Meet Disney'sRed-Headed Stepchild, Old Shame, 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 have absolutely no singing; thus, there is one less element available to alleviate the movie's dark elements.
It flopped so massively that Disney almost shut down their entire animation department over it.
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 neutral figures who 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. Interestingly, he was alluded to in a deleted scene as the king that once wielded the sword Taran has.
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.
Animate Dead: The Horned King's reason for seeking the eponymous Black Cauldron is because it's a magical Artifact of Doom which can create an undead skeletal army known as the Cauldron Born for the summoner to conquer the world.
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 (deceased) human minions for their service is to turn them into mindless undead warriors instead of giving them a proper burial. Not to mention what would have happened to his living minions had there not been extreme Executive Meddling going on.
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!!!!!!!"
Bigger Bad: The spirit trapped inside the Black Cauldron counts as one.
Bigger Good: The good king who used to live in what is now the Horned King's castle and originally owned the sword Taran has.
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.
Deus ex Machina: While the cauldron is the first artifact and/or character introduced, the way it qualifies is how it takes out The Horned King. While it was explained that a living person entering the cauldron of his or her own free will would seal its powers, it is not explained why it kills the guy and destroys the castle. It's implied that it's just that evil, but that's a rather flimsy explanation. Its pretty obvious this was done in desperation to avoid a Kudzu Plot and tie up all loose ends quickly.
It is also highly anticlimactic, because the King doesn't get to DO anything, despite being hinted as being a powerful sorcerer, that can teleport at whim.
Another is supplied by the witches, who revive the person that jumped into the cauldron. And why is it that the witches have this cauldron in the first place and the heroes practically fall on top of apparently the only society that knows where they are?
Dirty Coward/Lovable Coward: Gurgi always ducks out at the first hint of trouble, much to Taran's fury... until he volunteers to give his life to stop the Cauldron Born.
In the books, she is the last living member of the royal house 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 was 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.
The Face: Eliowny, as a princess, contrasts the guys of the group and talks reason into the big headed The Hero.
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 (as well as giving away the potentially story breaking magic sword in the process). 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.
The Fair Folk: Subverted. Or at least downplayed. They're not really much like this trope. But they are called that.
The Horned King is absorbed into the cauldron, his clothing, blood and flesh are sucked into the demonic spirit and destroyed (since it wants his soul, not his body), leaving but a disturbingly smiling skeleton, which explodes after having its spirit yanked straight out.
Scenes of the Cauldron Born tearing apart the Horned King's living minions were cut to keep it from getting an R rating.
A God Am I: The Horned King is ready to kill the world to be worshipped as a god by the dead.
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.
Holding Back the Phlebotinum: The very story-breaking magic sword only sees some action during the escape from the Horned King's castle. Taran exchanges it for the Black Cauldron and doesn't ever get it back.
Idiot Ball: The three witches grab it pretty hard when they trade the Black Cauldron to Taran in exchange for the magic sword. They assume that after getting it in trade, the heroes will be forced to return the cauldron when they learn that they can't use it without sacrificing a willing life, allowing the witches to keep both the sword and the cauldron. They don't take into account that the heroes could just refuse to give the cauldron back for nothing, and lo and behold, when the witches try to retrieve it at the end of the movie, Flewdur refuses to let them have it without payment.
Dallben grabs it earlier in the movie when he makes the decision to send Hen Wen to his secret cottage and has Taran, a boy who daydreams constantly and easily loses track of what's going on around him, supervise her. What happens soon after they leave? Taran loses Hen Wen who then gets kidnapped by gwythaints.
Jerk Ass: The Three 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 maneuvers 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.
It does it again after Taran finds the magic sword. As he's looking for Eilonwy—again, in a quiet scene—a guard leaps out of nowhere with a roar and tries to cut his head off.
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 became less and less threatening with each release. The Horned King's role in the film is arguably what got villains in subsequent 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: Hen Wen and the eponymous Black Cauldron.
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 and in fact is descended from a long line of enchantresses.
The Necrocracy: The Horned King is an undead lich ruling from a dark fortress. His humans minions are quite alive, but the King desires to rule over a world of mindless undead warriors because he wants to be worshipped as a god by his subjects. Made quite clear when he triumphantly declares that "our" time has come as he raises the skeletal army.
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, an unspecified furry creature, 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.
Omnicidal Maniac: Implied to be the case with the lich tyrant the Horned King. His goal: raise an undead army to conquer and enslave the world. He sacrifices his living servants to the Cauldron Born and triumphantly boasts that "our" time has finally come when he raises them, meaning he wants to rule as a god-king over the dead.
The Punishment: The evil nameless king in the prologue was so tyrannical, he was thrown alive into a crucible of molten iron, the demonic spirit condemned to never pass on, and remain permanently trapped within physical form. Ouch.
Sealed Good in a Can: It's implied that Taran's enchanted sword houses the soul of the good king (revealed in a deleted scene to be Gwydion) who built the castle that the Horned King eventually took over. (In the books this is Dyrnwyn, which becomes the sword of Prince Gwydion, but the sword is never named in the movie.)
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. When the Horned King unleashes its power, Taran tries to do so, but Gurgi 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.
Token Good Teammate: Orwen, the heavyset member of the witch trio. She has genuine affection for Fflewddur Flam, and in general seems kinder than her sisters. This is confirmed in the ending—when Orddu is busy making up excuses as to why she can't give Taran his sword back, Orwen interrupts her and simply conjures the sword herself, suggesting that she's the most willing to honor their bargain.
Tomboy Princess: Eilonwy, although heavily watered down from her original characterization, which fit this more.
True Companions: Describes the relationship between Taran, Eilonwy, Fflewddur, and Gurgi. (In the novels, Doli is also included in this, but he's not as involved in the film, and Gwydion - their Sixth Ranger - isn't in the film at all.)
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.