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Western Animation / The Black Cauldron

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"Whosoever uses the Black Cauldron for evil will be all-powerful, for my blood will flow with his, and together we will either rule the world or destroy it."
— The curse of the Black Cauldron

Released on July 24, 1985, The Black Cauldron is the 25th entry in the Disney Animated Canon. 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.

The Disney Animated Canon's succeeding film, The Great Mouse Detective, is often thought to be the first Disney animated film to have CGI, but in fact, it was The Black Cauldron that used it first.note  While largely animated by a team of young CalArts graduates, the film was nonetheless helmed by veteran Disney artists Ted Berman and Art Stevens and featured character designs provided by an otherwise-retired Milt Kahl, hence the film's visual similarities to numerous mid-century Mouse productions. A major critical and financial failure (being thwarted at the box office by The Care Bears Movie), the film was promptly buried by Disney for decades and earned the disapproval of then-recently-hired executives Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg, compelling them to restructure the studio's production methods and creative priorities in response to the film's failure (thereby leading, ultimately, to the Disney Renaissance).

The film was also adapted into a computer game released by Sierra On-Line in 1986 (yes, the same folks who produced Space Quest and King's Quest).

Based on The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, note  The Black Cauldron is easily one of Disney's darkest animated features.

In 2016, it was announced that Disney has re-acquired the rights to the novel series and has plans for it, although the nature of those plans remains to be seen.

