Reviews: The Black Cauldron
Probably the most generic, forgettable Disney cartoon ever
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.
A bastardization of the Chronicles of Prydain
I give everything a chance to impress me, to educate me, to teach me something new. All I learned from this disgrace was that, while I admired they were trying to do something new and different, I LOATHED the end-result in its entirety. A complete and utter betrayal and bastardization of the Chronicles of Prydain. Not to mention: it nearly destroyed Disney animation canon. To understand why, you merely have to watch it and dispense with everything you came to know and love about Disney animations and simply examine the film by its own merits. The first problem is the story building itself up, purely for the sake of being ominous, AND NOT actually telling a good well-thought-out story. The plot is dreadful, just dreadful. The prologue all by itself was so convoluted, so nonsensical about some evil Casper rubbish, it gave me a migraine. The good guys are idiots quite frankly, a bunch of do-nothings, assigning an oracle pig to a kid demonstrating a poor attention span? (Nobody is that stupid). The villain driving the plot is an even bigger buffoon, openly admitted he was searching for an evil MacGuffin he wasn't even sure if it existed or not (Oh come on! Nobody is that stupid!). But the witches "insidious scheme" takes the CAKE! They possess the means to take Taran's sword they want by FORCE, but rather prefer to Trade it for an evil artifact thingy. Their gambit is essentially hoping the false hero will either destroy or ruin himself, thus is either no longer alive or wanting the cauldron, leaving them to pick up the pieces and take it back. AND YET THEY HONESTLY DIDN'T THINK THAT IF HE WAS STILL ALIVE THAT HE'S NOT GOING TO WANT TO DO A TRADE BACK!? No. Body. Is. That. Stupid. These are shocking cases of bad writing. Coupled with nightmare fuel, disturbing scenery, its not suitable for the whole family. Which begs the question: WHY would Disney, who built a reputation on making family film flicks, secure the rights to an entire series of books if they didn't intend to make a proper series of adaptation!? That's NOT good business sense guys. I'm just thankful they didn't do an adaptation of Lord Of The Rings...
Daring, bold and oddly different..
..but that does not necessarily make it a good movie. The Black Cauldron is one of Disney's most obscure movies, and for good reason, too. With this movie, they were aiming for both teenagers and children at the same time. Therefore, there is too much "cutesy" stuff for teenagers to fully get into it or admit to liking it, but it's far too dark and horrifying for it to be appropriate for children. But that's a minor problem compared to the film's major issue: the writing. The writing is just plain bad. As much as the fine animation and detailed backgrounds try to save this movie face, the writing inevitably pulls it down. None of the characters gets any development and it's very hard to actually feel invested in any of 'em. It just sort of falls flat. There's scenes where you can sense that the movie wants you to be sad, or happy, but I mostly feel utter indifference. If the plot at least gave these characters more to do than walk around, create failure after failure and rely on chance, I would be less harsh. But as is, it doesn't. The characters are pinballed around and pull many an Indy Ploy, none of them actually making sense or delivering the intended result. That being said, I would like to add the filmmakers got the tone and stylistic feel of the movie down spot on. The world of Prydain is perfectly realized, with a touch of the hauntingly scary and a touch of wonder and magic. If only it was filled with stronger characters, or a better structured plot: it would receive my highest recommendation, and could have come out an excellent animated fantasy film. Hopefully somewhere in the future, the Chronicles of Prydain will be adapted properly, be it through animation or live-action. The source material deserves as much, and anyone interested in such a project could take inspiration from Disney's (respectable, but ultimately lacking) attempt.
Subpar Film, Terrible Adaptation
Even if "The Black Cauldron" wasn't an adaptation of a great book (or TWO books, really), it would still be a pretty bad film. Its pacing is off and its plotting is clumsy. It has a bland lead and some bad side characters- the witches are irritating, Doli is overly cute cartoonish (and not in a good way) and Gurgi is among the most annoying characters committed to celluloid, up there with Jar Jar Binks and every Chris Tucker character (excluding Danny in "Silver Linings Playbook.") Worst of all, the villain is boring. Some people find him scary, but I just found him a blank slate with no personality or menace, and some of the most generic motives Disney has ever produced. He's only memorable for his design, which is honestly pretty bad. That isn't to say the movie is wholly without merit. Eilonwy is pretty good, and Fflewddur Fflam is the closest the movie comes to capturing something from the book correctly. The animation is on par with what you expect from Disney, and the more serious tone is a refreshing change of pace. That said, this movie is not even CLOSE to the darkest in the Disney canon; scary moments and demons do not a dark film make, and the terrible comic relief of Gurgi and the witches make the film significantly less self-serious than "Pinocchio", "Sleeping Beauty", "Beauty and the Beast", "Mulan" or "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." Those films had comic relief as well, but they felt more in tune with the movie and never ruined it. (I know some will disagree, especially in regards to "Hunchback", but I never found anything wrong with them). On its own, the film sucks. But taking into account that the film is an adaptation of a particularly great series of book, it's unforgivably bad. The combination of the first two books is misguided, a clumsy mishmash of ideas that simply don't work. The elimination of several important characters like Coll, Gwydion, Achren and especially Arawn end up making the film a confused mess. The complexities of the books are undone by way of a cop out happy ending, and the Horned King is simply wrong. He's far more frightening as a man who wears a human skull than as a demon. Please, do yourself a favor- skip the movie, read the books. They're far more engaging, exciting, deep, meaningful, beautiful, funny and all around better than this.
