The Black Cauldron (1985)

black cauldron poster 1985 movie disney
6.5 Overall Score
Story: 6/10
Acting: 6/10
Visuals: 7/10

Interesting attempt at a dark Disney film

Choppy story and underdeveloped characters

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Black Cauldron

Studio:  Walt Disney Pictures

Genre(s):  Animated/Action/Adventure/Family

Release Date(s):  July 24, 1985

MPAA Rating:  PG

black cauldron 1985 taran magic sword

Screw it…it is easier to find the Black Cauldron than another bad-ass magic sword…I’m keeping the sword

Taran is just an assistant pig keeper charged with helping Dallben watching over the oracle pig Hen Wen.  Hen Wen is kidnapped by the Horned King who hopes to use Hen Wen to find the powerful Black Cauldron to raise an army, and Taran sets out on his first adventure to free Hen Wen.  With the help of a girl named Princess Eilonwyn, an aged musician named Fflewddur, and a creature called Gurgi, Taran might become the unlikely hero needed to stop the threat of the Horned King and the Black Cauldron forever.

Directed by Ted Berman and Richard Rich, The Black Cauldron is a Walt Disney animated action-fantasy.  The film is the twenty-fifth film in the Walt Disney Animated Classic series and follows following The Fox and the Hound in 1981.  It is an adaptation of the first two books of Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of PrydainThe Book of Three (1964) and The Black Cauldron (1965).  It was the first Disney animated film to be rated PG and was met with mixed to negative criticism leading it to be considered a box office failure.

black cauldron taran horned king

Not terrifying whatsoever

The Black Cauldron came out at peak childhood for me and fell in that sweet spot where I still liked animated movies, but I also wanted things like He-Man and fantasy.  It felt like a perfect mix…but I never did see it despite wanting to…I still have fond memories of The Black Cauldron, but I also can recognize that it isn’t the best film structurally.

The big problem is that the stories in this film are part of a bigger story…yes, they stand alone, but no, they don’t stand alone well.  It is the story arc of a hero and you only get the first couple steps of his adventure.  Like The Sword in the Stone, it feels like there should have at least been a second film to round out what happened to Taren and his friends…instead they just walk off after the end of the film and you never get much closure.

black cauldron taran eilonwyn fflewddur gurgi

What do you do the day after you finish your quest?

This adds that the film was on Disney’s “To Do” list for years and went through heavy editing once it was produced because it threatened to be rated PG-13 or even R.  The movie was considered too graphic and dark and rumors that a harsh rating would land here had Disney scared (I’m thinking Disney really was not in the market for a Fritz the Cat or Heavy Metal type movie starring cute little critters).  As a result, the movie was cut down to get the PG rating, but I don’t know that the edits could have changed the general feel of the movie which just feels so choppy and anticlimactic.

The characters (despite their story arc problems) feel well rounded and developed…but don’t really feel whole (with the possible exception of Gurgi and Taran…and you might want to kill Gurgi).  Many of the supporting characters feel like they are going to be major players then disappear like the witches and the fairies.  They show-up, take a lot of time, and then disappear with no real fanfare…even Hen Wen just leaves after the fairies.

black cauldron horned king power

Unleash the power!

The art of the movie is also hit or miss.  The Black Cauldron is much, much darker than any previous Disney not just in subject, but also the physical look of the movie.  The closet Disney has ever come to it is probably “A Night on Bald Mountain” from Fantasia (which is actually scarier than this).  I like some of the scarier designs but often the more cartoon looking characters don’t mesh well with them.

The books of The Chronicles of Prydain are rather interesting, and don’t let this movie turn off checking them out.  I still would be interested in seeing a live action Prydain Chronicles (there has been a lot of talk, especially with the success of Game of Thrones and other fantasies in the world of streaming).  If you are Disney “completist” check out this movie, but it doesn’t feel like many other Disney films.  The Black Cauldron was followed by The Great Mouse Detective in 1986.


Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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