This film includes examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Orwen takes a shine to Fflewddur Fflam, and he is visibly put off by her attentions.
  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: The sword that Taran finds can slice through solid metal. Of course, it is magical, so...
  • Accidental Kiss: Taran and Eilonwy are sort of tricked into one of these at the end, not that they particularly mind.
  • Adaptation Distillation: One of the weirdest Disney examples; it cobbles together the characters from the first book and story elements of both the first and second books, leading to something of a strangely mixed, 85-minute condensation of the first two novelsnote . Considering how relatively slow the eliminated portions are (especially given the necessity of quick, visually exciting subject matter that animation usually demands), the idea makes a certain amount of sense, and could have worked, but it simply wasn't executed well.
  • 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.
  • Adaptational Wimp: By the time of the second book, Gurgi actually fights alongside the others; he's implied to be only slightly smaller than the human characters, and carries weapons to fight with. Here, he's much smaller, and doesn't fight at all.
  • Adapted Out: Quite a few.
    • 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 Morgant.
    • 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 Deaths Final: Subverted; the witches say they cannot bring back Gurgi but then Fflewddur manages to goad them into doing so anyway. It's implied this was a very difficult thing for them to do.
  • All There in the Manual: Of the Witches of Morva, only two are 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.
  • Alliterative Name: Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch; and Fflewddur Fflam.
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: After the Horned King's demise, Creeper mourns for only a moment, then seems to have an epiphany and starts laughing maniacally. Considering what a Bad Boss the Horned King was, it's really no wonder.
  • Anthropic Principle: It would have been a far shorter movie if Taran had taken the powerful sword of the good king up the stairs on a direct assault on the Horned King, rather than only striking fear into his mooks and then running away.
  • 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.
  • Artifact of Doom: The titular Black Cauldron was forged when a King so evil "that even the Gods feared him" was thrown into a crucible of molten iron, the King's blackened soul was infused into the cauldron itself. The Cauldron has the power to raised the dead as a mindless horde in exchange for a sacrifice, the only way to reverse it being someone willingly sacrificing themselves to it. It's also indestructible, meaning the threat of a Zombie Apocalypse is always a possibility.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Zig-zagged with the Horned King. He keeps his minion Creeper in check solely by physical threats (see Bad Boss just below), but on the other hand he rarely performs any magic abilities independent from the Cauldron and seems to rule over his barbarian armies only by fear.
  • 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 invokedExecutive Meddling going on.
  • Back from the Dead: Gurgi, who jumps into the cauldron to stop the undead armies, which demonstrates the sincerity of his friendship to Taran through his sacrifice, prompting Taran to persuade the witches to resurrect Gurgi.
  • Bait-and-Switch: When Creeper informs the Horned King that Taran has escaped, the lich beckons Creeper forward with his finger. Afraid of being choked again as punishment, Creeper starts choking himself, hoping it to suffice. Turns out the Horned King isn't going to punish Creeper and instead orders him to unleash the gwythaints to trail Taran so that the boy can lead them to Hen Wen.
  • 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: The Horned King is normally quite calm and cold-blooded, but if you spoil his plans, he immediately gets enraged and tries to choke you to death. Especially if you're someone named Creeper.
  • 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".
  • Boob-Based Gag: Orwen of the three witches is on the heavier side and well-endowed enough to lose track of a frog in her cleavage.
  • Bowdlerise: The part where the Horned King bleeds out of his mouth is censored on Disney+.
  • 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 Dallben 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.
  • The Cameo: Tinker Bell makes a brief appearance among the Fair Folk.
  • Canon Foreigner: Creeper, who was not part of Alexander's original series.
  • 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.
  • Closing Credits: These were absent in previous Disney animated films. From Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs through The Fox and the Hound, Disney held onto the old Hollywood format of having a long opening credits sequence with no credits at the end, Alice in Wonderland being the only exception and it was only a cast list. From The Black Cauldron onward, all Disney animated films have closing credits.
  • Cosmic Plaything: The film takes an almost uncanny pleasure in watching Taran screw up or falter multiple times. Then again, the Horned King's Butt-Monkey assistant Creeper has this too, in spades.
  • Covered in Mud: Taran and Hen Wen end up this way after the farm goat butts Taran and sends them both tumbling through the muddy farmyard.
  • Crapsack World: Disney's interpretation of Prydain, from the Chronicles of the same name the film is adapted on, is not a pleasant place. We have a world where the dead hinder the living. Evil Liches, Jerkass Gods, and The Fair Folk terrorizing the land and its people. Evil tyrannical kings more terrible in death than ever in life. The scenery we see is mostly decaying buildings, dead forests and bogs. The forces of good are weak and in hiding, wholly unable to directly confront the powers of evil. Did we mention Disney's interpretation of Prydain isn't a pleasant place?
