the rare pig that actually enjoys getting a bath; Of all the animals the author could’ve chosen to be an all-seeing creature that can see the future, he had to choose a pig; Of course Dallben cuts off Hen Wen prematurely otherwise we would’ve seen what happens and get spoiled; Dallben tells Taran to stay at the cottage until he gets him yet he only gives him a single slice of bread and an apple as rations; Another interesting note is that this is the first Disney animated film to receive the “PG” rating; The Horned King is pretty scary, but he sounds like a character that should look a lot more scarier; The Horned King has some pretty lofty goals if he wants to be a god; Taran also has some lofty goals if he imagines himself to be the greatest warrior in the land, but yet he can’t keep his mind on the task of keeping Hen Wen safe; When I first saw Gurgi and heard him speak, the only thing I could think of was Gollum from “Lord of the Rings” to the point that I was waiting for him to say “My Precious”; It’s amazing that it took 25 films to finally have a Disney film that didn’t have any songs in it, but honestly this seemed like the film where songs wouldn’t have fit; Of course Gurgi would take a bite out of the apple before giving it back to Taran; The classic trope of describing something perfectly to the person looking for it only to say that they haven’t seen them; Gurgi was so keen to be Taran’s friend until he heard the danger coming and he split out of there; Hen Wen can take a beating as he is getting thrown around by those dragons yet he doesn’t miss a beat; I for one don’t blame Gurgi for not wanting to go to the Horned King’s castle yet Taran dresses him down and calls him a coward; Another fun fact is that this was the first film to feature computer-generated imagery; Where was that dog hiding that he just came out of nowhere?; That’s quite the rowdy party they are having and pretty risqué with that dancer’s dress flying up and showing her panties; The party comes to an end when the Horned King shows up; That was a lot of wine that came out of that pretty small bottle; All those weapons there and Taran had to grab the broom; They were prepared to execute that pig much like they would a human; Considering how many times that saucer got knocked over, I’m surprised there was still plenty of water in it for Hen Wen to show the visions; That’s quite a drop there, Taran must’ve been pretty confident that Hen Wen was going to survive; Creeper was so happy to have captured Taran only for the Horned King to choke him when he learned Hen Wen escaped; I don’t know why, but when I see Princess Eilonwy I think that she is very similar to Princess Zelda; She was so hoping that Taran was a warrior only to be extremely disappointed to learn he isn’t; What does that bauble have against the rats?; You’d think there would be some curse that comes with taking the sword from the tomb; Creeper calling the henchmen pulling the cart a weakling is a classic “pot calling the kettle black”; Taran does make a good point that the dead king has no use for the sword anymore; Fflewddur calls the guard intelligent yet when we see his face, he looks like a simpleton; That’s an interesting harp in that the strings break whenever Fflewddur lies; Fflewddur tells them to run forgetting that they were helping him get out of his bonds; Taran was holding a sword yet he doesn’t use it and gets smacked in the face; He becomes so enamored by the sword that he completely forgets that he has to escape with Eilonwy; I know he broke the barrels to slow down the guards, but that was a real waste of good wine; You can tell Creeper wants to stand up to the Horned King, but can’t because of how much stronger the Horned King is; Creeper is so used to getting choked by the Horned King that he ends up doing it to himself; When did Eilonwy get sewing supplies to fix Fflewddur’s pants?; That begs the question, does the warrior make the sword or does the sword make the warrior?; They have a fight only to make up literally a few minutes later; Fflewddur always cries “murder” in any situation; Taran and Fflewddur want nothing to do with Gurgi yet Eilonwy immediately falls in love with him; You don’t often see a whirlpool show up in a pond; I don’t know what Doli was building, but it was the shoddiest things I have ever seen; Doli must’ve had a bad experience with humans if he tells the children to be careful; Considering that he doesn’t know Taran and company, the king had no problem telling them where the black cauldron was; So the whirlpool brings them into the kingdom yet the Fair Folk have to use their power to bring them out; They were just willing to barge into someone’s house not knowing if anyone even lived there; Given all those eyes that were in the shadows, they missed a great opportunity for one of the characters to say that they have the feeling they are being watched; How many frogs did these witches need?; Gurgi tells them that he found the cauldron only to lead them into a room full of them; Orwen must not see many men if she quickly fell in love with Fflewddur; Another pretty controversial scene when Fflewddur as a frog is stuck in Orwen’s cleavage; You know it would’ve been nice to know the story of the sword and how it became enchanted; That was noble of Fflewddur offering up his harp so Taran could keep the sword; Why did the witches have to basically take their whole house with them when they left, and why would Taran and everyone just stand there while the cauldrons are flying around them?; So you can’t destroy the cauldron, but you can stop the evil in it by sacrificing yourself to the cauldron; That’s a pretty dick move of Doli to just leave them like that; Once again, Gurgi just runs away in the face of trouble; Creeper is lucky that he has good balance and didn’t fall into the cauldron himself; In fairness, Eilonwy does look more like a scullery maid than a princess unless that was her plan to not tip off that she was a princess; The scene of the dead coming to life definitely has a similar feel to “Night on Bald Mountain” in “Fantasia”; Those rats knew something bad was coming and they were getting the hell out of there; Taran wanted to be the hero and was willing to sacrifice himself to do so only for Gurgi to end up beating him to the punch; I do wish they would’ve shown the undead attacking somewhere first before Gurgi jumped into the cauldron because it does feel a bit anticlimactic; Nice try there by Creeper claiming they were only resting and not completely dead again; Another bit of an anticlimactic end was the Horned King being sucked into the cauldron seemingly out of nowhere; Creeper was so upset at first only to realize that he was free; As anticlimactic as the Horned King’s death was, the collapsing of the castle was pretty awesome; The witches thought they could just waltz in and take the cauldron not thinking Fflewddur would use their own trickery against them; That would’ve been real douchey of the witches if they just returned Gurgi’s body though he was still dead; Of course the first thing Gurgi would look for is if Taran had food on him; Leave it to Gurgi to basically force Taran and Eilonwy to kiss; Now the only question is did they go back to Dallben or did they go to Eilonwy’s kingdom?; The first film to have the credits at the end of the film like a normal film.

Overall Thoughts: Overall, this film ended up being a fairly average film and while it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, it was not very good as I was hoping so in that case I am slightly disappointed. This was an interesting time as this would end up being the last film released before my lifetime as I was born only 8 days after it was released, and it would end up being a commercial failure to the point that it was not released on home video for 13 long years. It was also labeled as the film that nearly killed Disney which was shocking to think especially since at one point Disney seemed infallible, and we will see if they can rebound with the next film or if this truly is the end for Disney in terms of its animated films. As for this film, it is not as bad as its reputation states and is better than some of the package films I saw, but it is still a pretty blasé film and marks a low point for the Disney film canon.

Final Grade: 5.5/10

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