July 24th, 1985. Walt Disney Studios released its 25th animated feature film in cinemas. But this Disney movie is completely different to anything Disney had ever done before, or even till this day almost 32 years later. That movie was The Black Cauldron.
However, The Black Cauldron was poorly received by audiences, leading it to become a box office failure, and later commonly referred to as “the movie that Disney tried to bury”. But out of the four most unpopular Disney movies in the Animated Classics canon (the other three being Home On The Range, Chicken Little and The Wild), The Black Cauldron is the only one to hold a strong cult following. I must say, on a more personal note, it’s always been one of my favourites that I used to watch as a child and continued to love into adulthood. So, without further ado, here’s why I feel The Black Cauldron is the best under-rated Disney movie… (Oh, and if you haven’t watched it… SPOILERS AHEAD! You’ve been warned.)
THE BLACK CAULDRON IS UNIQUE TO THE DISNEY ANIMATED CLASSICS CANON
There is so much about this movie that sets it so contrastingly apart from every other Disney animated classic. The most noticeable is the lack of songs. There are none throughout the entire film. This may seem like a downer, but the ever-present orchestrated score more than makes up for the absence of characters breaking into song and dance at random. Its no accident either; inspired by the success of other epic fantasy adventures such as Lord Of The Rings, The Black Cauldron was made with the intention to be aimed at maturer audiences than the cutesy, cuddly Disney movies before it. It was meant to be Snow White for a new generation. It’s also one of very few to feature an almost entirely British main voice cast, which suits perfectly as the story is inspired by Welsh mythology. Oh, and let’s not forget about Gurgi, arguably one of the most unique adorable Disney sidekicks ever created. Taran also had the cute pig pet a whole 31 years before Moana did. But what makes The Black Cauldron the most unique of all is it’s story, which is much, much darker than any Disney movie before… (And leads me onto my next point!)
THE BLACK CAULDRON IS VERY, VERY DARK
… And that’s no word of an exaggeration. The story is that of an evil king, who was boiled alive in a cauldron as punishment for his wickedness. The cauldron always processed his demonic spirit ever afterwards. The cauldron gives its owner the power to either rule the world… Or destroy it. The Horned King plans to find the cauldron so he can create an evil army of undead soldiers that he aptly dubs the “Cauldron-Born”… And that is just the prologue! What follows is blood, death, and even a suicide (yes, a cute, cuddly character really does sacrifice himself for the greater good… But is later revived, so don’t cry too much!). The movie frightened the life out of young children and their parents alike in test audiences, so much that it was ordered by executives that certain scenes would be cut from the overall film. The cut scenes involved Taran killing The Horned King’s henchmen on-screen with his sword, and the Cauldron-Born also murdering the henchmen, except in an even more gruesome way, since their skin rapidly decomposed off their bodies till all that was left was a skeleton that rose again to join the leagues of the undead army (Yes, Disney really DID make this movie. Just in case reading this paragraph made you doubt yourself). Of course, this type of movie isn’t for everyone, but as a big fan of Disney, fairytales, and the horror genre… I love it.
TARAN IS A FLAWED HERO WHO LEARNS A VITAL LESSON
Taran is the main protagonist of The Black Cauldron. He is a 14 year old orphaned pig-keeper’s assistant who lives on the farm of Caer Dallben. Taran dreams of more out of life, namely joining the army and fighting grand battles, so he can become a celebrated war hero. Later on in his quest to recover oracular pig Hen-Wen from The Horned King’s clutches, Taran finds an enchanted sword that is the answer to his prayers. However, Taran is put in a position by the witches; he must exchange his sword in order to find the cauldron. He must give away his ambition to do what is right. Taran doesn’t want to give away his one hope at becoming something more than what he is, but what makes Taran a true hero is that he ultimately chooses the greater good over his earlier selfishness. He demonstrates this once again when he attempts to sacrifice himself to the cauldron (but is beaten to the heroic feat by Gurgi). Taran, in my opinion, is the sort of role model that should be shown in media; he has a lesson to learn, and ultimately comes through. He isn’t the already made hero package. He is most certainly flawed. But that’s exactly the type of protagonist I want to watch.