  • Creator Cameo: Animator Phil Nibbelink snuck a self-portrait in as a red-headed henchman who shakes Creeper and demands "More women!"
  • Composite Character: The book's Arawn and the Horned King are combined into one in the movie. However, the filmmakers work Arawn in by alluding to him as the sealed evil in the cauldron in the prologue.
  • The Dark Age of Animation: Arguably, the era's last hurrah.
  • Darker and Edgier: In comparison to other Disney movies before it. This was the first Disney Animated Canon movie to earn a PG rating, and fittingly so, given its high concentration of scary elements.
  • 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. It's 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?
  • Disney Death: Heroic Sacrifice necessary? No worries. Gurgi jumps into the cauldron; subverted when Taran offers to trade the cauldron in exchange for bringing Gurgi Back from the Dead.
  • Due to the Dead: Eilonwy disapproves of Taran taking the sword from a grave.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Even The Horned King's men are terrified of the Cauldron Born...and with good reason as they will attempt to transform any human they encounter into one of them.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: The Horned King rules from a castle that qualifies.
  • Evil Brit: The Horned King (being voiced by John Hurt). Of course, most of the good guys also have British voice actors.
  • Evil Overlord: The Horned King already is a king ruling over a castle, and wants to extend his reign over the world with an undead army.
  • Evil Sorcerer: The Horned King probably wouldn't be a living skeleton if he didn't have magical ability!
  • Evil Sounds Deep: The Horned King adds a low-pitched voice to his already-formidable ambience of evil.
  • Evil Minions: There's already palace guards working for The Horned King by the time Taran meets up with him, and Taran does need to deal with them.
  • Evil Plan: The Horned King has a good ol' Take Over the World plot but he needs the Black Cauldron to make it happen.
  • Expy: Eilonwy looks quite a lot like Aurora, primarily in her hair color and outfit design.
  • The Face: Eliowny, as a princess, contrasts the guys of the group and talks reason into the wanna-be 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.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: 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.
  • Farm Boy: Taran.
  • The Film of the Book: Of the books, more accurately. This film is a bit of a mash-up of elements from the first two books of the Prydain series, The Book of Three and The Black Cauldron.
  • Finger-Tenting: The Horned King does this several times.
  • Flying Weapon: Taran's sword briefly flies out of its scabbard and moves on its own, which is enough to impress three witches into wanting to bargain for it.
  • Foreshadowing: Taran being bested by a goat, who he pretends is the Horned King, shows that things will not go well for him when he actually tries to fight.
  • From Shame, Heroism: Gurgi, ashamed of always being a coward, decides to perform a Heroic Sacrifice, as the group had already been told that the only way for the titular cauldron to be stopped was for a living being to throw him or herself into it. Fortunately, Gurgi gets better in the end.
  • A God Am I: The Horned King is ready to kill the world to be worshipped as a god by the dead.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: The spirit trapped inside the Black Cauldron counts as one.
  • 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. This is probably the characterization most faithful to the books (other than the species switch from dwarf to fairy), though Doli leaves the group out of frustration, something his book counterpart adamantly refused to do.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: The first guard introduced is napping while Taran first sneaks in the castle. An angry guard dog viciously barks at the boy, forcing him against the wall and waking the guard up. The drowsy guard fails to notice Taran, assumes the dog to be barking at nothing and drags it with him for a round.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: Taran's character arc contains one: Some people just aren't cut out to follow their dreams.
  • The Hecate Sisters: The three witches who guard the Black Cauldron:
    • Orwen is the Maiden (flirtatious and youthful)
    • Orddu is the Mother (leads the witches and is the most knowledgeable about magic)
    • Orgoch is the Crone (greedy and conniving)
    • In an interesting interpretation of this trope, Orwen's large build is typically associated with the Mother; while Orddu is by no means beautiful, her thinness is a trait often held by the Maiden.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Gurgi throws himself into the cauldron, destroying it at the cost of his own life.
  • 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.
  • Horned Humanoid: The Horned King resembles a corpselike human — but with antlers.
  • Hostage for MacGuffin: Hen Wen will be beheaded unless Taran makes her reveal the location of the Black Cauldron.
  • Hot Blade: The magic sword is either this or something very similar. It easily destroys any metal object it comes in contact with; at one point, it cuts through a chain and there's a shot of the broken link glowing red-hot.
  • 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, Fflewddur refuses to let them have it without payment.
    • Dallben grabs it 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.
    • A major misstep is committed by the Horned King and Creeper who leave the Cauldron unattended, giving the protagonists an unwritten invitation to screw up all his plans.
