20 Weeks of Disney Animation: ‘The Black Cauldron’

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The Black Cauldron: Disney’s 25th animated feature and almost the last.

The Black Cauldron is a fantasy film based on two books by author Lloyd Alexander. The film is much in the style of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit animated films of the 1970’s. It was unlike anything Disney had made before and, frankly, unlike anything Disney has made to this day.

Read: 20 Weeks of Disney Animation: ‘The Fox and the Hound’

This film is notorious for almost ruining Disney’s animation department. Not only did it go extremely over budget, but it in turn performed poorly at the box office and did not do well with critics. The movie itself was scary, much darker than anything Disney had done before. This earned it a PG rating, the first for a Disney animated feature up to this point. Had it not been for the Disney renaissance and such films as The Little Mermaid, there may not have been a Disney animation department any longer. To learn more about this, I highly suggest checking out Don Hahn’s documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty and reading Drew Taylor’s excellent piece which goes into a great amount of detail.

My personal relationship with The Black Cauldron is unique and one that peaked my interest in Disney history as a kid after I first encountered it at a friend’s house. I had grown up watching many Disney movies and was surprised when I came across this movie I had never seen. Why had I never even heard of this before? I was intrigued. We popped it in and I was taken away to this fantasy land with dragons, witches, and castles. I loved it and was especially captivated by the scariest Disney villain I had ever seen: The Horned King. Even at that age, I was aware of the lack of marketing Disney had for this film which was fascinating to me.

This movie is still one of my favorite Disney animated features. It is not perfect: it is hard to ignore the underdeveloped characters and often lazy dialogue. Still, I love the atmosphere they created. I love fantasy and this is no exception. The animation is excellent and there are some truly beautiful shots. The film score by Elmer Bernstein is like that of a classic horror film which works to the movie’s advantage. Anyone who has not seen this movie should check it out and even if you have, it is worth revisiting.

Live-action remake: Disney has obtained the rights to The Chronicles of Prydain books by Lloyd Alexander, in hopes of adapting it in live-action. I would love to see this either as a series of theatrical films in the style of The Lord of the Rings or as a TV show for Disney+.

The Black Cauldron in the theme parks: Upon the movie’s release, you could find Taran and Princess Eilonwy as costumed characters in the parks, though they have been long gone at this point. At one point at Walt Disney World, there was a restaurant called Gurgi’s Munchies and Crunchies for a short while, inspired by the lovable sidekick in the film. In Tokyo Disneyland, there was a ride called Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour that featured The Horned King as a major character, among several other villains. Unfortunately, that ride closed in 2006.

The Black Cauldron is available to stream on Disney+.

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