Walt Disney Animation Studios Review: The Black Cauldron

Walt Disney Animation Studios 25th feature film

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My opinion right after watching film

My opinion right after watching the film is that it has many issues. The characterization is weak, the “adventure” takes place too late in the film and it is too short; with it being CLEAR where the 12 minutes that was taken out was. There was not much to engage in with the bad humor, characters, and the decent story, and especially when many of the characters do nothing. What I will say is that there IS creativity.

Production

This film is the first WDAS film to be rated PG, first to use the Walt Disney Pictures logo, first to use computer generated animation (CGI on the bubbles, effects, and the cauldron), and the first to not have a “The End” at the end of the film (The Great Mouse Detective, Aladdin, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame would be the final WDAS films to have a titled The End after it). The newer generation had complete control of this film, with most (if not all) the originals dead, left, or retired.

This film had a long production, starting from 1971. Joe Hale joined the production in 1980, and completely changed everything about the movie; The Horned King was promoted, and the script was re-written. Things were extremely challenging with trying to get a low rating, and to work the issues in the film, and a new face to the company named Jeffrey Katzenberg ruined the film even more, by removing and editing out 12 minutes out of an 80-90 minute film, and they STILL barely got a PG rating. This film was in development hell, and should have STAYED in development hell….meaning that it should never have been released.

Story

So the film starts with some dialogue, explaining how the Horned King (John Hurt) was a king of a mystic land, and that the gods even feared him. Does this make him a god? Just immortal? Never explained. Apparently his demonic spirit was captured and put into the Black Cauldron, and he has been finding it ever since.

This is apparently common knowledge, as Dallben (Freddie Jones), our protagonist Taran (Grant Bardsley), and others know about it. Taran is too distracted by the illusion of being a war hero, and imagining beating The Horned King. Dalbeen tells him that he needs to focus on his work as an assistant pig keeper, which causes Taran to complain about his worthless life and wanting to be a hero, and when he is not complaining, he cockily treats the others like they are below him, as he interprets a hero.

And the issue with this is that it is all of his character, and that he does this for the entire film. It also helps that he does not do jack squat in the film, which is almost never dealt with.

The Oracular pig Hen Wen starts to freak out as he is about to have a vision, with Taran trying to calm him down. Taran is told the truth about Hen Wen when he is brought inside. The vision reveals that The Horned King knows about Hen Wen (though only Dalbeen knew before a few seconds ago), and commands Taran to bring Hen Wen to another cottage to hide him, which he takes with content.

The duo walk, and take a break so Taran can play Hero with his imaginary friends, long enough for Hen Wen to wander off and to get captured. Hen Wen is so cute and the most likable character in the film. I feel really bad for her.

Gurgi (John Byner) appears, and irritates us all (including Taran) with his….voice and actions. He tries to steal from Taran, but then switches it up to where he wants to be his friend; this is extremely odd. Anyways, Taran and Gurgi (who soon ditches him) finds Hen Wen, to only see her get kidnapped by the dragons. When Gurgi returns, Taran tells him off.

#Coward #GTFOH
#Coward #GTFOH

Taran makes it to the Horned King’s castle, and sees Hen Wen with the knights/servants/other occupants at the castle. He fucks it up, which causes them to notice and almost beat him up. The Horned King tells Taran to get Hen Wen to find where the Black Cauldron is, but refuses, After Hen Wig is almost beheaded, Taran gives in, to only back out of it.

Taran throws the pig over in the lake and as he hops, Taran is captured and put in a cell. Elionwy (Susan Sheridan) and her magical ball arrive in the cell as they try to escape. She says Taran can come along if he wants to, and they both discuss how they were there because Horned King wants to find a way to the Cauldron, (he did this with her magical ball; which never appears again after this scene.

We have this old man that joins the duo as they run off from the castle. We are about 40 minutes in, nd the so called adventure just starts. We waste so much time off in the beginning, and the scenes in beteween was so rushed. I heard it was supposed to be 10 minutes longer, and it is clear that the edited out 10 minutes were around here. There was no way that the "journey" and "mystery" pat of the movie would start so late.
We have this old man named Fflewddur Fflam (Nigel Hawthorne) that joins the duo as they run off from the castle. We are about 40 minutes in, and the so-called adventure just starts. We waste so much time in the beginning, and the scenes in between was so rushed. I heard it was supposed to be 10 minutes longer, and it is clear that the edited out 10 minutes were around here. There was no way that the “journey” and “mystery” pat of the movie would start so late.

They are in the forest, and Gurgi soon joins them; to the chagrin of Taran. The little boy is so excited about saving the day, and Elionwy points out that his sword saved the day, and not much him. They get into an argument, and he insults her by calling her a girl (slaps hand on forehead). Didn’t they learn from the last film? This is SO a step back from the subtleness of the Golden and Silver Age.

