Disney’s “The Black Cauldron” (1985)

Image: Disney, Wikipedia.com

PLOT –

When a young boy’s clairvoyant pig is captured by the evil Horned King, it’s up to him, a princess, a minstrel, and a dog-man to save the world before the King gets his hands on the mythical Black Cauldron that can raise an army of the undead.

The plot points of this film are incredibly boring. The characters have no sense of direction as far as plot, and this feels like a series of unconnected quests rather than a coherent, cohesive narrative. Big moments take way too long to come to fruition, and ultimately, the plot is utterly pointless by the end of the movie. The film is just stalling until the inevitable climax, and maybe would have been better if the first half was pushed into the second half to lead directly into the climax. The weirdest part about this film is that I feel like it can’t be cut without the story completely making no sense, instead of partially.

The ‘best’ scenes in the film, if any, are those involving the Horned King or his minions, or scenes set in the Horned King’s castle.

My PLOT RATING is 1 / 5.

CHARACTERS  –

Taran (Grant Bardsley) is possibly the worst Disney Protagonist. He’s annoying, boring, (such that a character calls him out on it) and unhelpful (barring the magic sword). He complains throughout the film and gets nothing done, and isn’t worthy of being a hero.

Eilonwy (Susan Sheridan) is actually an okay character. She’s a princess (most likely in name only) but she has a lot of agency and smarts. She is a pretty good counter to Taran: resourceful, smart, brave, and a go-getter. I’d honestly rather have the story follow her.

Fflewddur Fflam (Nigel Hawthorne) is a minstrel, and pretty funny. He’s a comedic relief character (out of a few) and he does a good job here. His main joke is that his harp breaks when he lies (this happens a lot and I just realized this on the rewatch), and he’s the glue holding the group together, keeping the pair of princess and pig keeper civil. He also is somewhat crafty in negotiations and deals, as well, as seen at the end of the film.

Gurgi (John Byner)… Just… Gurgi… He’s a little dog-man and a thief. He has barely any redeeming qualities – he looks sort of cute, I guess – but beyond that, barely anything. His big character moment at the end of the film is completely undeserved, and it really clashes with the rest of the film’s scenes with him.His voice is really weird, like Gollum from The Lord of the Rings and Disney’s Donald Duck. I used to like him as a child, but that’s probably because he was the only spot of energy (he’s supposed to be comic relief, you know) in this dark film.

The Horned King (John Hurt) is a really cool villain in concept, but fails in execution. He does nothing except beat on Creeper throughout the film, and is ineffective. His presence is actually pretty scary and haunting, and his threat is palpable, but for only a few minutes. His design is pretty standard for a mythical villain, a skeleton in a robe with horns, but his presence and voice is just something else.

Creeper (Phil Fondacaro) is The Horned King’s minion. He’s comedic relief for the Horned King, and while I feel like it dampens the King’s evil, I actually like him as a character. There are scenes where he’s ruthless to the minions of the King, yet he is also the King’s sycophant servant, grinding the wall between the head honcho and henchman. He is way more active than the Horned King, the Darth Vader to the King’s Emperor Palpatine, if you will, and his movements and expressions are a standout here.

The rest of the characters are minor to the point of essentially not even being present. I’m including the witches (Eda Reiss Merin, Adele Malis-Morey, Billie Hayes) in this (even though they were in two scenes) because they aren’t even memorable enough to mention in the main cast. The fairies don’t serve any purpose, Hen-Wen (Clarence Nash) seems to be important, but disappears quickly in the film, and Dallben (Freddie Jones) has only two small scenes in the film. The best supporting characters are the Dragons and the Cauldron Born, as they’re featured in memorable scenes with cool effects.

My CHARACTERS RATING is 2 / 5.

DIALOGUE –

When the dialogue isn’t clunky and awkward, it’s filled with stock fantasy movie lines. The banter between characters gets annoying, and this film has way too much talking for an fantasy film. Filled with exposition and pointless dialogue that goes nowhere.

My DIALOGUE RATING is 1 / 5.

EFFECTS –

The backgrounds in this movie are gorgeous. Grim, dark, and gritty backgrounds with a lot of shadows and texture, and on the opposite end, cool lighting effects for the fairies. The Cauldron Born scene also has my favorite effect in the film: a Several scenes take advantage of CG technology, such as the dragon chase, and a few backgrounds here and there. The end credits (first Disney film to use the classic Disney blue background white castle logo, and to have a full closing credits) are beautifully drawn to look like they popped out of a fantasy book. However, the character animations are pretty rough, and there are several animation and continuity errors.

My EFFECTS RATING is 3 / 5.

MUSIC –

The first Disney feature to not have lyrical songs. The score is pretty good, the action themes and the Horned King’s Theme being standouts, and along with the standard orchestra, a theramin is implemented. Nice touch.

My MUSIC RATING is 3 / 5.

OVERALL –

The Black Cauldron is the most iconic Disney film for being a box office flop.

Care Bears beat it at the box office. Care Bears.

This film isn’t utterly horrible by any stretch, but what it is, is worse than that: it’s boring. Nothing is jazzed up or changed from the Disney norm, it’s just a very boilerplate film. It’s plain wasted potential. The characters do nothing, the plot basically ends where the film started, the character animation is full of faults, and the dialogue is simple and full of stock lines. The only good things about the film is the music and the backgrounds, and even those aren’t the best I’ve seen from Disney. Worst of all, though…

While The Black Cauldron is an adaptation, many story elements and themes are unoriginal, even for Disney. Case in point, this film can be summed up as thus:

It’s like a Don Bluth Star Wars film set in the Middle Ages,

and that unoriginality is the worst part of all.

Image: Disney, Disney.fandom.com

My OVERALL RATING for The Black Cauldron is 40%.

Next time…

Another

Top Ten,

next stop,

Big Ben!

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