“Now I call on my army of the dead: the Cauldron Born! Arise, my messengers of death! Our time has arrived!”
―The Horned King
The Horned King is the main antagonist of Disney's 1985 feature film The Black Cauldron. His main plan in the movie was to find the Black Cauldron and use its power to unleash an army of deathless warriors dubbed as Cauldron Born. The Horned King has a vast army at his disposal including the troll-like Creeper, the Huntsmen of Annuvin, the dragon-like Gwythaints, and of course his Cauldron Born.
The main villain of the film was supposed to be Arawn. However, the animators felt people would like him better since he has horns (notable examples include Maleficent and Chernabog). They combined the elements of the two to create a lich, though the narrator implies the spirit within the Cauldron is Arawn himself.
The Horned King is a skeletal creature with green, rotting flesh and two gnarled horns from which he earns his name. It is debatable whether the Horned King was undead or living; since Creeper served him wine at some point during the film, it can be assumed he possesses a digestive tract, implying he is a living being or at least that he is still able to enjoy food and drink. It is possible that in his quest for power, he tried several dark magical approaches, which left his physical appearance deteriorating, in a similar way to Harry Potter's Lord Voldemort and Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars.
It is also possible that in his obsession with godhood, the king has used his magical abilities to stave off death but is unable to keep his body from deteriorating as he is a skeletal creature with rotting flesh. Nevertheless, the decomposition seems only external as he is physically strong, fast and agile and able to project his voice.
The Horned King is in great contrast with his predecessors and successors. While he exhibits the same outwardly arrogant and narcissistic qualities, desiring to become "a god among mortal men", he is cold and very composed, showing no outward anger until his plan fails at which point he lunges at Taran, believing it to be his doing (on Creeper's suggestion). He is quite mysterious, and it is implied that not even his minions appear to know what he is, and is one of the less active villains, his only motion in the movie (that is not carried out by his lackeys) is his role in the birth of the Cauldron Born. Also, he has no reservations about his intentions, as he is very open on his dream of becoming "a god among mortal men" and then wiping out all living things with an undead army. He is notable for seldom exhibiting a sense of humor or giving evil laughs. On the one occasion he demonstrates a sense of humor, it is notably snide and sarcastic. Also, he is driven by personal desire, unlike a lot of Disney villains who are instead driven by revenge.
Powers and Abilities
Although it is implied the Horned King is a sorcerer of some sort, he actually performs very little magic, only displaying his powers to teleport into his castle's mess hall and calling upon the spirit of the Black Cauldron. How he got into the position of King is unknown. Perhaps he was a great warrior or soldier, but then again he is never seen wielding a sword. He did have great physical strength, however, as he used that to assault Taran in the climax.
The Horned King desires to find the Black Cauldron and use its power to unleash an army of deathless Cauldron Born to rule the world. He goes to many lengths to find it, kidnapping Eilonwy for her bauble and Hen Wen because he believes they have powers to locate the Black Cauldron. He is first seen talking to his currently non-animated Cauldron Born on his goals. He is seen again when he enters the mess hall of his castle via magical teleportation. When Taran falls into the room whilst attempting to rescue Hen Wen, the Horned King instructs him to show the location of the Black Cauldron via the pig. When Taran refuses, the king claims the pig is no longer of use to him and orders his men to kill it, forcing the boy to comply. As Taran instructs Hen Wen to create a spell pointing the Cauldron's whereabouts, the excited king gets too close to Taran, who in his fright splashes water into the King's eyes (which has an agonizing effect on him) to lead Hen Wen into a chase where they manage to keep Hen Wen away after Taran throws the pig into a moat. However, Creeper drags Taran to the Horned King, who is angry about Hen Wen's escape and orders Taran to be thrown into the dungeon.
Later, Creeper reports that Taran and his new company have escaped, which he thinks will result in him being strangled, so he attempts to do it himself. However, the Horned King congratulates him, as the trio will no doubt locate the Black Cauldron, and quietly tells him to send the Gwythaints to follow them. The three are ultimately captured along with the newly acquired Black Cauldron which he then summons the Cauldron Born. He sends them to destroy all opposition, however Gurgi arrives, frees the prisoners, and flings himself into the Cauldron to negate its necromancy ability. The Horned King suspects Creeper is the one to blame and carries him, returns to the room where the ritual was performed and finds Taran who he believes the Cauldron's failure was his doing. He throws Creeper aside, grabs Taran, and lifts him off his feet, but Taran pushes the Horned King into the pull of the Cauldron. The Horned King grabs Taran again and tries to throw him into the Black Cauldron, but the cauldron pulls the Horned King in instead and rips him to a skeleton, and the villain explodes.
The Horned King is the final boss in the video game of Mickey Mouse in which he's greatly larger than Mickey. In the beginning of the game, he had kidnapped Minnie.
The Horned King appeared in the Tokyo Disneyland attraction Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour. In this tour styled walk through attraction, the Horned King is the final Disney villain the guests confront. The tour guide will tell a guest the magic words to defeat the Horned King and his Cauldron Born army. At the end of the tour the guest was awarded a medal for defeating him. The attraction served as inspiration for the final level of a Tokyo Disneyland-based game on the Super Famicom where Pete played the part of the Horned King.
During his death, the Horned King's scream keeps being heard a little time after his body has been entirely destroyed. It might be an animation mistake, but it is also possible that it is meant to imply that he is screaming from his very soul.
The Horned King is definitely one of the most serious Disney villains, as he never makes any kind of joke (his taunting of Taran, Eilonwy and Fflewddur Fflam not withstanding) and he always maintains his frightening and villainous image no matter what the situation.
The Horned King is one of the few villains without a song. the Horned King is accompanied by a haunting leitmotif composed by the late Elmer Bernstein.
The Horned King in the original book was not a lead villain but rather the champion of the books' true villain Arawn.
In the Italian version of The Black Cauldron, Horned King was called Re Cornelius (King Cornelius, but "Corne" is also close to the Italian for "Horn") because the Italian word for horned (cornuto) means also "a person that has been betrayed by the proper partner". For the same reason, in the French version, he is renamed "le Seigneur des Ténèbres" (the Lord of Darkness).
In spite of the film's lack of popularity, the Horned King could perhaps be considered one of the movie's better-remembered characters; he is classified as a member of the Disney Villains franchise and has made appearances on the House of Mouse, alongside his undead minions the Cauldron Born, albeit he may not necessarily be qualified to fall under a recognized status.
The Horned King has one of the most brutal and graphic deaths in an animated Disney film, as his skin is sucked off his bones onscreen.