“Legend has it, in the mystic land of Prydain, there was once a king so cruel and so evil that even the gods feared him. Since no prison could hold him, he was thrown alive into a crucible of molten iron. There, his demonic spirit was captured in the form of a great Black Cauldron.”
The Black Cauldron was released in 1985, but not to the usual fanfare that usually accompanies a Walt Disney animated feature, and with good reason. It was an attempt to change styles and combine various forms of animation. The end result is a film that simply doesn’t live up to the brand. The movie lasted only 4 weeks in the box office and pulled in only around $21 million. Today, this is the kind of film that might be a direct-to-video release. While it offers many of the common Disney fairy tale elements, there is nothing magical or dynamic about the animated feature. It’s been relatively forgotten over the years. Until now.
“For uncounted centuries, the Black Cauldron lay hidden. Waiting while evil men searched for it. Knowing whoever possessed it would have the power to resurrect an army of deathless warriors. And with them, rule the world.”
Taran (Bardsley) is a young pig keeper who dreams of adventure and glory. His guardian, Dallben (Jones) explains that the pig he is raising is no ordinary pig. He demonstrates the pig’s power to show the future in a pool of water. But the demonstration is tainted by the vision of the Horned King (Hurt) searching for the mythical and powerful Black Cauldron. With that news, he sends Taran away. He instructs him to take the pig and go into hiding until he is called for. But Taran is attacked and a dragon steals the pig away, taking him right into the clutches of the Horned King. If the pig shows him the location of the Cauldron, all will be lost. Taran meets the Gollum-like creature Gurgi (Byner), who is frightened by Taran’s quest to rescue the pig and protect the Cauldron. Taran manages to free the pig, but is captured himself for his trouble.
Deep in the bowels of the castle dungeon, he meets another prisoner, the Princess Eilonwy (Sheridan). The two explore the underbelly of the castle, where Taran discovers a magic sword. They also find another prisoner, the minstrel Efludder (Hawthorne) who has a harp that breaks a string each time he tells a fib. They also find a way out of the dungeon. Next they find the Fairfolk, who have been caring for the pig. They also know the way to the Cauldron, and with a little pixie dust they are transported to Malva. There three witches guard the Cauldron. They trick Taran out of his sword, only to find they cannot stop the power of the Cauldron unless one of them is willing to climb inside … and die. It is only through an act of supreme bravery and courage that the Horned King can be stopped once he gets his hands on the Black Cauldron.
The Black Cauldron is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. There are certainly strong colors at times in the feature, but they never really pop or stand out. The film actually looks much older than it really is. The picture is quite soft and resembles something you might see on television. Black levels are weak, and there is noticeable compression artifact. There’s no evidence of restoration and methinks this 25th Anniversary print is likely identical to the previous release.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 is not really anything to write home about. The most annoying aspect of the audio presentation is its tendency to drop in and out. The volume levels are uneven, and there is nothing about this soundtrack that is anything even approaching Disney’s usual flair for dramatic music cues and sweeping ambient sounds.
Deleted Scene – The Fairfolk: (9:50) This extensive scene is presented in a variety of formats. Some of it is finished, but it’s mostly storyboards or something in between.
Bonus Short – Trick Or Treat: (8:15) This classic Donald Duck short has Donald trying to keep the Halloween treats away from his nephews. A friendly witch decides to help the boys get the better of Uncle Donald.
There are also two very awkward games.
It’s actually quite painful for me to be so critical of a Disney animated feature film. The studio has had far more homeruns than strike-outs. This one is based on a book by Lloyd Alexander. He wrote a series of books called The Chronicles Of Prydain. Fortunately he abandoned this experimental style and was soon back to creating some of the most amazing animated films in history. “And a good thing, too.”