SPOILER WARNING: This article contains (minor) spoilers for "The Black Cauldron."
In the spirit of Halloween and looking for some unconventional spooky-ish movies to enjoy, I decided to sit down and watch "The Black Cauldron" for the first time (thanks, Disney+). Now, I wasn't expecting anything great. "The Black Cauldron" had a rough production to say the least and is actually known as the movie that almost killed Disney animation.
But I thought, 'It can't be that bad, can it?' It's a darker-than-your-average-Disney fantasy adventure loosely based on Lloyd Alexander's "The Chronicles of Prydain" series, which I unfortunately haven't yet had the chance to read myself but have heard is excellent. So how bad could it be?
Well, I'll say this much: it should have gotten a better reception than it did. At the very least, it definitely did not deserve to lose to "The Care Bears Movie" at the box office. But that being said, I can understand why this film was not by any means a success.
The worst thing about "The Black Cauldron" is that it's mediocre. Not awesome or awful enough to be particularly memorable, and given what it could have been based on the source material and certain scenes from the movie, that's really a shame.
The film is about a young boy named Taran, who as an assistant pig-keeper is entrusted with looking after a fortune-telling pig named Hen Wen. Hen Wen knows the location of the titular cauldron, which is sought after by the Horned King who wants to use it to bring to life an army of the undead. After Hen Wen is stolen, Taran teams up with spunky Princess Eilonwy, a mischievous furball Gurgi, and an old minstrel named Fflewddur Fflam to protect Prydain from the Horned King's plans.
Sounds cool, right? I mean, it's quirky, fun, and has room for Disney to experiment with more adult content in terms of frightening visuals. But instead, it just comes across as a weak attempt at a "Lord of the Rings" impersonation, complete with furry Gollum (sorry, Gurgi) and skeleton soldiers surrounded by green mist.
Taran isn't all that likable as a protagonist (he loses track of Hen Wen because he spends too much time daydreaming), and we're never actually told why the Horned King needs armored zombies since he seems to already have the land under his thumb. And while Princess Eilonwy is definitely a improvement as far as female Disney sidekicks go, she still continues a few grand old Disney traditions of that time: having the voice of, like, an eight-year-old and making it a point to tell Taran how frightened she is whenever they're in danger. (Because, you know, helpless females. Even if the "hero" they're turning to happens to also be a dumb little kid.)
But, as I said, "The Black Cauldron" should have been treated a little better at the box office. It's still an OK story to follow along with, including noticeable character development even if it feels somewhat forced.
The film's main redeeming element is the visuals, though. The Horned King and many of the sequences involving him are straight-up nightmare fuel. (Like, kids were actually crying during the early test screenings. I wish Disney would have just made this a teen movie, because unfortunately, a lot of the scary stuff ended up getting cut out to keep it more family-friendly. I think it would have been fantastic otherwise.)
"The Black Cauldron" is worth watching, just to see what might have been. But it is kind of sad to think about the missed opportunity. It deserved a better reception but also a much better production. It's not horrible. But it could have been great.