CLASSIC REEL : 'The Black Cauldron'
Voice Cast: Grant Bardsley, Susan Sheridan, John Byner, Nigel Hawthorne and John Hurt
Year of Release: 1985
Directors: Ted Berman and Richard Rich
Plot: A young boy and his friends go on a quest to find an ancient magical cauldron before it falls into the hands of the evil Horned King.
Loosely based on the first and second volumes of Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain series, The Black Cauldron was the most expensive Disney animated film made at the time and to date, one of the most underrated. What makes this half-forgotten and almost unknown Disney classic stand out is its PG instead of G rating due to its dark tone, dark imagery and absolute zero bursting into song by any of the characters. Disney has adapted several books over the years but The Black Cauldron- which falls under the genre of high fantasy- does not fall under the type suitable for young children., even if the writers did their best to tone it down.
The main character Taran-voiced by Grant Bardley- serves as a swineherd at Dallben the Enchanter's farm, but longs for a better lot in life, as a warrior. His adventures begin after Dallben's reveal about the evil Horned King's quest for The Black Cauldron, an ancient relic filled with dark magic, his fear being his precious pig (not kidding) Hen Wen being used to get it, as she has oracle-like powers.
Taran must take Hen Wen to safety but a moment of carelessness causes him to lose her and he must track her down. Along the way, he encounters the strange-looking (and annoying) Gurgi who initially seemed only anxious to have as much 'munchies' as he can, the beautiful Princess Eilonwy, the Bard Fflewdur Flam and the fairy folk, one of them-Doli- joins them in their quest.
As far as Disney animation go, this was a dark story, even if Gurgi served as the film's comic relief. Young children would find the dark imagery disturbing and scary, not surprising considering the Horned King's sinister reason for wanting the Cauldron in the first place. Because of the story's dark content and imagery, it received mostly negative reviews and unfortunately, a commercial failure.
Today, it is regarded more favourably as an unappreciated gem, which means it was simply made at a wrong time; if one regards other works with dark content/imagery like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride and Coco today.
But if there are any complaints to be made about The Black Cauldron, they are a few.
Taran meets Princess Eilonwy (voiced by Susan Sheridan) in the dungeon but, unless the viewer is a fan of the source material (the Chronicles of Prydain), her back story is unknown, as well as the origin of the flying yellow bauble that followed her around, and anything about Fflewdurr the bard. We don't know what creature Gurgi is exactly except he's clingy, rather naughty and likes to eat a lot and we see very little of Hen Wan the pig after she's rescued. We also don't know if she and Taran become a couple or if Taran later got what he wanted in the end, after his quest.
Yet, the film as aged well in my opinion and deem it groundbreaking, a departure from 'cutesy fairy tales' and a classic that needs to be revisited.
The Black Cauldron is the first Disney animated film to use CGI for its visual effects.
The Black Cauldron was not given a home release until 1998.
The narrator was voiced by veteran film director, John Huston..