Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Black Cauldron

I've been hearing about this legendary film by Disney for years, and I decided to Netflix it and see what all the fuss is about.

Apparently, the film caused quite a scandal when it opened in 1985. This film was originated in the Ron Miller era, then Don Bluth led a palace revolt and Eisner and Katzenberg took over. So, it had a very bumpy birth – and it looks it. I hate to pile on a film when it's down, but it deserves to be down. What a mess.
The backgrounds are ugly, with a rainbow of bright colors, and the character design is ghastly. The animation is very crude, which is surprising because people like Andreas Deja, Mike Gabriel, Gary Trousdale, Ruben Aquino, Glen Keane, Walt Stanchfield, Milt Kahl, Mark Kausler and Tim Burton are listed in the credits. The voices are so-so, though the music by Elmer Bernstein is quite good.

But the killer is the story. The main character is this magic pig who disappears from the last third of the story for unexplained reasons. The evil character is not scary in the least, and all of the other characters are downright boring. And the ending of the film makes no sense at all.

Plus, apparently this was the most expensive film ever produced by the Disney Studios and it almost put them out of business. So if you want to see what not to do on a film, check out "The Black Cauldron". I rate it a D. See ya,


  1. Wow, you've never seen Cauldron until now? I'm surprised; and yes, it really is a mess. Fortunately for the crew it was a good hard lesson and they turned around rather quick. I think for such a big animation corporation it was good to have such a bomb - really brings the reality of failure back into thought.

  2. I think you botched up on the story. The pig's not the main character, it's the boy looking after the pig.

    But yeah, I did see it myself, and I really do think it's one of Disney's least to date. It just felt very unremarkable overall, it left very little impact on me, and from hearing about its colossal failure, it's pretty easy to see why it did so badly, due to its attempts at being really dark, its flawed execution and its shoddy storytelling, and not even the occasional spot of decent animation can save its look, either. Though I can honestly think of films that look worse, like Delgo and Happily Ever After...

  3. Ok, I know this post is from 5 years ago, but I happened upon it and I just HAVE to mention that the story relies heavily on Ancient Welsh mythology (the Horned King, the Black Cauldron/army of the dead, magic sword, those witches, the fairies, the bard, the names, and I think the oracular pig too) which is a lot less familiar to those of us used to French and German fairy tales. And it's a lot more obscure than Greek or even Norse mythology. As for its plot, the film closely follows the plot of a 1965 award winning fantasy book of the same name by Lloyd Alexander. Disney just portrayed the story too choppily for it to flow right, and the magic/legend elements were too unfamiliar and strange to hit the right chords with general audiences.

    My next note is that I really like the character design of the two main characters, Taran and Eilonwy (though I agree their animation could have been more refined to fit the classic Disney style). I also love the design of Henwen the Oracular Pig, she is precious. I think these three characters would make great toys for Disneyana, another key component of the best Disney films.

    I agree with the other problems you spot. Instead of the dreamy, uplifting tone of the most memorable Disney film, the Black Cauldron gives off a creepy, weird, slightly-off vibe-- similar to Disney's the Sword in the Stone (1963), or other studios' The Last Unicorn (1982) and Thumbelina (1992). All of these films feature a main character going off on an adventure and interacting with a cast of unfriendly, strange, 'off', inappropriate and grotesquely animated characters like the three Witches, like Madam Mim, like the Frogs, Mouse, and the Beetle, like that Tree. Worse, our heroes seek out these villainous characters having no choice but to ask for their help/make a deal. This is very unsettling for a child. Even the supposedly friendly characters are jarringly untrustworthy, unhappy and uncharming--Gurgi, the Magician and Molly, Jacamo-- no warm, welcoming, immediately trustworthy and consistently charming Genie here. I think these strange companions and uncomfortable encounters are what drag The Black Cauldron down, more so even than its strange plot or sketchy/unfinished animation. Come to think of it, Alice in Wonderland employs many of the same components, however it is meant to be in a bizzarro, unsettling, topsy-turvy wonderland, and we expect to meet 'mad' characters who happily belong in their Wonderland.

    This was fun!