So she loses it on anyone who sides with Taran, and cries. Everyone makes up soon after, and this will never be mentioned again in the film. Gurgi leads them to follow Hen Weg’s footsteps, and they end up in some fairy place where Hen Weg went after he was released. An issue with this movie is that Hen Weg is used as a plot device. She has SUCH an important role in the film, and has a presence in the beginning , but as the film goes on, it is like they have nothing to do with him, so he is almost always off-screen in the second half, though the entire story revolves around her.

We are taken to these witches because they have the cauldron, and they are atrociously grating to look at, to watch, and to suffer through. We have like 7 minutes of filler with these failed ocmic reliefs. They get the magic sword Taran has so they can get the cauldron.
We are taken to these witches because they have the cauldron, and they are atrociously grating to look at, to watch, and to suffer through. We have like 7 minutes of filler with these failed comic reliefs. They get the magic sword Taran has so they can get the cauldron.

So they end up at a campfire, and they are bummed. Taran says he is nothing no debate here but Elionwy disagrees, and the young teens show their belligerent attraction. They are soon captured and arrested back at The Horned King’s castle.

So The Horned King gets the Cauldron, and creates his skeleton army, as he is going to use them to take over the world (I don’t really get his motivation and goal). They were told that in order for the Cauldron to be down with, someone has to willingly sacrifice themself. Everyone is rescued by Gurgi. and Taran is ready to jump in the Cauldron, but Gurgi beats him to it. For some reason, it is not enough for the Cauldron, and then the most anticlimactic climax in the history of WDAS happens. No one defeats the villain, but he is swallowed by himself. The villain does not do anything during the entire film, and neither did any of the characters.

Anyways, they leave the castle and the Witches meet up with them. They make a deal to give them the cauldron, and the crew to get Gurgi. That ends up happening. I am confused by this; wouldn’t all the stuff that was caused by the cauldron have to be reversed or anything? Anyways, he gets Taran and Elionwy to awkwardly kiss and they live happily ever after, as they are all going “home”, where they do not live together, and we never see Taran go back home.

This film is weak, and lacks focus in not only storytelling, but also in characterization as well. The story has stuff going on, and is told decently, but the characters are not really doing anything. The "journey" part in the film takes place too late in the film, and only lasts for 20 minutes. It is too short, and I feel that the focus was moreso on the quantity instead of the quality.
This film is weak, and lacks focus in not only storytelling, but also in characterization as well. The story has stuff going on, and is told decently, but the characters are not really doing anything. The “journey” part in the film takes place too late in the film, and only lasts for 20 minutes. It is too short, and I feel that the focus was more so on the quantity instead of the quality.

Characters

The characters in this film are either stale, unlikable, or accomplishes nothing, or a mixture of both. There is no real character development, I do not really know these characters, and they are duds overall.

He is annoyingly confident, and wants to live up to the illusion about being a hero, but the thing is; he never does anything. The film acknowledges it, but they do nothing about it. He literally learns nothing but that he is a pig farmer. He is just stale and annoying.
He is annoyingly confident, and wants to live up to the illusion about being a hero, but the thing is; he never does anything. The film acknowledges it, but they do nothing about it. He literally learns nothing but that he is a pig farmer. He is just stale and annoying.
He is stale and extremely boring. You need to have more than a deep voice to be a kickass villain, but he is not He never really does anything either, and his defeat was very eh. He is very disappointing.
He is stale and extremely boring. You need to have more than a deep voice to be a kickass villain, but he is not He never really does anything either, and his defeat was very eh. He is very disappointing.
She is alright, but underdeveloped and underused. She escaped her cell herself, but she is reduced to being Taran's love interest, and is extremely forgettable. She had potential though, but she did virtually nothing in the film either.
She is alright, but underdeveloped and underused. She escaped her cell herself, but she is reduced to being Taran’s love interest, and is extremely forgettable. She had potential though, but she did virtually nothing in the film either.
I dont know why the fuck he exists, as you will forget about him 5 seconds after he is introduced.
I don’t know why the fuck he exists, as you will forget about him 5 seconds after he is introduced.
Oh lord, he needs to not exist.
Oh lord, he needs to not exist.
The only character in this film that I really like. I felt extremely sorry for her, but though she is almost central to the story, she appears less and less as the film goes on. I don't know why that is.
The only character in this film that I really like. I felt extremely sorry for her, but though she is almost central to the story, she appears less and less as the film goes on. I don’t know why that is.

Animation

The animation is actually kind of good, The character designs are pleasing, and the backgrounds are really great. You can definitely tell that the newer generation were still having issues with the Xerography, but it is not as obvious as it was in the previous two efforts. One thing that I will say about it is that the animation is kind of dull because the color scheme has a lot of greys and dark colors.

Music

This is the first film in the canon to not have ANY songs. The score is pretty good, but it is done by the guy that did the score for Ghostbusters, but it is too similar, and the score is too 1980s.

Reception at Release

When the film was released on July 26th, 1985, it flopped hard. It was the most expensive animated film, and the third most expensive film to be made (behind Cleopatra and  Heaven’s Gate), with $44 million as its budget, and it only made half of its budget, with $21,288,692 in the box office, putting them in a bigger financial disaster than they already were (and have been for many years).

