Wow! That’s the one exclamation I can think of to sum up Disney’s The Black Cauldron. In celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the movie, Disney has put the film out on DVD in a package that was created from a new digital master that truly does feature “vibrant picture presentation.” The movie came out originally in 1985 and was a box office failure. In hindsight, I would have to say that it is the darkness of the film that killed it. It also probably had to do with the fact that it wasn’t centered on a princess or female character which, let’s just be honest, is what Disney fans are used to. I really can’t see any little girls or their parents running out to theaters to see this one the way they do for the Snow Whites, Cinderellas, Beauty and the Beasts, and Little Mermaids. I wouldn’t even say that this movie is gender-neutral. It’s just plain male-oriented in my opinion.
In the movie, “whoever releases the mysterious Black Cauldron’s power will be invincible! The fearsome Horned King will do anything to possess it, but he is challenged by the most unlikely adversary: a young assistant pig keeper named Taran, who dreams of doing heroic deeds. With a motley team of the brave Princess Eilonwy, a minstrel named Fflewddur Fflam and Hen Wen, a remarkable pig who can predict the future, Taran embarks on a quest to stop the Black Cauldron’s evil once and for all. Will he have the courage to succeed?”
The movie is based on Lloyd Alexander’s series of books entitled Chronicles of Prydain which are in turn based on Welsh mythology. The story is well-done and features all the great aspects of a fantasy tale. You’ve got witches, sorcery, swords, an evil king, and then add to that a very cool skeleton army of the dead. It also has the young boy who wants to get away from the doldrums of everyday life and have an adventure. The formula for success is all there.
The actors who do the voices of the characters include some legends of cinema history. You have John Huston using his powerful and telling voice as the introducer of the story. Then, it also features now veteran actor John Hurt voicing the evil and sinister Horned King. You’ve also got Nigel Hawthorne and Freddie Jones in the mix. That list of voice actors alone should be very telling. Besides Susan Sheridan (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio series) as Princess Eilonwy, the only female roles in the film are the three witches.
There’s a couple of interesting points in the film that seem to showed Disney was trying to push the envelope a bit with this production. First was a scene of a frog getting stuck between the rather large bosoms of a chunky witch. They focus on him trying to push his way out in what seems like quite a long close-up shot of the bosom crack. The other part was when the boy hero Taran falls or gets hit and has blood coming out of the side of his mouth. My 12-year old son exclaimed “Is that blood in a Disney movie!?!?” when he saw it. Strangely, that’s what I was thinking as well.
Granted, I have to tell you that what drew me to the film was its darkness. I am a very big horror and classic gothic movie fan. The evil Horned King and his danky castle lair were right up my alley. His skeleton army hearkened back to Jason and the Argonauts and reminded me how fun Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness is. That’s probably not what most parents have in mind when they think of a classic Disney movie.
Disney’s The Black Cauldron is a fun ride. Little girls may have trouble getting through it understandably, but if you’ve got boys they’ll love it. It’s an epic tale of bravery and responsibility that I thoroughly enjoyed and that will help to teach children some valuable life lessons.
The single disc 25th Anniversary DVD release features a new deleted scene entitled “The Fairfolk.” It also includes an original Disney cartoon short that stars Donald Duck and his 3 nephews called “Trick or Treat.” There’s two games included – the new “The Witches Challenge” and “The Quest for Black Cauldron.” A still frame gallery is included as well.
The technical specifications of the disc include Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, English SDH, Widescreen (2.35:1) Enhanced for 16×9 Televisions, and French and Spanish Language Tracks and Subtitles.