I’m a little put off by any movie that opens with a static image and narration explaining the conflict to me. Thankfully, it’s a short film — an hour fifteen before credits — and historically important. The Black Cauldron was the first widescreen animated Disney movie since Sleeping Beauty, and the first to use computer technology, although the main characters are classic cel. Also, it almost was rated a PG-13 due to its darker content, although it was recut to get to a PG, which was still a departure.
The Black Cauldron
25th Anniversary Special EditionBuy this DVD
At times, I found its depth, colors, and backgrounds simply beautiful. It features what I think of as traditional animation, with comfortable-looking characters and animals. There’s nobody I’ve ever heard of in the cast, which was also refreshing, not to be distracted wondering “who’s that now?” Wait, I take that back — 70s favorite John Byner is Gurgi, who’s a bit more animal than I expected. I thought he’d be a hairy trollish person, but he looks like an anthropomorphized dog.
Based on the books by Lloyd Alexander, in this story, Taran, assistant pigkeeper, dreams of fighting in the war against the Horned King. He’s charged with protecting an oracular pig, who knows the location of the Black Cauldron, which the evil King wants to create demon soldiers. Because it’s based on a longer series, it tends to the episodic, without a strong, consistent plot.
I missed songs; this is the first Disney cartoon I’ve watched in a long time that wasn’t a musical. And it took a while, over half an hour, for the other characters — Princess Eilonwy, especially, but also the bard — to join up into one group. My favorite cast member was actually the non-speaking pig; she’s got neat attitude. The other characters are a bit too generic in design and temperment: the guy, the girl, the wacky artistic older guy, the scary robed bad guy. KC called it — he said some of the earlier bits looked like the work of Mike Ploog, and lo and behold, he’s credited as one of five character designers.
At times, we noticed visual artifacts that we expected would have been cleaned up, plus cut lines around the characters when they were positioned in front of complicated computer-generated or photographic backgrounds. It appears that the animators hadn’t quite worked out how to integrate the two different styles of art well at that time. But the glowing sword Taran uses is astounding, with lighting effects even cooler than a light saber.
I didn’t expect much from the movie, after hearing some of my readers’ reactions, and it didn’t entirely hold my interest, but it has very impressive fantasy sequences, such as an attacking dragon. This film may have been before its time. I can see today’s kids really enjoying it, especially for Halloween, as Disney suggests. The concern at the time of its release (1985) was that it was too dark and scary, what with the animated skeletons and all, but today, Pirates of the Caribbean is worse. Now this seems like the right amount of fear and menace and wonder.
A deleted scene where the gang falls into a whirlpool before meeting the Fairfolk, new in this edition, is told via storyboards and uncolored pencil tests. It didn’t mean much to me, but I found the colors easily the best part of this film, so black-and-white was less interesting. It’s quite lengthy, almost 10 minutes.
There’s also a trivia game. Brought over from the previous edition (thank you, Disney, for making it easy for those who want to trade up) are another game, an art gallery, and “Trick or Treat”, a 1952 Donald Duck cartoon featuring a witch (voiced by June Foray) and other Halloween-y stuff. His nephews come to Unca’ Donald’s house for the holiday, dressed up adorably as a ghost (the cutest, with a sheet over his round head!), a devil, and I think a hobo. And this eight-minute cartoon had wacky songs I found quaintly charming.
In contradiction to earlier mentions, I couldn’t find the original movie trailer on the disc. Shame. I’d be curious to see how it was introduced back then. Strangely, this DVD opens with a trailer promoting how cool Blu-ray is, plus it ships with an upgrade flyer, even though this movie isn’t available in that format. (The publisher provided a review copy of this DVD.)