Of all of Disney's animated features, The Black Cauldron
was the only one I never saw as a young child. I first saw it in a list of Disney movies and had no idea what it was, so I rented it and promptly forgot about it. Upon a recent re-viewing, I find that this is perfectly understandable: burdened with a prosaic, tired fantasy plot, The Black Cauldron
doesn't have much to make it stand out.
The story is basically the same quest narrative we've seen in countless JRP Gs
and fantasy novels. Many of those came later, though, and this is a kids' movie anyway, so I'll give it a pass on that. The problem is the presentation is so lackluster. Taran is an extremely generic Failure Hero
type. The Horned King, while definitely menacing (and maybe a Skeletor Expy
?), is your basic Evil Overlord
. Princess Eilonwy (what exactly is she a princess of, anyway?) is indeed a step in a more assertive direction for Disney and could be an interesting character, but she doesn't do much. Her magic bauble almost disappears from the movie after its debut. Flewdder the bard looks too much like Taran's father and does even less. That leaves Creeper, a classic comic villainous henchman, and Gurgi, who's actually the only thing I remember from the first viewing and actually pretty cute and loveable in his own strange Gollum-ish way.
The writing is also pretty bad. The writers opted for a more classic fantasy-style register which is delivered appropriately by the mostly British actors, but generally it comes across as stilted and awkward. Taran and Eilonwy have zero chemistry. Many lines are flat and stale. The comic relief is usually fairly strained to boot - the scene with the witches and Flewdder, for example, was obviously inserted for some cheap laughs; Taran and Eilonwy disappear during it.
Finally, I have to say this movie's Disney Death
is pretty cheap, and it would've been better off without it.
That being said, this movie did have a lot of promise. The animation is usually great (though only by Dark Age
standards, and there are many awkward motions too) and the artistry is detailed and atmospheric. I haven't read the books, but it seems there was serious potential for a more interesting plot and some more character development. It's worth watching, at least.