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Toon Talk: The Black Cauldron 25th Anniversary Edition
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by Kirby Holt (archives)
September 15, 2010
Kirby reviews Disney's new 25th anniversary edition release for the animated feature The Black Cauldron.
Toon Talk: Disney Film and DVD Reviews
by Kirby C. Holt

25th Anniversary Edition
Disney DVD
MPAA Rating: PG

Leaky Cauldron

Has it really been only 25 years since the lackluster debut of The Black Cauldron? Watching the recently released 25th Anniversary DVD of Disneys failed animated adventure, its hard to believe that it was merely four years later that we saw The Little Mermaid. A lot changed between the time the former film flopped and the latter hit, and even more in the intervening years, leaving The Black Cauldron floundering at the bottom of the Disney canon. It also didnt help that it was the film that nearly ended Disney animation for good.

Based on the book series The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, The Black Cauldron was Disneys attempt to toughen up its image. And, with scary scenes of a walking dead army and glimpses of blood and gore, they succeeded to an extent, at least as far as the MPAA was concerned. The rating service branded the film with a PG rating, the first ever for a Disney animated feature.

However, even with such attempts at prestige as employing 70 mm widescreen (much like its obvious inspiration, Sleeping Beauty) and enlisting legendary film composer Elmer Bernstein (The Magnificent Seven, To Kill a Mockingbird) for the score, not to mention a budget that was the highest for an animated feature at the time, The Black Cauldron was dead on arrival back in 1985. Audiences just werent interested in a dark Disney cartoon fantasy with no songs and, more importantly, no heart. (A lesson, one might add, not learned when it came time for Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet.)

Nevertheless, the film starts promisingly enough, with a John Huston narrated prologue about a mystic object so powerful it could destroy entire civilizations if it fell into the wrong hands. No, not a certain ring of Tolkien lore, but the black cauldron of the title. And the wrong hands in this case belong to the Horned King (voiced by John Hurt), the local big bad.

Trouble is, nobody knows where the cauldron is except for an unassuming pig, named Hen Wen, who can see the future. (You read that right: a pig that can see the future.) Naturally, the Horned King wants her, but for some reason, the pig is put solely in the protection of Taran (Grant Bardsley), a young boy with dreams of becoming a mighty warrior but little else (including a personality; he is easily the blandest hero in all Disney-dom). In no time at all, both Taran and Hen Wen are captured by the motley minions of the Horned King, who plans to use the cauldron to raise the dead and, you know, take over the world.

One unlikely escape later, and Taran has been joined by the tongue-twistingly named Princess Eilonwy (Susan Sheridan) and the minstrel Fflewddur Fflam (Nigel Hawthorne), as well as Gurgi (John Byner), a cute and fluffy version of Tolkiens Gollum, who leads them to the ready-for-merchandising Fair Folk. They, in turn, direct them to Morva, where they say the black cauldron is hid (so I guess they didnt need the future-seeing pig after all?).

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