The Black Cauldron (1985)

Directed by: Ted Berman/Richard Rich

Written by: Ted Berman/Vance Gerry/Joe Hale/David Jonas/Roy Morita/Richard Rich/Art Stevens/Al Wilson/Peter Young

Based on novels by: Lloyd Alexander

Man. This is a weird one. It’s dark. It’s a bit twisted. It’s the first PG-rated animated feature that Disney made. It’s also the first animated feature that they released with CGI. (The Great Mouse Detective was the first made, but this one got released first.)

And it very nearly destroyed the studio.

The movie is very loosely based on the first two books of Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles Of Prydain. So loosely, in fact, that Alexander almost didn’t see any similarities. (He enjoyed the film, though, and hoped that it would make people want to check out the books. I’m not so sure that worked.)

Taran, the assistant pig-keeper (Grant Bardsley) is young and impetuous. He wants to be a warrior, even though he doesn’t seem to truly know what that means. The pig that he’s the assistant keeper of is Henwen. She can see the future. (Don’t ask.) And The Horned King (John Hurt) wants her so he can find the Black Cauldron and make an army of the dead.

So, this is sort of the kid’s version of Army Of Darkness.

The Horned King gets Henwen, throws Taran in prison, and finds out where the Cauldron is. Taran meets Princess Eilonwy (Susan Sheridan), Fflewddur Fflam (Nigel Hawthorne) and, of course, Gurgi (John Byner), a little forest creature who just wants “crunchings and munchings.”

There’s a lot happening, here…but also not a whole lot. I mean, Taran meets a lot of people (a lot more than mentioned above), but they’re basically just vehicles to get him to the Horned King and the Cauldron. As much as I kinda like the movie, it’s really not very good.


It’s gorgeous to look at. The animation is frightening and amazing. The Horned King is one of the scarier villains of latter day Disney. And his plan of resurrecting the dead to fight for him is the stuff of horror movies. (Which is why I like it, probably.) The animation of the Cauldron Born, which combines traditional animation, CGI, and live-action smoke, is worth the price of admission.

The other thing that doesn’t get mentioned too often is the score. Elmer Bernstein had just gotten off of Trading Place (Oscar nominated!) and Ghostbusters. You can definitely hear a lot of Ghostbusters in this one. It’s a great score that deserves some attention. Especially since it’s so chopped up in the film.

Why is it chopped up?

Well, because after a test screening where children were FLEEING from the theatre with tears of horror in their eyes before the movie was over, Jeffery Katzenberg and Michael Eisner decided to cut 12 minutes out of the film, mostly from the Cauldron Born scene. There are jumps in the film and score from those cuts because…well…someone just didn’t care.

Because of the rating, the quality, and the general “OMYGODWHATISTHIS?!” of the movie, it barely made half of it’s budget back. At over $40 million, it was the most expensive animated film made at the time. After grossing only a little over $20 million, it nearly bankrupted the studio…again.

Luckily, they weren’t too far off from a high watermark. Four more years and they would never be below sea level ever again.

I could do this all day.