Have you seen the 1985 Disney film The Black Cauldron? If not, that’s not too surprising. It hadn’t readily been available until Disney+ added it to their streaming catalog and before that, you probably had to find it on VHS at a garage sale somewhere. As a fan of high fantasy, I was excited to watch it. And from the opening prologue, I literally said aloud, “Ok, let’s do this.”
But it was weird, man.
A young “assistant pig-keeper” by the name of Taran dreams of adventure and fame as a hero rather than his current existence as helper to Dallben the Enchanter. Dallben learns that the evil Horned King seeks the mythical Black Cauldron, said to entomb the soul of a demon and able to create an army of undead warriors (sounds dope, right?). Dallben uses his oracle pig (uhhhh?) Hen Wen to foresee this and orders Taran to flee with her safety. On the road, Taran is soon distracted by his own daydreaming and loses the pig to a pair of Gwythaints, the Horned King’s dragon-like creatures (wyverns to those who know the difference, *pushes up glasses*).
Taran gives chase and encounters a (very annoying) creature in the woods named Gurgi who wants to be his friend. When Gurgi refuses to go to the castle, Taran leaves him, calling him a coward. He finds the pig being held at the Horned King’s castle. He frees her and as they’re making their escape, Hen Wen makes it into the moat, but he is thrown into the dungeons. There he meets Princess Eilonwy. They escape further into the castle’s catacombs where they find the tomb of the king and his magical sword. They also find an older bard named (*sigh*) Fflewddur Fflam who seems to have a lute that breaks a string anytime he lies. Does this ever really come into play? Nope. SOMEHOW those three escape and the Horned King sends more Gwythaints to pursue them.
They find some fairies, then some witches who have the Black Cauldron (that was easy) and demand a bargain. Taran trades the sword for the Cauldron so they can destroy it, but the witches laugh as they reveal it is indestructible. Typical evil witches…
Battle ensues, it’s pretty scary, a sacrifice is made, but the bard’s quick thinking reverses the sacrifice and the day is won.
And everything is fine?
The main problem with this film is it is SLOOOOW. The pacing is terrible. Each scene goes on so much longer than they should with miscast voice actors speaking pages of dialogue that could have been edited down considerably. The story itself is strong, based on a book series set in the fantasy realm of Prydain. The problem is there were nine – NINE – writers on this film. Historically, this was pretty much the norm for Disney as it seemed the animators, directors, and producers all did everything. This is a prime example of too many cooks in the kitchen.
The heart of the story is clear, but EVERYTHING added to the skeleton is excessive. This hour-21 minute movie could have easily been 65 minutes with some simple script editing. As mentioned, the voice casting was also just wrong in my opinion. The voices didn’t match the characters. The older bard didn’t sound old enough, Taran sounded too old, and Gurgi… Oh man, Gurgi. I haven’t hated an animated character this much since Jar Jar Binks. For such a grating voice, he still spoke eloquently and in complete sentences. Creeper, the Horned King’s goblin minion, was similarly miscast. It felt like the actors created their character without having seen the renderings, like they were acting for entirely different creatures. It was jarring and really took me out of the movie.
I always wondered what was so “wrong” with this movie that Disney sort of acted like it never happened. Now I know. It’s not great, guys! Not great at all. But worth the watch if you like high fantasy. It will certainly give me ideas for Dungeons & Dragons!
Rating: 2 out of 5 Snack Packs
Lincoln L. Hayes is an actor and writer in NYC. His pilot script was recently selected as a monthly winner at the Tagore International Film Festival in India and he looks forward to the results of other festival submissions.