Movie Review: The Black Cauldron

Posted: February 26, 2013 in Movie Review, Reviews
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The Black Cauldron (1985/ Disney/ Dir. Ted Berman & Richard Rich)

The Black Cauldron made basically no splash when it came out, much to Disney’s dismay. Also, to the dismay of people like me, who sort of wish Disney had kept up with what it was doing. If you remember, the early 80s were a period of interesting experimentation for Disney. Granted, most those experiments were box office flops, but they were at least interesting and some of them were even good. This is an example of one of those experiments that was actually sort of good. Not great, I didn’t say great, but it is good and it contains things you rarely saw at the time.

Gurgi is love.

The basic story is so basic that it makes you feel sort of stupid for getting involved. An assistant pig keeper (not even a full time guy, just the second banana) gets the full Joe Campbell experience here. It’s practically Star Wars, but without a Kenobi figure or a Han Solo. That’s not bad, but you do sort of feel that you’ve been here before, even if this is the first fantasy movie you’ve ever seen.

Did I forget to mention that the pig is magic? Well, it is.

That’s sort of appropriate though, since it feels like there are things lifted from other productions all over the place. The animation has a sort of Don Bluth feel, except he had long since departed from Disney by this time. You do feel like the rats and the people are very Secret of Nhim-ish though. The dragons feel like they’re a knock-off version of Maleficent. There are monsters highly reminiscent of the critters in Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards. And of course, the story if Joe Campbell formula #102. Does any of this make it a bad movie though?

Odd? Is the princess supposed to save the farm boy?

No, it makes for a good movie. The main character of Taran goes through a complex development, as does the secondary character of Gurgi, whom I deeply love. Gurgi could have been another annoying side character, a Jar-Jar Binks before there was a Jar-Jar. However, Gurgi is way more interesting and goes through an actual character arc before the end. The Princess Eilonwy is less complex, sort of being along for the ride like Fflewddur Fflam, but they’re not characters without merit in the film. Even The Horned King is a threatening and serious villain, something lacking in many a Disney film. Why he’s not considered one of the better Disney baddies is beyond me, must be because no one saw this movie. Change that, go get a copy and watch this thing.

This is the weapon of the Jedi Knight.

Another reason I love this thing? No songs. It’s not a musical at all, it’s a straight up fantasy movie and for that reason it holds up a lot better than The Great Mouse Detective, which we also just watched. Both of these were made just before the Disney Renaissance, and it sort of shows. They feel like the last breath of an old company, while Little Mermaid feels like a new group that has exploded onto the market with something to prove. Even the styles of animation between the two eras are different. I don’t begrudge the Disney company their Renaissance, because they tried to do interesting things after it, but they’ve never gone so deep into novelic fantasy again and that’s kind of sad. If they did The Black Cauldron now, I think the audience would be much more apt to go with them on the ride, but it would also be a more polished movie… and might have songs. Maybe it’s best that we leave that chapter closed then. There is a 25th anniversary edition of the movie on DVD, and you can watch it for $2 on Amazon, but there doesn’t seem to be a Blu Ray yet, which is disappointing.

Let’s see Vader do something like this! HORNED KING IN THE HIZZOUSE!

Official Score:
67 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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