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Ted Berman, Richard Rich
Grant Bardsley, Susan Sheridan, Freddie Jones, Nigel Hawthorne, Arthur Malet, John Byner
Writing Credits:
Lloyd Alexander (novel series, "The Chronicles of Prydain"), David Jonas, Vance Gerry, Ted Berman, Richard Rich, Al Wilson, Roy Morita, Peter Young, Art Stevens, Joe Hale

Seven years in the making - In the celebrated Disney tradition comes our 25th animated motion picture.

Disney's 25th full-length animated classic, The Black Cauldron, fills the screen with magic and wonder. This fun-filled tale of heroism overflows with colorful characters, trailblazing animation and nonstop action.

In the mystical land of Prydain, Taran, a young boy who dreams of a future as an invincible warrior, finds himself leading a real-life quest. In a race against the evil Horned King, Taran must be the first to find the mysterious Black Cauldron, or the Horned King will unleash its power and take over the world. With the help of a magic sword, and enchanting princess, and adorable clairvoyant pig and a furry little creature named Gurgi, Taran overcomes winged dragons, the King's monstrous henchmen, three batty witches and more - and learns nothing is as powerful as courage and friendship.

Box Office:
$44 million.
Domestic Gross
$21 million.

Rated G

Widescreen 2.35:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 80 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 10/3/2000

• “Quest for The Black Cauldron” Game
• Bonus Short
• Still Gallery
• Trailer
• Sneak Peeks


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Black Cauldron: Disney Gold Classics Collection (1985)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 22, 2008)

After nearly 20 years of consistently lackluster animated films, in the early Eighties Disney tried to reinvigorate this department with a tremendously ambitious and epic tale: an adaptation of Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain novels called The Black Cauldron. Boasting a then-record budget of about $25 million, Cauldron was supposed to herald the start of a new "Golden Age" of Disney animation as the studio finally went past the cutesie efforts like The Fox and the Hound and The Aristocats with more sophisticated material. Why, Cauldron wouldn't even have any songs, a first for a Disney animated feature.

Although a period of renewed success - both financially and creatively - would eventually occur at Disney, The Black Cauldron had nothing to do with it. In fact, one could argue that this film - which ended up as a huge flop - almost killed the animated division. 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit started to revive the studio, and the huge success of later efforts like 1989's The Little Mermaid and 1991's Beauty and the Beast solidified its status, but after a monumental flop such as Cauldron, the situation looked bleak.

Caildron has earned a reputation as a bad film over the last 20 years or so, but I think these opinions of its stench are overly harsh. Frankly, it's not a good movie, but I don't think it remotely qualifies as bad either. Instead, it's simply relentlessly mediocre, with little to endear, entertain or compel the viewer.

Cauldron suffers partly from an unfortunately strong resemblance to Star Wars. Taran (Grant Bardsley) seems like nothing more than an even-whinier version of Luke Skywalker, and the character has almost no power or spark. Like our favorite aspiring Jedi, Taran longs for adventure and excitement, and dreams of a departure from his job as assistance pig-keeper.

He gets this, of course, due to the machinations of the evil Horned King (John Hurt). Let's see: heavy cloak, fearsome mask, raspy, breathy voice… where have I seen this? Although we find no revelations that Horny is Taran's pop, the comparisons to Darth Vader are absolutely inevitable; the resemblance between the two characters is pretty eerie.

Add to that a princess who needs to be rescued and some quirky sidekicks, and we have a movie that looks all too familiar. Unfortunately, Cauldron possesses few of the strengths of the Star Wars films, and it seems like a weak excuse for action and adventure much of the time.

Much of the problem stems from the characters. As I already noted, Taran feels limp and lifeless and he has little to no personality. However, Luke wasn't exactly a sparkplug himself, and since so many Disney protagonists are little more than ciphers, Taran's lack of excitement shouldn't be regarded as a fatal flaw. Much more damaging is the absence of power found in the Horned King. The dude looks scary and tough, and he talks a good game - Hurt's vocalizations add a lot to the character - but ultimately he does little to back up his bluster and appearance. The Horned King seems far too passive, and we find little reason to fear him despite the fact he's supposed to be such a menace.

