The Black Cauldron is a 1985 animated feature dark fantasy film produced by Walt Disney Pictures and originally released to theaters on July 24, 1985. The twenty-fifth animated feature in the Walt Disney Animated Classics and Disney's first PG-rated animated film, the film is based on Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain book series, which is in turn based on Welsh mythology.
The film centers around the evil Horned King who attempts to secure the Black Cauldron in order to rule the world. The Horned King is opposed by the heroes Taran, Princess Eilonwy, Fflewddur Fflam and Gurgi.
The film is directed by Ted Berman and Richard Rich, and stars the voices of Grant Bardsley, Susan Sheridan, Freddie Jones, Nigel Hawthorne, and John Hurt. A video game based on the film was released in 1986.
Taran is "assistant pig-keeper" on the small farm of Caer Dallben, home of Dallben the enchanter. Taran dreams of becoming a great warrior, but must stop daydreaming because his charge, the oracular pig Hen Wen, is in danger. The Horned King, a fearsome, skeletal, undead king with horns, hopes she will help him find the Black Cauldron, which has the power to restore a kind of life to the dead, as undead slaves called "the Cauldron-Born", which he will use to rule the world. Dallben directs Taran to take Hen Wen to safety, but the lad's daydreaming results in the pig's capture by the Horned King's forces.
Taran follows them to the Horned King's stronghold and acquires the small, pestering companion Gurgi along the way. Taran leaves Gurgi to sneak into the castle and rescues Hen Wen, who flees, but he is captured himself and thrown into the dungeon, soon to be released by Princess Eilonwy, a girl his age who is also trying to escape. In the catacombs beneath the castle, Taran and Eilonwy discover the ancient burial chamber of a king, where he arms himself with the king's sword. It contains magic that allows him effectively to fight the Horned King's minions and so to fulfill his dream of heroism. Along with a third captive, the comical, middle-aged bard Fflewddur Fflam, they escape the castle and are soon reunited with Gurgi.
Following Hen Wen's trail, the four stumble into the underground kingdom of the Fair Folk, small fairy-like beings who reveal that Hen Wen is under their protection. When the cheerful, elderly King Eiddileg reveals that he knows where the cauldron is, Taran resolves to go destroy it himself. Eilonwy, Fflewddur, and Gurgi agree to join him and Eiddileg's obnoxious right-hand man Doli is assigned to lead them to the Marshes of Morva while the Fair Folk agree to escort Hen Wen safely back to Caer Dallben. At the marshes they learn that the cauldron is held by three witches, the grasping Orddu, who acts as leader, the greedy Orgoch, and the more benevolent Orwen, who falls in love with Fflewddur at first sight; they cause a frighted Doli to abandon the group. Orddu agrees to trade the cauldron for Taran's sword, and he agrees, although he knows that to yield it will cost his chance for heroism. Before vanishing, the witches reveal that the cauldron is indestructible, and that its power can be broken only by someone who climbs in under his own free will, which will kill him. None of the companions will do that, so it seems Taran has traded his sword for nothing. Taran feels foolish for aspiring to destroy the cauldron alone, but his longer companions show their belief in him, and it appears that he and Eilonwy will kiss.
The Horned King's soldiers interrupt, finally reaching the marshes themselves. They seize the cauldron and everyone but Gurgi, and return to the castle. The Horned King uses the cauldron to raise the dead and his Cauldron-Born army begins to pour out into the world.
Gurgi manages to free the captives and Taran resolves to cast himself into the cauldron, but Gurgi stops that and advances himself instead. The undead army collapses. When the Horned King spots Taran at large, he infers the turn of events and throws him toward the cauldron, but the cauldron's magic is out of control. It consumes the Horned King and destroys the castle, using up all its powers.
The three witches come to recover the now inert Black Cauldron. Taran has finally realized Gurgi's true friendship, however, and he persuades them to revive the wild thing in exchange for the cauldron, giving up his magical sword permanently. Fflewddur goads the reluctant witches to go ahead and demonstrate their powers by the revival, which they do.
The four friends journey back to Caer Dallben where Dallben and Doli watch them in a vision created by Hen Wen, and Dallben finally praises Taran for heroism.
