The Black Cauldron might not be the worst Disney animated film, but it was definitely the most disappointing. It’s a shame to see the wasted potential in this adaption of “The Chronicles of Prydain,” a series of children’s fantasy novels. At this point, Disney hadn’t done a whole lot of this type of fantasy. These were the stories little boys dreamed about, with disgusting monsters, magical creatures, and mythical worlds. And just to make it even more enticing, this 1985 film was rated PG for “some scary images.” I remember being a child, and that PG rating was the most enticing part of the whole film. I couldn’t wait to find out how the geniuses who had made some of my favorite movies were going to scare me. And I also remember walking out of the theater, dejected and slightly angry that they didn’t live up to their end of the deal.
It’s been 25 years since that disappointing day, and until this new DVD release came my way, I had no desire to see it again. However, when presented with the 25th Anniversary release, I found myself falling into the same trap. I mean, maybe it wasn’t as bad as I remembered. I was just a kid, and had huge expectations. Maybe if I went in with an open mind, I’d find myself really enjoying it. The back of the box even quotes Roger Ebert as saying that this is “a rip-roaring tale of swords, sorcery and magic.” That sounds right up my alley. I ended up convincing myself that this would be a great experience this time around.
And now I find myself writing this article, dejected and slightly angry. I fell for it again. In fact, it’s worse than I remember. The characters are just terrible. They are completely one-dimensional, and so generic as to inspire complete boredom even during the supposed action scenes. I’ll admit that the scenery can be pretty fantastic (in an 80’s sort of way), but the characters are bland both visually and on paper.
The “hero” of the story is Taran, a gaurdian to a magical pig named Hen Wen. As it turns out, this pig can predit the future, and the evil Horned King is (of course) desperate to catch Hen Wen for his evil schemes. You see, he is trying to locate the Black Cauldron of the title, which can turn the dead into a powerful army for evil (or whatever). Taran teams up with a generic princess names Eilonwy and a minstrel named (believe it or not) Fflewddur Fflam in order to defeat the Horned King. Oh, and of course, there’s the “super cute” comic relief creature that gets into all sorts of wacky mischief. And on and on this goes. There are dragons, and little fairy creatures and goblin looking things, and after awhile, I just couldn’t bring myself to care about any of this.
Disney usually puts together fantastic anniversary collections for their animated films, but this 25th anniversary release feels very slapped together. At this point, they must realize what a mistake the entire project was. There is a deleted scene, a still frame gallery, a couple of games for the kids, and a Donald Duck cartoon called Trick or Treat.
I expected a higher quality of extras considering that this is an anniversary release. However, I can’t work up enough enthusiasm about the film to really care one way or the other. I can’t imagine anyone being engrossed in this particular adventure, eagerly waiting to find out what’s going to happen next. I’m sure this is a large part of why the film did so poorly upon it’s initial release. This film should have worked, but even as a kid, I knew that this is sub-par Disney in every sense of the word.