Disney Classics #25: The Black Cauldron

I’m not sure if I ever saw this as a kid. It wasn’t released on home video until the late ’90s, but I might have caught it on TV, but it didn’t leave much of an impression. The movie was a bit of a disaster for Disney and probably the darkest moment for the animated department, having been made for a hefty $44 million it was the most expensive animated movie made at the time and it then opened to lacklustre reviews and poor audience turn out. It has a rep for being the film that almost killed Disney animation.

blackcauldron pos

Watching it as an adult I can see why it didn’t catch fire with audiences, despite arriving in the 1980s when fantasy was in vogue. Firstly, it was released as a PG movie here in the UK, which is bound to hurt box office as parents with younger kids will stay away. And also I can’t imagine the trailers really hooked people in.

Young kids weren’t going and it might have looked a bit naff for the older kids. Despite the expense and a few CGI shots, you can’t really see where the budget went on this one. And the film is rather flat and inconsistent.

When I started watching it I clocked that a lot of the names were Welsh sounding (Hen Wen, Fflewddur Fflam, Eilonwy) and later found out that they were based on a series of novels that drew inspiration from Welsh folk tales. The cauldron that brings dead to life being from the tale of Branwen. A Wikipedia search made me realise that the country they kept talking about was Prydain, the Welsh word for Britain, but I didn’t recognise it from the awful pronunciation.

This Welsh connection isn’t enough to get it in my good graces however, and the whole movie is a muddled mess. We have an irritating boy hero, Taran (Grant Bardlsey) who has to protect a psychic pig from the Horned King (John Hurt), who seeks the Black Cauldron to revive his army and seize Prydain for his own.

The problem is that while the Horned King is kinda menacing the rest of the animation is largely lacklustre, there’s a creakiness to it in places and the computer backgrounds and effect have aged poorly. Similarly, the art styles don’t mesh. The dark, gothic styles of the villain and his castle clashes against the more traditional comic relief characters. It’s almost like Disney got caught between trying something new but sticking with a few of their old tropes.

At least there are no songs to make it even more jarring.

It’s nice that Disney tried something new, but the result is sloppy and it’s underwhelming in the extreme. It probably would have fared better had they gone all out with the fantasy style, but the cartoony supporting characters undermine it and in truth, the artwork just isn’t good enough.

This is Disney at a low ebb, in the middle of a creative slump this is as low as it gets, and it’s a couple of movies to go before they really hit their stride again.

Disney Score: 3/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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