THERE IS A DISNEY PRINCESS… AND SHE’S THE ORIGINAL INDEPENDENT HEROINE
Before the likes of Mulan, Jasmine, Belle, EVEN Ariel… There was Princess Eilonwy. Eilonwy is an orphaned princess who was imprisoned by The Horned King in exchange for information on the cauldron’s whereabouts. But instead of being passive and sitting alone in her cell for the rest of her days till a prince rescued her… EILONWY ESCAPES AND RESCUES TARAN. She is talkative, quick-thinking and resourceful. Oh, and she’s totally a feminist. “Girl?! If it wasn’t for this girl, you would still be in The Horned King’s dungeon!” she exclaimed to Taran when he questioned her sword-fighting capabilities. Eilonwy may only be 12 in her movie, but she is the perfect balance of kind, good-natured princess and tough, independent 21st century woman who is prepared to fight for her life and of those of her friends. Eilonwy was originally planned to be a part of the official Disney Princess franchise, but was subsequently scrapped due to The Black Cauldron being a box office disappointment. A great shame in my opinion, as she most certainly helped pave the way for the princesses that followed.
THE HORNED KING IS THE MOST TERRIFYING DISNEY VILLAIN EVER
The Horned King is, essentially, the stuff of nightmares. He is almost skeletal in appearance, but still very much alive, despite his rotted flesh. His horns are based on those of Chernabog and Maleficent, who interestingly are both caricatures of evil… But The Horned King is evil incarnate. His sole purpose is to raise his undead Cauldron-Born army and become a God, eventually destroying all mortal beings. He doesn’t make any jokes, and his mysterious presence is the height of tension. His voice (performed by cinema legend John Hurt) is forever haunting. The Horned King, is, arguably, the most famous product of The Black Cauldron; he is an official part of the Disney Villains franchise, and he is the sole character that appears in the majority of The Black Cauldron merchandise, as limited as it is. He was also featured as both a changing portrait and a large threatening animatronic as part of the Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour attraction in Tokyo Disneyland. The attraction was (yep, you guessed it) later closed, most likely due to it’s frightening nature. If you still have doubts about this movie, watch it for the sheer brilliance of a The Horned King alone. I especially love his graphic death scene. Could you imagine having your flesh sucked from your bones? No? Ask The Horned King, he experienced it first-hand.
IT HAS INSPIRED WHOLE FRANCHISES… AND IS GETTING A LIVE ACTION REMAKE?!
Yup, you read that right. The Black Cauldron has been rumoured to have inspired the whole basis of Nintendo’s The Legend Of Zelda game franchise, as well as many other epic fantasy adventures. This was one of very few Disney movies Tim Burton actually worked on as a concept artist. Can you guess what he imagined up during his downtime on the production? That’s right – The Nightmare Before Christmas started life in Tim’s head during the making of The Black Cauldron. In 2016, Walt Disney Pictures re-aqquired the rights to The Chronicles Of Prydain novels by Lloyd Alexander (the very books The Black Cauldron is based on). So, what does this mean we can expect? A live action remake of The Black Cauldron? Or perhaps, an epic saga of movies, meaning the dawn of a new Disney franchise, following in the same vain of Pirates Of The Caribbean? All I can say is I’m so damn happy. I’ll admit that unfortunately, The Black Cauldron animation does have its flaws (namely pacing issues following the cuts), so a remake/reboot, if executed properly, would be the perfect remedy, and give The Black Cauldron the glory it deserved the first time around, but just didn’t have the right audience for.
This post has been written in collaboration with the wonderful Amy over at Scariel’s Grotto. Amy is currently writing some brilliant posts about a different Disney Animated Classic each week (with this week featuring The Black Cauldron), so please make sure you stop by her blog and check out her amazing content… You may even learn a thing or two you never knew before!