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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

Week # 33: "The Black Cauldron"

(Originally published on 8/17/22)


The Black Cauldron

Run time: 80 min.

Release Date: July 24, 1985.

Where/when I first saw it: Possibly on video as background noise

How I watched it today: Blu-ray, Sunday morning

With the last of the old guard (ie, the “nine old men’) now retired, the Disney animation division had to start anew once again. The entire studio seemed to be having an identity crisis at this time. With Touchstone Pictures now acting as a sister studio for more adult fare (“Splash”), the animation studio seemed to be just barely hanging on. “The Black Cauldron” would do its best to merge the tradition of animation while trying to appeal to older kids as well as the younger set. It didn’t really work. The cute characters (Ffewddur Fflam and Hen Wen) still took too much of the center stage while the sinister Horned King was too derivative of other villains in this genre.

The timing didn’t help either. Had “The Black Cauldron” been released back in 1981-82, it might have had a more general acceptance with the younger crowd eager to take in more tales of swords and sorcery, but by 1985, the Quest Genre had been played out and 2-D animation was not much of a lure, even if it did land the studio its first PG rating for violence and one gag involving a frog getting caught in a woman’s breasts. It seemed almost scandalous at the time that an animated film from the House of Mouse could go so far as to earn a PG rating for a new animated film, but maybe the animators saw “Heavy Metal” and the “Star Wars” trilogy and felt it was time to try for something new, instead of more tales about dopey imaginary dragons and cute forest animals.

The problem with “The Black Cauldron,” though, is that it’s just too stale. The hero and heroine have no real dynamic worth investing in and the animation–at its best when magical elements are introduced–feels equally uninspired. The action scenes have very little heft to them and the world created here feels like cliff notes “Dragonslayer.” There’s nothing to hate here, necessarily. Maybe younger viewers not already accustomed to the tropes of the Quest genre will have some interest in it. It’s certainly better than “The Sword In the Stone,” but that’s a low bar in itself. “The Black Cauldron” is an interesting failure at a time when the studio had one of its most interesting years for its live action division (“The Journey of Natty Gann,” “Return To Oz” and “One Magic Christmas,” all worth owning).


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