The remainder of the characters are mainly bland as well. Princess Eilonwy (Susan Sheridan) will make no one forget spunky Leia, and the variety of sidekicks seemed largely forgettable as well. I liked cowardly Gurgi (John Byner) to a degree, and future-telling pig Hen Wen was cute and endearing, but there are no personalities who really engaged me.

Cauldron packs in a fair amount of action but it rarely seems like anything very coherent or cohesive. It all resembles a game of "Dungeons and Dragons" in that Taran and the others have to go on a bunch of little quests to ultimately succeed. The result felt cobbled-together and random, without much to link the events in a natural manner. We find some decent action and adventure along the way, however, and some of the segments boast some impressive depth, to a moderate degree at least.

I suppose that my description of Cauldron makes it seem like a complete disaster. After all, I've stated that the characters are dull and that the entire film lacks spark and seems haphazard and nearly incoherent at times. However, I still found Cauldron to maintain a generally interesting profile.

Perhaps this is because it's something genuinely different from Disney. While I am quite fond of most Disney animated films, I recognize the somewhat stagnant nature they often display. After all, there's a formula clearly in place for most of them, and a certain level of predictability results.

I always maintain that most movies present easily anticipated events and they succeed due to execution; how else could we still be entertained by Bond movies after all these years? That's why so many of the Disney animated pictures work so well; we know exactly what will occur, but they depict the actions in such a compelling manner that we like them nonetheless.

Cauldron isn't unpredictable; though a couple of events caught me off guard, it's pretty easy to guess how it will conclude. However, the film departs with many past efforts through its generally dark tone. As I noted, it features no tunes, and it was the first Disney animated film to receive a "PG" rating.

When Cauldron was still in production, Disney's management changed. Jeffrey Katzenberg - the then-new chairman of Walt Disney Pictures - took a look at the work in progress, panicked and got out his scissors. I don't know the exact amount of material that Katzenberg edited out of Cauldron, though one book I consulted estimates it was no more than two or three minutes of footage. Most of this undoubtedly consisted of more graphic and potentially scary shots, such as the actions of the Cauldron Born.

Since I haven't had the opportunity to see an uncut edition of The Black Cauldron, I can't truly state that the film wouldn't work better with this footage restored. However, I doubt the extra material would make much of a difference. All of the reports I've read indicate what a muddled and messy production it was prior to the arrival of the new management. Though one is always tempted to view the unexpurgated version as a "lost masterpiece", I think it's extremely doubtful that such restored material would have made a silk purse from this sow's ear.

That said, it would have been mighty interesting to see The Black Cauldron in a longer cut on DVD. I have no idea if the removed footage even exists anymore, though since Disney seem to maintain ample archives, I'd expect it does. Will it appear on a future release of the film? Possibly, but I doubt it. Cauldron has been one of those films Disney have tried to ignore for years; frankly, we're lucky that it saw the light of day on DVD.

Though I'm indeed quite happy to get a DVD of The Black Cauldron - its home video history has not been pleasant - I can't claim that the movie itself was really worth the wait. Although originally envisioned as a breakthrough film that would re-establish Disney as a great animation studio, The Black Cauldron instead almost buried them. The result is a moderately interesting but muddled and generally uninvolving movie that will be of interest mainly to Disney geeks like myself.

The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio B/ Bonus D+

The Black Cauldron appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has NOT been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The image on the DVD has some problems that made this release less than a total success. The film presented an erratic picture that generally seemed satisfying but that also contained a fair number of concerns.

Sharpness usually looked nicely crisp and well-defined. During some of the wider shots, I detected some slight softness, but these instances were minor and occurred infrequently. Moiré effects and jagged edges did not appear to present any concerns. However, I did see quite a few print flaws. White speckles cropped up quite frequently, and I also witnessed a mix of black grit, scratches, streaks and blotches. The print didn't display an absurd number of defects, but the flaws seemed pretty heavy.