  • Ironic Echo: When the group goes to the witches for the Black Cauldron, Orddu says, "We never give anything away. What we do is bargain, trade", which leads Taran to exchange the magic sword for it. Then at the end of the movie, when the witches arrive to reclaim the Cauldron, Fflewddur uses their own words against them.
    Fflewddur: Stay your hand, ladies. We never give anything away. We bargain, we trade. Remember?
  • It's a Small World, After All: Taran apparently lives a brisk walk away from the Horned King's castle.
  • 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 peeks 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: Subverted. The Horned King is killed by the Cauldron he tried to control. But since the Cauldron is a Greater-Scope Villain it's a case of the Big Bad getting curb stomped by a bigger Big Bad.
  • Karma Houdini:
  • Keystone Army: The Cauldron-Born. When Gurgi sacrifices himself to disrupt the spell, they all fall down.
    • Another change from the book, where the Cauldron is destroyed, but the army is not (the Cauldron's destruction just prevents making more of them).
  • Kid Hero: Taran.
  • Knight of Cerebus: Things get much darker when the Horned King is around. 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 become Darker and Edgier as a result.
  • Large Ham: The Horned King, primarily. "Get up you fools!!! KILL!!!!!!!"
  • Leitmotif: Most of the characters (and even some of the artifacts) have one:
    • Taran: An idyllic theme representing Taran's youth and plucky optimism. A heroic version of it plays whenever Taran uses the magic sword.
    • Gurgi: A playful theme reflecting Gurgi's mischievous nature.
    • Eilonwy: A romantic, ethereal theme befitting the kind princess and her magic bauble.
    • The Horned King: A grim theme often played as a bombastic fanfare; denoting The Horned King's evil nature and delusions of godhood.
    • The Cauldron-Born: A haunting piece accompanied by a chanting choir. The Horned King's theme plays alongside it, reflecting his association with them.
    • Creeper: As the Horned King's comedic servant, he gets a lighthearted theme that often plays with dark undertones.
    • The Black Cauldron: An ominous four note tune.
    • The magic sword: A triumphant fanfare with heavy brass and percussion.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Magic Cauldron: The titular Black Cauldron, naturally. The film makes the Cauldron more central than it was the books, where it's destroyed in book two rather than at the end of the series, though the Cauldron-Born it has created up until that point continue to operate, the difference being that no more can be made and the existing ones can be destroyed.
  • Marshmallow Hell: Fflam suffers this from Orwen, getting trapped in her cleavage the second time he is transformed into a frog.
  • Meaningful Name: An unintentional example, if such a thing exists: Gurgi's voice sounds like a gurgle one might make with their throat.
  • Mentor: 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.
  • Milking the Giant Cow: The Horned King loves doing hand gestures during his gloatings or whenever he's excited.
  • More Expendable Than You: This is Gurgi's rationale for jumping into the cauldron in Taran's place. He declares that Taran has lots of friends, but Gurgi has none, so he must do it instead.
  • Near-Villain Victory: The Horned King ties up Taran, Eilowny, and Flewddur Fflam so they wouldn't escape as he brings the skeletons to life. He says "moments away from victory". Had Gurgi not come their rescue, the Horned King would've succeeded in killing them all.
  • 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.
  • Necromancer: The Horned King, and he's the Trope Codifier for Western Animation.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: After Taran and his friends first escape the Horned King, they seek out the Black Cauldron and eventually find it in the home of the three witches—which plays right into the Horned King's hands, as he simply has his minions trail the heroes and take the Cauldron.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: The Horned King nearly chokes Taran after his plans were ruined not to be defeated and thus saving Pydain and the world
  • 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 (also a deleted scene showed the green mist coming from the cauldron was deadly and implied to reanimate people it kills), 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.
  • Oh, Crap!: Fflewddur has one when he sees he's in a cell with a skeleton carrying a lute. His host really is not interested in the services of a bard.
  • 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.
  • Our Souls Are Different: Confusingly different. Souls in this film's logic can take on physical form if sealed into molten iron, thus the metal, like the spirit, is now indestructible. This gives any viewer who cares for detail an ontological headache when they try to consider the anatomy of how the metaphysical and the physical can merge. Not to mention, stating the metal is indestructible, is a really redundant thing to say. Matter and energy ARE indestructible by nature anyway, BUT they must change form. If the Cauldron gets too hot it would melt down, but writers overlook that fact.
  • Pain to the Ass: After Taran rattles the farm goat's horns with his stick, the goat gets revenge by butting him up the backside hard enough to send him flying.
  • Prepare to Die: The Cauldron's powers having been stopped, the Horned King spots Taran near it, clinging to a wall to avoid being sucked in, and says: "You've interfered for the last time! NOW, PIG KEEPER, YOU SHALL DIE!!!"
  • 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.
  • Recycled Animation:
    • When Taran looks for Hen-Wen in the Forbidden Forest, the same animation is used as Wart going to retrieve Kay's arrow from The Sword in the Stone.
