Although not one of Disney’s more popular films, The Black Cauldron was an entertaining film in its own right. The film debuted in theaters in 1985 and was not only Disney’s most costly production at that point in time ($25 million), but also one of their biggest failures. In addition it was the first title from Disney to receive a PG rating, which is probably a reason that I never owned this title as a kid. I do remember renting it from the local library on more than one occasion and remember always enjoying the film for what it was, even though I didn’t laugh or become as caught up in the story as I did with other Disney titles. Considering how dark this movie is though, it’s no wonder that my younger self didn’t get into it all that much.
The Black Cauldron, Walt Disney Pictures’ 25th animated feature-length film, celebrates its 25th anniversary with a Special Edition DVD release September 14 from Walt Disney Home Entertainment. Based on Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain books, this mystical, action packed adventure debuts just in time for Halloween. The film tells the story of Taran, an apprentice pig keeper with dreams of becoming a great warrior, who embarks on a quest to find a magical and powerful Black Cauldron before the evil tyrant Horned King can possess it for his own diabolical purposes. Fantastical characters like the oracular pig Hen Wen, the willful princess Eilonwy, and the droll but annoying Gurgi face witches, elves, magic swords and other obstacles. As they journey through these thrilling escapades, Taran begins to learn the true meaning of what it is to be a hero.
There is truly nothing at all classic about this Disney film. Now twenty-five years old, I would expect something to kick in about this film, but there really isn’t much. There is really not much love at all for this film, as even the Wikipedia article is close to being nothing more than a stub—I went there to get a mini-refresher on it before watching it and instead was treated with little more than a synopsis of the film (indeed, it’s actually identical to the one above from a Disney press release). Watching the film, I began to realize that this film isn’t so much disappointing as decidedly un-Disney like. There’s very little Disney magic felt in this film, which is likely due to its not only dark story line but also its dark visuals. There isn’t a whole lot here that’s all that uplifting to the viewer and as far as heroes and heroines go, there isn’t much for kids to grasp onto.
The film is a typical hero-must-save-friend story, although the mixture of the characters is a bit different. There are a lot of supporting cast members and the addition of a Princess that doesn’t need rescuing is a bit of a strange concept in one of these kind of films, but a refreshing change of pace as well. However at the same time it’s a nice and tightly written film, even if it doesn’t have the same mass appeal as Disney’s past (and future) efforts. Having said that it’s a very simplistic structure and I’m sure I’m overanalyzing this now twenty-five year old piece of animation and no matter how many things I find about it to pick apart, the fact remains that it is still a very solid animated effort in its own right. It isn’t a Disney Classic in the same vein as some of Disney’s earlier works, but it’s still very much worth checking out if you’re a fan of the company in general. It won’t astound you with originality or bowl you over in the animation department, but it’s a nice little film that effortlessly entertains the viewer. It’s also an interesting rarity in how dark it is—dark enough to garner the aforementioned PG rating.
I find it odd I don’t have much to talk about for this film; usually I’m able to drag out specific points from the film in my Disney reviews, but there just isn’t much on this film to really pinpoint. It’s a very by-the-numbers film in every sense of the phrase, although it deviates from the usual Disney formula by not including any songs at all. It’s certainly an entertaining film, but it’s just not all that memorable, even after just watching it. Worth a Rental if you’re a Disney fan and have yet to see it for whatever reason, but it’s definitely not something you’ll want to add to your collection unless you’re already a fan of it.
For those of you who are fans of The Black Cauldron, you’re about to be sorely disappointed by this DVD release. Despite the Disney Gold Classic Collection edition from 2000 being long since out of print, this release seems to be a direct clone of it. I don’t have the original to compare it to, but all of the extras are identical to the old release, sans a new “The Witches Challenge Game” and a lone “Deleted Scene.” Since I don’t have the original 2000 release I can’t compare the new transfer, but I can’t imagine the 10 year old DVD looking as good as this newly minted transfer anyway.
Audio and video are as good as you’d expect from a modern Disney release. It’s a very nice transfer, but there is a lot of color flickering in the backgrounds during a few of the sequences. Other than that the 2.35:1 video transfer is about as clean and clear as can be and the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix is rather subdued, focusing the dialogue on main tracks and using the surrounds only for the occasional sound effect here and there. Nothing amazing and not much to write home about…similar to the film. Despite the subdued color pallet due to the darker nature of the film, quite a few of the sequences are still impressive to look at, although you’ll still see richer colors on the packaging than you will in the film.
Moving onto the extras we have:
• Deleted Scene—The Fairfolk: Viewers join Taran, Fflewddur Fflam, Gurgi and Princess Eilonwy as they travel into the depths of the earth and meet the Fairfolk.
• The Witches’ Challenge Game—In order to defeat the dark powers of the Horned King, players must gain possession the magical sword from the Witches of Morva by solving their riddles.
• Still Frame Gallery—A compilation of behind-the-scenes artwork and photos.
• Quest For the Black Cauldron—A trivia game in which players compete against the evil Horned
King in a race to reach the Black Cauldron first.
• Trick Or Treat—Classic Donald Duck cartoon from 1952.
That does it for this release; if you own the Gold Classic Collection release already, then you may want to pull it out and take another look at the video transfer. Again, I can’t compare the two so I don’t even know if the original is anamorphic or not (this one is obviously), but if you aren’t happy with the Gold Classic Collection release then this is Recommended to upgrade to as it’s certainly a nice looking transfer overall. Sadly the extras aren’t stacked here, but they’re enough for a small time and little talked about film such as this.
The Black Cauldron is now available on DVD.