The Black Cauldron (1985)

2015 #17
Ted Berman & Richard Rich | 77 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | U / PG

The Black CauldronThe Black Cauldron is best remembered as an intriguing footnote in the history of Disney animation. Their 25th ‘official’ film, it was the first with no songs, the first to earn a PG (after being cut — twice — to avoid a PG-13), and flopped so badly they disowned it for over a decade. Fully-animated sequences were cut after disastrous test screenings for parents, and famed exec Jeffrey Katzenberg, who came into Disney management during the film’s production, reportedly ordered 12 minutes cut, muddling the film’s story. What a mess.

The final result… isn’t that bad. It’s not some lost classic, but nor is it an unmitigated disaster. Based on a series of children’s novels that in turn were based on Welsh mythology, it’s a dark-ages fantasy story in which a young pig keeper battles an evil lord intent on securing a magical cauldron and using it to rule the world.

Tonally it’s very odd. Segments of dark fantasy, on a Lord of the Rings-type level, butt up against childish slapstick and tomfoolery. There’s nothing wrong with being tonally varied, but The Black Cauldron features such extremes, and flits between them so carelessly, that it’s jarring. At times it’s almost like Disney’s animators forgot they were making a kids’ movie: there’s a buxom dancing gypsy, a bit where a chap is turned into a frog and gets stuck wobbling around in a woman’s cleavage, and a bunch of dark stuff with an army of the undead, which even in its cut-down form isn’t bright and cheery.

Also, one of the main characters is a clairvoyant pig called Hen.

Taran and EilonwyIt’s always interesting when a company like Disney break outside of the norm, and it’s certainly brought them some degree of success in recent years with the likes of Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6. Those have gone over very well with the geek audience, though I found them both severely lacking. The Black Cauldron also comes up short, but as the product of thwarted ambition rather than inherent mediocrity, I’m inclined to like it more.

3 out of 5

7 thoughts on “The Black Cauldron (1985)

  1. Never seen this. I remember seeing the posters at the cinema back then, thinking that it looked right up my street (as I was a fantasy fan) but Disney was all about films for little kiddies (and The Black Hole certainly didn’t help). So here I am all these decades later and it still intrigues me and I still haven’t seen it. Maybe one day. I do think it odd that animated fantasies seem such a natural (regards the medium and subject matter) but have turned out tricky to pull off over the years.


    • I guess it’s partly because the American mainstream still sees animation as “for kids”, certainly when it comes to their own productions, and so there was never the requisite investment even when someone did attempt something more than just another Disney-esque fairytale. And now they just do it with CGI.

      Somewhat ironically, if the animators had been allowed to cut loose then The Black Cauldron might’ve been a decent little movie, though not at all Disney-ish. As it stands, it has its moments, but it’s tough to recommend other than for curiosity’s sake.


  2. I watched this one at the cinema years and years ago and remember thinking it was nothing like the classic Disneys, which were in circulation at the time. As you say, not bad but not especially good either. I tried again with it being available on Sky and didn’t get past the first fifteen minutes, I’m afraid. Seemed a bit of a dog’s dinner all told, with no clear idea of what it wanted to be and grab bagging from all over the place.

    Liked by 1 person

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