To make things worse, it got mixed reviews, with some praising it for its visuals and entertainment (what entertainment?), and with others panning it’s bad characterization, storytelling, and ignoring many things from the book.

Reception Today

The reception of the film is probably the worst in the entire canon. Fans of this movie had to wait over a decade to get a VHS on it, and Disney mentions it as their worst moment ever, but many see it is a wake up call. This film is at the absolute bottom of the barrel; and yes, even lower than Home on the Range and Chicken Little.

Final Score

Story: 6/10

Characters: 3.5/10

Animation: 7/10

Music: 7/10

= 23.5/40 = 59%

Next Time…

Review: June 9th, 2014
Review: June 9th, 2014
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24 thoughts on “Walt Disney Animation Studios Review: The Black Cauldron

    1. I do like Eilonwinny too, even if she was a bit underused. I do consider her weaker than some of their later princesses like Jasmine though.

  1. Agreed with everything. But I find this film better than Chicken and Home, as the concept itself is interesting and it tried to be different from other disney animated films by being darker in imagery (but ultimately failed).

    With the current fairy tale remake trends, and seeing Maleficent having her own film, this needs a serious remake. This have lots of potential to become better imo.

      1. Well, in general I want to point out that there is a certain lack of urgency in the story because we never ever get to see any of the people who are endangered by the Horned King aside from Taran’s little group…is anyone even living there? Aside from the witches who are remarkable unconcerned by the notion that he might take over? Against whom is the Horned King fighting?

        How does the Horned King even know about Hen Wen? And if he does, what is the point of sending her from one hidden cottage to another? And when he finally has her, what is the point of threatening to behead her? I mean, it works, but if she is dead, his one lead to the cauldron is gone…

        I guess he is lucky that Taran is so freaking stupid that he not only reveals how to use her powers but also personally leads the Horned King to the cauldron…which he might have never found without his help….good job, idiot!!!!! (Though how did the Horned King even know where to find them??????? And how does fairy king know where it is (despite it being such a big secret) but not that it is practically indestructible?)

        Why does the Horned King even search for Hen Wen if he already has the bauble? Granted, Eilonwy is not inclined to help him, but there has to be a better way to get her cooperation than just putting her in the dungeons to roam free….

        Speaking of the castle…why is it suddenly in a lake by the end of the movie?

        And why is the Horned King suddenly calling Eilonwy a kitchen maid? (yeah, I know why, it’s a reference to the books, but if you don’t know them, you start to wonder if she was lying too all along the same way Taran was lying about being a warrior).

        And those are just the ones I remember…after not watching the movies for years! The entire plot practically hinges on Taran being stupid. If he pays attention to Hen Wen, she doesn’t get kidnapped. If he doesn’t reveal himself to the Horned King he never learns how Hen Wen’s power work. If he doesn’t go to search for the Black Cauldron, the Horned King will perhaps never find it.

        Not all of those are straight plot holes…but the contrivance necessary for making this story work are mind-boggling.

        For example why is Gurgi able to follow Hen Wen’s traces, but all the men of the Horned King are unable to find her? So nobody saw all the pig food sharped imprints?

      2. Wow….that is a lot. I tool some into account that Taran is stupid, and neither him or Horned King really does anything. Oh, I created a Tvtropes account.

      3. The forum there is great. Even though the Animation Discussions tend to repeat themselves, and I tend to avoid the Frozen threat.

      4. I always visit the Disney/Pixar thread. That conversation is why I decided to join. It sucks that I have to wait 24 hours to make a post.

      5. You know, there is just a discussion about TBC in the Disney/Pixar threat (because we were talking about the worst Disney movies)…someone rightly pointed out that there is a total lack of world building in this movie.

    1. Have to agree. Plot holes everywhere. Mainly of production struggles and their inexperience in forcing a series of books into 1 single film. The world its set in is unclear and dull, the characters themselves r very annoying and useless. The only thing that stands out to me r the groy scenes :3

      1. Nothing about this film stands out. It was supposed to revitalize the studio, but it only made things worse. Joe Hale changed a lot of the film in the 80s, when he joined.

  2. The only scenes I’ve seen from this movie are the Horned King’s, and man, does he creep me out. I thought his death was pretty gory, though. Since I plan on watching all the canon films, I will eventually see it in its entirety. (Side note: I was surprised as heck when I learned that Roger Ebert liked this movie. But then, he later gave positive reviews to Pocahontas and Atlantis, so oh well.)

    1. You should be lucky to only see those scenes. This film is extremely boring to watch.

      Good luck with your project. Roger says every Disney film is good.

      1. Not every Disney film. He at least didn’t like Home on the Range, Chicken Little and Treasure Planet.

  3. This film became gained a huge cult following most notably in the early 2000s ironically known as The Recession Age (Post-Renaissance) due to being based on a collection of books that people love and has a larger fanbase than Home on the Range and Chicken Little.

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