Meet Disney'sRed-Headed Stepchild and the 25th entry in the Disney Animated Canon, 1985's The Black Cauldron. It is the story of Taran, a young Assistant Pig Keeper who desperately wants to be a great warrior. He is charged with hiding Hen Wen, an innocent-looking pig -who is actually an oracle. The Big Bad, the Horned King, wants the pig because she can uncover the location of the Black Cauldron, with which he will bring to life an army of invincible, undead warriors to conquer the world.Along the way, Taran meets Gurgi, a cowardly, furry creature who is always looking for food to eat, Princess Eilonwy, who aids him in his escape from the Horned King's dungeon, and the wandering minstrel Fflewddur Fflam.Based on a series of novels, The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, The Black Cauldron is easily one of Disney's darkest animated features. It is significant for the company in three ways:
It is the first Disney animated feature to be rated PG in the USA... and the reasons why are evident.
It is the first Disney animated feature to have absolutely no singing; thus, there is one less element available to alleviate the movie's dark elements.
A common misconception is that The Great Mouse Detective was the first animated Disney movie to use CGI. Actually, it was this movie - the Bauble, boat, explosions, and cauldron itself were animated with CGI. However, because The Black Cauldron was such a failure, most fans and critical Disney historians purposely forget this vital piece of trivia.The Black Cauldron was also a mildly successful computer game released by Sierra Entertainment in 1986 (yes, the same folks who produced Space Quest and King's Quest).The film's lack of success has led to it becoming something of a black sheep for the company. Its first official home video release did not occur until 1998. A 25th anniversary edition was released on September 24, 2010, so it seems Disney is confident of some demand for it among audiences, but characters from the film rarely appear in other Disney material. In particular, despite her Princess status, Princess Eilonwy is not part of the official Disney Princess line up.Despite being a massive flop, it had gotten praise from probably the last person you'd expect. The writer of the original books, Lloyd Alexander. He stated:"First, I have to say, there is no resemblance between the movie and the book. Having said that, the movie in itself, purely as a movie, I found to be very enjoyable. I had fun watching it. What I would hope is that anyone who sees the movie would certainly enjoy it, but I'd also hope that they'd actually read the book. The book is quite different. It's a very powerful, very moving story, and I think people would find a lot more depth in the book."
Accidental Kiss: Taran and Eilonwy are sort of tricked into one of these at the end, not that they particularly mind.
Adaptational Villainy: The witches. In the books, they're True Neutral figures that bend their own rules to help Taran and his friends dispose of the cauldron. In the film, they try to trick him into giving up a treasure for the cauldron only to retrieve it later.
The same also happens to Ursula in The Little Mermaid. Disney has a real problem with witches, huh?
Prince Gwydion, who in the books was the only one able to defeat the Horned King.
Also, Achren and Coll.
And almost every supporting character from the book called The Black Cauldron, such as Prince Ellydir and King Morgaunt.
The Cauldron's destruction. In the book it can only reanimate the dead, it cannot animate living beings, because they're already alive, and thus, self-destructs.
All There in the Manual: Of the Witches of Morva, only one is named; the book names them all. It also mentions that Dallben was essentially raised by them, explains why Fflewddur's harp keeps breaking and how he got it, and includes the detail that he's not really a bard at all, but a king who left his kingdom to become a bard, and failed the academy.
All Deaths Final: Averted,the witches say they cannot bring back Gurgi but then the bard forces them to do so. It's implied this was a hard thing to do.
Bad Boss: The Horned King's first response to any setback whatsoever is to strangle Creeper, whether it's his fault or not. Also, his reward to his human minions for their service is to turn them into mindless undead warriors.
Batman Gambit: The sneakiest of the witches convinces Taran to trade his magic sword for the Cauldron, counting on the notion that he and his friends won't know what to do with it and will eventually give it back — so she and her sisters will own both the sword and the Cauldron! It's then beautifully crippled by Fflewddur, who remembers in the nick of time that if they're going to take back the Cauldron, then they must give the heroes something in return.
Berserk Button: Eilonwy. Don't ever be sexist (Taran) in her presence. Nor take the side of said sexist (Fflam).
Also, the Horned King is quite calm and cold-blooded, but if you spoil his plans he immediately gets enraged and tries to choke you to death.
Bewitched Amphibians: Fflewddur gets turned into a frog by one of the witch sisters who wants to eat him, but he gets changed back by the one who has a crush on him.
Big Eater: Gurgi is always on the lookout for "munchings and crunchings".
Big Ham: The Horned King, primarily. "Get up you fools!!! KILL!!!!!!!"
Brick Joke: Hen Wen is left under the guard of the Fair Folk when the heroes go after the Cauldron; she doesn't turn up again until the very end of the film, where she's shown back at Dalben's house, revealing to The Obi-Wan what happened to his student. Doli's there, too, indicating that, unsurprisingly, he got stuck with the job of going wee wee wee all the way home...
Butt Monkey: Creeper is always getting abused by the other henchmen, stepped on, strangled by the Horned King, and things tend to fall on his head.
Cartoon Creature: Gurgi is a strange example of this trope, looking something like a cross between an Old English Sheepdog, a marmot, and a gibbon.
Clingy MacGuffin: Eilonwy's "bauble", which floats around chasing rats. This is (again) a huge departure from the books, in which the bauble was neither sentient nor able to move under its own power, but had many other magical properties.
In the books, she is known as a Princess of Llyr. She's actually the daughter of the Princess Angharad, who fell in love with a commoner and ran away from her royal family to marry him. Eilonwy is kidnapped from her parents and orphaned as a very young child. In the books, after the first adventure, she goes to live with Taran and Dallben at the farm Caer Dallben. Anyone who wants to belittle her calls her a "scullery maid", in reference to the chores she does there. The film reflects this point but fails to explain or develop it.