    • When Hen Wen reveals that the Horned King is searching for the Black Cauldron, the animation of the ghostly Horned King was borrowed from similar horse-riding spirits in Fantasia.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: The Horned King's eyes light up whenever he gets excited.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: The Horned King's Mooks choose to run away when the Cauldron Born are brought to life and kill some of them.
  • Scry vs. Scry: Implied to be the way the Horned King found out about Hen Wen.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Arawn is speculated to be the evil force within the Cauldron. Though the ancients (or gods) didn't do a very good job of imprisoning him away permanently, and as such, its powers can be unleashed. And even worse is that it can be used to raise an army of the living dead.
  • 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 note , making it the Good Counterpart to the Cauldron. It's indestructible, can cut through anything that's not another Soul Jar, and can never be wielded by the evil.
  • Self-Punishment Over Failure: The Horned King often chokes his toadie Creeper when things go wrong. When Creeper has to tell him that Taran escaped, he chokes himself to save his master the trouble.
  • Shout-Out:
    • After the Cauldron-Born start dying:
  • Skull for a Head: The Horned King is a horned variation. While he's an undead evil sorceror, the rest of his body looks quite normal compared to his positively skull-like head.
  • 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.
  • Stock Sound Effects: Starting with this film, Disney begins using more modern, cleaner sound effects in their animated features to replace the stock effects they'd been using for many decades before. Most obvious are the various magic spell effects and the thunder and lightning (contrasting with Disney typically using "Castle Thunder" prior to this). Though a few classic Disney effects do show up here, such as the familiar "wood crash" and dog snarls. The trend continues for many future Disney films up until after The '90s, with many new effects and a few classic ones reserved for comic purposes (although The Great Mouse Detective would make heavy use of the classic effects and Oliver & Company would entirely use the new sound effects.)
  • Spiritual Successor: Adventures of the Gummi Bears, which debuted just a few weeks after this movie debuted. Though much Lighter and Softer in tone, Gummi Bears would continue with the setting, fantastic elements and even slightly modified versions of Taran, Elionwy and Creeper.
  • The Stinger: As Taran, Eilowny, Fflewddur and Gurgi are returning, Dallben, Doli, and Hen Wen are observing them through a vision Hen Wen magically produced.
  • Swiss-Army Tears: The witches return Gurgi's body to Taran, but it isn't until Taran begins crying that Gurgi revives.
  • Take Over the World: The Horned King's goal.
  • Tertiary Sexual Characteristics: You can tell Hen Wen's female, because she has eyelashes.
  • Third-Person Person: Gurgi usually refers to himself in the third person.
  • 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 fits this more.
  • Verbal Tic:
    • Fflewddur — "Great Belin!"
    • Creeper, with "this isn't my fault!"
  • Vile Villain, Laughable Lackey: Creeper was comically drawn (by comparison) and cowardly, but he routinely suffered the abuse of the terrifying Horned King.
  • Villainous Badland, Heroic Arcadia: The heroes live in a peaceful land of meadows, farms, and green woodlands. The Horned King's castle is a looming, angular fortress in a rocky land shrouded in fog.
  • Villainous Breakdown:
    The Horned King: GET UP, YOU FOOLS... KILLLLL!!!
  • Warrior Undead: The Horned King plans to use the eponymous Cauldron to create an army of undead skeletons called the Cauldron-Born to Take Over the World. In addition to the skeletons he animates by lowering them into the Cauldron, a Deleted Scene shows that the Horned King can also create more Cauldron-Born from his living soldiers when he feels that they have outlived their usefulness.invoked
  • The Weird Sisters: Orddu, Orgoch, and Orwen of Morva, who have the Black Cauldron in their possession.
  • 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: Three for the price of one! In the books, they're forces of nature inspired by Welsh mythology. The three witches are based on the concept of the triple goddess- maiden, mother, and crone.
    • And really, they're not all that wicked. Jerkasses, yes, but they do bring Gurgi back in exchange for the cauldron.
  • Wide Eyes and Shrunken Irises: Whenever facing something frightening, Taran's eyes go wide or his iris shrinks. Examples include the Witches threatening to eat his friends (Orgoch saying "Nice and tender" as she pinches the skin on Taran's arm) as well as the final confrontation with the Horned King.
  • Your Soul Is Mine!: The heavily implied fate of the Horned King. After Gurgi sacrifices himself, the demonic spirit within the Cauldron will soon no longer be able perform any evil, or hurt anyone anymore, making it completely worthless and powerless. It'll be cold and alone... for all eternity. In desperation, it pulls anyone it can into it. It wants to absorb the evil necromancer's soul, though he doesn't come quietly. Interestingly all imperfections are removed from it after having its little China-Syndrome incident.


Video Example(s):


Creeper (Black Cauldron)

The secondary villain of the film, Creeper is the Horned King's sidekick. He's a little goblin-like creature who always tries to please his master, despite the abuse given to him, as well as trying to be scarified to the Black Cauldron when the Cauldron Born's life force is gone from Gurgi's Heroic Sacrifice.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / VileVillainLaughableLackey

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