A notorious box office failure, this was the first Disney animated film to have a PG rating. It had no songs, it was dark, it was not your usual Disney fare. Despite (or because of) this, the film is often considered a cult classic today. It’s a long time since I watched it on VHS. However, I remember the film quite well. At the time, I wasn’t aware that it was based on the first two books of Lloyd Alexander’s excellent Chronicles of Prydain. I read those much later on, as an adult.
The film’s story centres on Taran, an assistant pig-keeper who wishes he was a warrior. He’s charged with taking the valuable oracular pig, Hen Wen, to a safe place. However, she’s captured and taken to the creepy castle of the Horned King, who is searching for the Black Cauldron. This evil artefact has the power to raise the dead and turn them into the ultimate warriors. Taran, along with his new companions Princess Eilonwy, Fflewddur Fflam and Gurgi, determines to stop the Horned King from taking over Prydain.
The plot is so simplified and watered down from the original that it makes little sense. Even when I used to watch it, with the undiscriminating perspective of the young Disney fan, I knew there were flaws. I think that without the supporting cast of wise warriors from the books, Taran has no role models and so in the film he blunders from one failure to the next without learning anything or developing his character. Princess Eilonwy resembles her book counterpart somewhat, but she has no bow and arrows. The fighting is left to Taran, who conveniently has a ‘magic sword’ that does the work for him. The shaggy but loyal creature Gurgi is shrunken to a cross between a terrier and a little monkey. His speech seems accurate but he’s more annoying than he needs to be. And then we have the bard Fflewddur, whose role is now confined to comic relief. He’s one of my favourite characters in the book and I dislike how he’s so one-dimensional here.
There are some good things about The Black Cauldron. The medieval fantasy aesthetic, the spooky music, the voice of the Horned King (John Hurt), the animation style. It’s a decent enough film, if you don’t worry too much about the plot (particularly the ending) and haven’t read the books. It’s well-known that some material was cut, particularly the scarier scenes during the sequence where the dead warriors are raised using the cauldron. Lloyd Alexander himself said that he enjoyed the film but that it bore no resemblance to his books. I’ve read that Disney may be making a live-action version. If they are, then I hope it will truer to the books and do the characters justice.
Low-resolution file sourced from Wikipedia.