An underrated classic
This movie is sadly overlooked for many other lighthearted, forgettable Disney films. I, for one, find many Disney movies to be tacky, cheesy, and flat-out unrealistic. You will never find anyone dying, any blood, any realistic themes or character development at all, instead all of it is just hokey garbage, and my god, the singing gets on my nerves! This is a departure from the traditional Disney formula, and "The Black Cauldron" gets mistreated due to its desire to be different. I admire films and things that want to be different. Things that are always the same are dull and uninteresting to someone like me. I first watched this film when I got it on video. I still have it as well. I absolutely adore this movie. Everything about it is great. For once, you have a villain who's appropriately scary and mysterious, he's not hokey at all, he's completely and utterly terrifying. The Horned King is one of my favorites. Taran is the Frodo type, always wanting to get into trouble and being somewhat of a dreamer. Arguably, the most annoying was probably Gurgi. The plot was really well-executed, too. It did feel a little rushed near the end, and it felt like they tied too many things together in a hurry to be finished. However, the plot is absolutely amazing for a Disney film. This film wanted to show children the dark side of life, how good and evil don't exist, how there are only good and bad decisions. It's sad that this film doesn't get all the love it deserves. It's an excellent series for what it's worth. The music is creepy, the animation is superb, the characters are well-done, and the villain is memorably scary. What more could you ask for?
Almost works, but it has glaring flaws that sadly bring it down
The Black Cauldron is quite an infamous film in that it almost killed the studio that made it, and as a result it is rather obscure, although in recent years it has started to gain a small but solid cult fanbase. I have seen almost all the entries in the Disney Animated Canon, and this film is among the last ones of the Canon that I watched. I know that this is based on a book series, but I haven't read them, so I'm judging the movie on its own merits. Okay, the first and biggest problem with this film is the pacing. It's terrible. Scenes often feel rushed, which is a big issue, since it prevents the characters from getting proper development, and this is sad, because I truly feel that this cast could have been quite compelling if they had been given more time to develop, but sadly even Taran (who is the main lead) gets almost no growth. There are also a lot of plot points that seem pretty big at first but go nowhere, such as Taran's sword, Fflewddur's lie detecting harp and especially Eilonwy's magic bauble, which practically disappears from the story after Eilonwy's introduction. As a result if this, the characters come off as bland, annoying, or both. Mostly both. Though at least no one gets annoying to a point where it is infuriating (though Gurgi comes dangerously close). The Horned King is often described as the best aspect of the movie, and he is. However, he is also described as one of the most terrifying Disney Villains of all time... and I disagree. He certainly looks terrifying, don't get me wrong, but there is a difference between looking terrifying and actually being terrifying. The Horned King looks pretty badass, but sadly he doesn't do much: it is implied that he has great magical powers, but he never uses them, and he is defeated too quickly, and something that looks that scary should not go down so easily. The musical score is also pretty lackluster. Not the worst, but I find it rather repetitive at times, and it sounds too B-Movieish. The animation is okay, but sometimes it clashes with the CGI and it looks awkward (though seeing that this was the first animated Disney film to incorporate CGI I'll give it a pass). Overall, I wouldn't say this is a horrible movie, but it does have a lot of problems that hinder what could have been quite an epic story.
All hail the king.
As much as I wanted to like this the majority is just plain bland, and executive meddlers once again ruin a great premise by kiddying it up; also see the King and I, Quest for Camelot[ not disney , I know] and to a lesser extent, since it is still good and way better than The King and I and QFC combined; Atlantis. However, I have a theory on just why the horned king doesn't sing or crack endless one liners; when you look at him, he is like a conglomeration of every childhood's most hated nightmare, and they just hurt with no complexity, no second thoughts and no pause; so, although I like my villains complex, I cling on to the hope that he was n't just wasted potential like the rest of it, and that who knows, being a nightmare incarnate may be the reason why he doesn't fit into a Disney villain mould very easily.