- Grant Bardsley as Taran
- Susan Sheridan as Eilonwy
- Freddie Jones as Dallben
- Nigel Hawthorne as Fflewddur Fflam
- Arthur Malet as King Eidilleg
- John Byner as Gurgi/Doli
- Eda Reiss Merin, Adele Malis-Morey, and Billie Hayes as Orddu, Orwen and Orgoch
- Phil Fondacaro as Creeper
- John Hurt as Horned King
- John Huston as Narrator
It was the most expensive animated feature made as of its release in 1985 with a budget of over $25 million. The film is the first Disney animated feature to employ computer-generated imagery for bubbles, the boat, and the cauldron itself.
Shortly before the film's release to theaters, newly appointed Disney studio chairman Jeffery Katzenberg ordered several scenes from The Black Cauldron be cut, due to both its length and the fear that the graphic nature of them would alienate children and family audiences. Since animated films were typically edited in storyboard form using Leica reels (later known as animatics: storyboards shot sequentially and set to temporary audio tracks), producer Joe Hale objected to Katzenberg's demands. Katzenberg responded by having the film brought into an edit bay and editing the film himself. Told what Katzenberg was doing by Hale, Disney CEO Michael Eisner called Katzenberg in the editing room and convinced him to stop. Though he did as Eisner insisted, Katzenberg demanded the film be revised, and delayed its scheduled Christmas 1984 release to July 1985 so that the film could be reworked.
The film was ultimately cut by 12 minutes, including whole sequences involving the world of the Fairfolk. Some existing scenes were rewritten and re-animated for continuity. Some of the cut scenes involved the undead "Cauldron Born", who are used as the Horned King's army in the final act of the film. While most of the scenes were seamlessly removed from the film, one particular cut involving a Cauldron Born killing a person by slicing his neck and torso created a rather recognizable lapse due to the fact that the removal of the scene creates a jump in the film's soundtrack. One particular deleted scene featured Princess Eilonwy being partially naked with her dress being ripped - probably after or during a skirmish with a couple of the Horned King's henchmen - as she's hanging for her life with Taran and Fflewddur Fflam before or after Horned King summoned the Cauldron-Born warriors from the Black Cauldron. Another scene cut featured a man being dissolved by mist. And another deleted scene had Taran killing some of the Horned King's guards with his sword while he and Eilonwy escape from the castle.
As of late July 2011, a version of the film with the removed scenes restored has never been released. A version of the film with more cuts has appeared on the Disney Channel and Toon Disney. ABC Family however airs the film in its entirety with a TV-PG-V rating guideline.
Unlike most other Disney animated films, the film contained no songs. At the time, Bernstein just came off the success of his Academy Award-nominated score for the 1983 film Trading Places as well as the score for the 1984 film Ghostbusters. Like in the latter of the two, The Black Cauldron saw the use of the ghostly ondes Martenot to build upon the dark mood of Prydain.
Because of the film's last minute revisions, much of Bernstein's score was cut and unused. In its minority, the score was re-recorded for the album original release by Varèse Sarabande in 1985. The album soon fell out of print and many of the film's tracks did not resurface until a bootleg copy entitled "Taran" was supplied to soundtrack specialty outlets in 1996.
The soundtrack was re-released in 2012 as part of Intrada Records partnership with Walt Disney Records to re-release several Disney films soundtracks. The album features a new expanded and remastered version of the score.
The score received positive reviews from music critics, and today is regarded as one of best works by Bernstein and for a Disney animated film, despite its obscurity. Jason Ankeny from AllMusic gave to the soundtrack a positive review, stating that "Bernstein's bleak arrangements and ominous melodies vividly underline the fantasy world portrayed onscreen, and taken purely on its own terms, the score is an undeniable success". The film score review website Filmtracks wrote: "The score for The Black Cauldron was for Bernstein what Mulan was for Jerry Goldsmith in the next decade: a fascinating journey into a fresh realm that required its music to play a more significant role in the film". Release history
|United States||1985||Cassette, CD, LP||Varèse Sarabande||B000OODDXS|
|April 3, 2012||CD, digital download||Intrada Records||B007SYIQAM|
The Black Cauldron was released in North America on July 26, 1985. The film was also screened at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City. It cost $25 million to produce, the most expensive animated film made to that time. But it grossed only $21 million at the North American box office and it is considered one of the worst box-office failures from Walt Disney Pictures. It was so poorly received that it was not distributed for a home video release for more than a decade after its theatrical run. To make matters worse, the film was beaten out of the box office by The Care Bears Movie, which was released several months earlier, to which Disney call this the proverbial "rock bottom".
