The Black Cauldron is the woefully misguided disaster that nearly bankrupted Walt Disney Feature Animation. So why is it “the film that almost killed Disney?” Well this is the most radically different movie the studio made at the time. It’s both the twenty-fifth film and the first to receive a PG rating. When they call this the Dark Age, they’re referring to The Black Cauldron in particular. This unsurprisingly came out in the 80’s, when just about everything had to have an edgy mature tone. With other animation studios becoming genuine competition, Disney wanted their chance to appeal to an older audience. Resulting in a complicated production that made it the most expensive animated movie at the time.
The Black Cauldron is surprisingly the only human focused Disney movie of its era. All of the other films, like The Fox and the Hound, had animal protagonists. The human protagonists, the newly employed photo transfer animation, the Dolby Stereo sound, and the first use of computer animated enhancements all increased the budget. Only to have it bomb and not released on video for over a decade. The Black Cauldron is a rare official animated Disney film that my brother and I didn’t see when we were kids. We saw it as teenagers and have zero personal attachment to it. Like most fantasy adventures, The Black Cauldron is based on a series of books. Namely the obscure The Chronicles of Prydain. It’s about as generic a high fantasy tale as it is a Disney fairy tale. Taran is a generic farm boy and assistant pig keeper with a whiny dream to be a warrior. He lives with a generic maybe wizard named Dallben. The pig in question Hen Wen has the strangely specific power to see visions when looking into water.
Taran and Hen Wen set out to destroy the titular Cauldron before the generically evil John Hurt voiced Horned King can find it and raise a dead army. The Horned King is notably the most serious Disney villain created at the time. A generic gargoyle creature is always by his side. While on their adventure, Taran encounters the most annoying Disney sidekick ever created. The mush mouthed dog man Gurgi. Taran also teams up with a generic bard companion and lost Disney Princess Eilonwy. She has some backbone, but she’s still generic. Taran and Eilonwy also have no chemistry and argue a lot. He finds a magic sword, they encounter generic fairies, generic witches, and find the Black Cauldron. Not even Gurgi’s sacrifice is enough to elicit an emotion out of me. The movie is dark for Disney, but it could have been much worse. 12 minutes that included melting flesh, was removed because it was too scary for children. And to top it all off, there are no original songs. A cult following was started years after its release, but unlike most forgotten Disney movies, The Black Cauldron just doesn’t feel like Disney.