Evil Brit: The Horned King (being voiced by John Hurt). Of course, most of the good guys also have British voice actors.
We don't even know IF he dies, other than that it is extremely painful.
Failure Hero: Taran so wants to be a Knight In Shining Armour, but at almost no point in the film does he successfully do anything useful with his own skills: He loses Hen Wen almost immediately after being entrusted with her; when held captive by the Horned King he only escapes with the help of Eilonwy and the magic sword; and he unwittingly brings the Black Cauldron into the Horned King's hands by getting it from the witches with whom it probably would've been completely secure. At the end of the film, Taran actually acknowledges that he's a failure as a warrior and forfeits his chance to become one in order to resurrect Gurgi.
Great Offscreen War: At the beginning of the film the characters mention that there's a war being fought (presumably against the Horned King, given the context), but we never see any part of it, nor do we even see whom or whatever the Horned King is fighting against.
The Grim Reaper: The Horned King looks like the Reaper's brown-robed twin but with horns.
Grumpy Old Man: Doli, in probably the only characterization completely faithful to the books other than the species switch from dwarf to fairy.
Jerk Ass: The 3 Witches, but primarily Orddu, the schemer.
Gurgi, when he's thieving and stealing.
Jump Scare: When Taran first enters the Horned King's castle, he quietly manoeuvres past a sleeping guardsman, before hiding behind a stone wall. When he peaks his head out to check if his route is safe, the guardsman's dog suddenly leaps out, barking loudly and violently right in Taran's face. The fact that this scene plays without any discernible music in the background makes it all the more effective.
Karmic Death: The Horned King is killed by the Cauldron he tried to control.
He's a meta-example as well, in the films following Walt's death, the majority of the Big Bad villains of the following movie got more and more less threatening with each release. His role in the film is arguably what got villains in following films to became Darker and Edgier as a result.
Lie Detector: Not greatly explored in the film, but Fflewddur's harp breaks whenever he lies.
The Load: Fflewddur, who only proves useful twice in the entire movie: weakly trying to convince the feuding Taran and Eilonwy that they have to work together and taunting the three witches into trading the restoration of Gurgi's life for the return of the Cauldron.
Load-Bearing Boss: The Horned King's demise barely precedes the destruction of his entire castle.
The Cauldron looks to get extremely hot after it has absorbed the Horned King - hot enough to start a China Syndrome and melt through the floor. This is probably what actually triggered the collapse of the castle, which was already in pretty rough shape.
MacGuffin Delivery Service: Not long after the heroes get the Cauldron, the Horned King's men capture them and bring the prize to their master.
Magical Girl: Only a minor example; Eilonwy's magic is only evident in the magical bauble that accompanies her and is the reason the Horned King kidnapped her; in the original novel series, she performs much greater magical feats.
Never Say "Die": Averted: They explicitly say the Horned King is going to kill them all. One more nail in the coffin of family-friendliness.
The Horned King trying to raise his defeated Cauldron Born: "GET UP! KILL!!!"
Nigh-Invulnerability: The Black Cauldron cannot be destroyed, only its power stopped; the Cauldron Born are invincible — unless someone lays down their life...
Night of the Living Mooks: The Cauldron Born are an army of unstoppable skeletal warriors, mindless automatons serving their summoner the Horned King, who wants to use them to conquer the world. They can expand their ranks by devouring living people whole, and can be stopped only by undoing the Cauldron's spell.
Non-Human Sidekick: Gurgi, a dog furry, for the hero Taran; Creeper, a goblin, for the villain The Horned King.
The Obi-Wan: Taran's mentor, Dallben, who, at the beginning of the movie, shows Taran just why it is so important that they spend their lives guarding Hen Wen.
Off Model: On the poster above as well as the official soundtrack cover (which uses the poster's art), Eilonwy's dress is blue instead of violet and pink. On the 25th Anniversary DVD cover, Gurgi has brown eyes and Hen Wen has black eyes instead of them both having blue eyes.
The Horned King's first scene has him twitching because the animation looped at the end.
Older Sidekick: Fflewddur Fflam. In the books, he's only around 30 years old.
Someone Has to Die: The only way to destroy the evil magic possessed by the Artifact of Doom the movie is named after was for a living being to willingly climb into the Cauldron, but whoever did so would sacrifice his life in the process. (Which the three witches who give it to the heroes gleefully tell them.) At first, none of the heroes were willing to do so - or demand such a sacrifice of anyone else - but when the Horned King unleashes its power, Taran tries to do so, but Gugri stops him, and does it himself. The movie has a happy ending however; when the three witches reclaim the now-worthless Cauldron, Fflewddur goads them into demonstrating their power, and Swiss Army Tears are able to revive Gugri.
Sorcerous Overlord: The Horned King, although his magical powers are fairly limited and require complex rituals to realize. This tyrant is a horned, robed member of the undead, probably a lich. He plots to take over the world from his fortress by acquiring an army of skeletal warriors known as the Cauldron Born.
Well, Excuse Me, Princess!: Eilonwy never misses an opportunity to remind Taran that he's just an assistant pig keeper. She also makes quite a few references to the fact that she's a princess, something which the original novel character almost never did.
Wicked Witch: 3 for the price of 1! In the books, they're forces of nature, the three fates of Greek mythology.
The books and the characters were inspired by Welsh mythology. The three witches are based on the concept of the triple goddess- maiden, mother, and crone. (Groups of three spooky sisters are pretty common in Indo-European mythologies, overall...)
And really, they're not all that wicked. Jerk Asses, yes, but they do bring Gurgi back in exchange for the cauldron.