The film was the last Disney animated film completed at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. The animation department was moved to the Air Way facility in nearby in December 1984, and, following corporate restructuring, became a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Studios known as Walt Disney Feature Animation (later Walt Disney Animation Studios).
In addition to becoming a failure at the box office, The Black Cauldron also received mixed reviews, with some critics blaming the film's lack of appeal on the dark nature of the book. It has earned a "rotten" score of 55% at Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus "Ambitious but flawed, The Black Cauldron is technically brilliant as usual, but lacks the compelling characters of other Disney animated classics." Roger Ebert gave a positive review of the film, while the Los Angeles Times Charles Solomon praised its "splendid visuals". London's Time Out magazine deemed it "a major disappointment", adding that "the charm, characterization and sheer good humor" found in previous Disney efforts "are sadly absent".
Jeffrey Katzenberg, then-Chairman of the Walt Disney Studios, was dismayed by the product and the animators felt that it lacked "the humor, pathos, and the fantasy which had been so strong in Lloyd Alexander's work. The story had been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it was heartbreaking to see such wonderful material wasted."
Lloyd Alexander, the author of the books on which the film was based, had a more complex reaction to the film.
"First, I have to say, there is no resemblance between the movie and the book. Having said that, the movie in itself, purely as a movie, I found to be very enjoyable. I had fun watching it. What I would hope is that anyone who sees the movie would certainly enjoy it, but I'd also hope that they'd actually read the book. The book is quite different. It's a very powerful, very moving story, and I think people would find a lot more depth in the book."
Following many requests from fans, The Black Cauldron was first released on VHS in 1998 in a pan-and-scan transfer. A DVD release with a non-anamorphic letterboxed 2.39:1 transfer followed in 2000, featuring an art gallery, a new game "The Quest for the Black Cauldron", and the 1952 Donald Duck short Trick or Treat. Disney released a 25th Anniversary Edition DVD on September 14, 2010 in the US and UK, containing a new 2.39:1 16:9 anamorphic widescreen transfer, a deleted scene called "The Fairfolk", and a new game called "The Witches' Challenge" along with the features from the 2000 DVD release.
- The film was planned to have an early VHS release in 1989 as part of the Walt Disney Classics VHS series (they did made a beta or prototype VHS for testing at that time which was never released in stores), but was canceled due to the wild success of The Little Mermaid.
- The Black Cauldron film was inspired by the book series by Lloyd Alexander The Chronicles of Prydain.
- Tim Burton worked on the Black Cauldron as a concept artist, and it was the first movie he worked on that he was credited for. This was the third Disney movie he had worked on. It was when he was working on this film, during his down time, that he came up with some drawing sketches of The Nightmare Before Christmas.
- This is the first Disney film to not feature songs.
- This was the first animated Disney film from the canon to use sound effects made exclusively for the film. Though some were used in later Disney films (like the lightning strike sound effects). And the film only used some of the Jim McDonald Disney sound effects.
- This is the first Disney animated feature to use the Walt Disney Pictures logo.
- This is the first Disney animated feature to use full end credits.
- Because of the lack of financial success of the film, The Black Cauldron was the final push for Disney to now buckle up and start creating animated features that will pull them into the Disney Renaissance.
Characters: Taran | Princess Eilonwy | Fflewddur Fflam | Gurgi | Dallben | Hen Wen | Cat | Dallben's farm animals | Horned King | Creeper | Cauldron Born | Horned King's guards | Gwythaints | King Eidilleg | Doli | Fair Folk | Orddu, Orwen and Orgoch | Prydainpeople | The Hunter (Deleted Character) | Moose