Colors also appeared inconsistent. For the most part, they looked clear and accurate, but they often seemed somewhat pale and flat. Flesh tones showed this problem more clearly than any other hues, as all of the human characters looked more "white" than they should; their skin lacked the necessary pinkish tone, as did Hen Wen. Black levels could look a bit bland and drab as well, though they usually appeared acceptably deep and dense. Shadow detail came across as a bit thick and overly opaque at times, especially when the Horned King was involved; at those times, I found it a little too hard to make out the action. Other than those scenes, the low-light situations seemed generally acceptable.

One of the oddest defects I discerned during The Black Cauldron involved a mild flickering effect. Throughout substantial portions of the film, the image seemed to pulsate to a small degree. This resembled the fluctuations that accompany MacroVision encoded videos, though the problem was nowhere near that severe. The flickering stayed fairly minor, but it existed. Ultimately, despite a slew of concerns, I found The Black Cauldron to offer a generally acceptable picture, but the various flaws knocked my rating down to a "C-".

Much better was the surprisingly effective Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Black Cauldron. The mix provided a very broad and engaging soundfield that created a thoroughly involving experience. The forward channels seemed active, as all facets of the audio spread across the speakers and were precisely placed within the spectrum; effects and dialogue appeared to come from distinct locations in the front and also blended together accurately. The surrounds weren't quite as active but they added a lot of solid information nonetheless, as both music and effects emanated from the rears throughout most of the film. I even detected occasional split surround usage, all of which made the movie more engaging and involving.

Audio quality seemed fairly good, though not without some flaws. Dialogue came across as generally natural and crisp, though the tones varied to a degree. Characters such as Taran sounded much clearer and warmer than folks like Gurgi or the Horned King, who seemed somewhat thin and tinny. Music appeared clear and smooth, with appropriately bright and brassy tones, though it lacked any substantial low end. Effects were similarly clean and accurate but without distinct bass. Overall, I thought the audio presented a good track for its age.

The Black Cauldron packs in a few supplements. First up is "Trick or Treat", an eight-minute and 10-second Donald Duck short from 1952. This cartoon offers a funny and entertaining look at the Duck's Halloween sadism and his inevitable comeuppance. Its pairing with Cauldron seems a bit odd, since the latter lacks much humor and doesn't feel matched well with a slapstick Donald Duck piece, but its presence is appreciated nonetheless.

The Still Frame Gallery for Cauldron includes seven sub-sections. We find "Visual Development", "Character Development", "Behind the Scenes", "Layouts and Backgrounds", "Promotion", "Voice Talent", and "Tokyo Disneyland". These areas provide between eight and 33 pictures each for a total of 104 images. All of the sections except "Layouts and Backgrounds" also have one screen of text "Film Facts"; "Character Development" actually has two - the second of which details Tim Burton's minor involvement in Cauldron - and "Behind the Scenes" also has one screen called "The Filmmakers" which gives very basic information about a few of those who worked on Cauldron.

In addition to all of these stillframes, we find a couple of other minor extras. The theatrical trailer for Cauldron appears, and we get the standard trivia game, though this one works in a different manner. When you start "Quest for the Black Cauldron", you have to choose an "East" or a "West" path. Both sides present eight questions apiece, and follow a boardgame style to take you to your destination. The interface is a clear improvement over the bland style presented on most prior Disney DVD trivia games; your "game piece" moves along the path with each correct answer, and some fun animations appear as well. Unfortunately, "Quest for the Black Cauldron" doesn't follow in the footsteps of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad and The Tigger Movie. The games on those DVDs offered video rewards for your success, whereas this one just says "whoopee!" In any case, at least it's an improvement over the trivia contests seen on most of these discs.

At the disc’s start, we find ads for Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins, Fantasia 2000, Toy Story 2 and Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure. These also appear in the Sneak Peeks area.

Although it's a flawed film, The Black Cauldron warrants a look because of the unusual nature of the project. Ultimately it may have been a failed experiment, but it's an interesting one nonetheless. The DVD offers flawed picture plus pretty good sound and a minor complement of extras. The Black Cauldron isn't for everyone, but it definitely belongs in the collection of Disney animation fans. I’d be happier to endorse it with a stronger transfer and additional extras, though.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.2 Stars Number of Votes: 15
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