Ted Berman, Richard Rich
Grant Bardsley, Susan Sheridan, Freddie Jones, Nigel Hawthorne, Arthur Malet, John Byner
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.
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1/16X9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 80 min.
Release Date: 9/14/2010
• “Quest for The Black Cauldron” Game
• “The Witches’ Challenge” Game
• Bonus Short
• Still Gallery
• Deleted Scene
• Sneak Peeks
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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: 25th Anniversary (1985)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 15, 2010)
In the early Eighties Disney tried to reinvigorate its animation department with an adaptation of Lloyd Alexander's epic 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.
Cauldron has earned a reputation as a bad film over the last 25 years, 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 probably 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 seems 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 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, 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 B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus C-
The Black Cauldron appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While not a killer transfer, the movie usually was more than satisfying.
Sharpness usually looked reasonably crisp and well-defined. During some of the wider shots, I detected some softness, a factor exacerbated by light edge haloes. Nonetheless, the film normally appeared pretty concise. Moiré effects and jagged edges did not appear to present any concerns, and source flaws failed to distract.
Colors looked clear and accurate, as the film demonstrated a nice range of hues. These almost always appeared full and rich. Blacks were deep and tight, while shadows seemed largely appropriate. A few shots looked a smidgen dark, but most of that appeared to stem from production design.
One of the oddest defects I discerned during The Black Cauldron involved a mild flickering effect. Throughout some 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.
This appeared to be another artifact of the original film and not a problem with the transfer, however. My biggest complaint here related to edge haloes and softness, as they created the most notable distractions. Nonetheless, the movie looked nice the majority of the time.
I also liked 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, whose lines could be a little edgy. Nonethe. Music appeared clear and smooth, with appropriately bright and brassy tones, while effects came across as lively and fairly full. Some thinness affected high end, and bass wasn’t tremendous, but the elements were usually well-reproduced. I found a lot to like in this fine auditory presentation.
When I compared this 25th Anniversary Edition to the original DVD from 2000, I thought audio was a wash. Both discs presented sound that seemed pretty similar; the 2010 DVD appeared a bit clearer, but it wasn’t a big step up in quality.
On the other hand, the visuals worked a whole lot better here. The 2000 DVD was non-anamorphic and flawed in a number of ways. The 2010 version offered superior clarity and delineation, and it lacked the myriad of source concerns found on the prior disc. This became a major visual upgrade.
The 25th Anniversary DVD mixes old and new supplements. I’ll note 2010 exclusives with an asterisk.
Under “Backstage Disney”, we get a *Deleted Scene. “The Fairfolk” lasts nine minutes, 49 seconds as it shows our heroes as they first meet the movie’s small characters. The scene mixes rough animation with a few sketches, so don’t expect finished product. Don’t anticipate a memorable sequence, either, as this one’s forgettable.
Next comes "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. Quite a lot of good art and other elements appear here.
We get the standard trivia game, though this one works in a different manner than usual. 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.
Another game follows. *The Witches’ Challenge requires you to answer a number of riddles connected to the movie. It’s pretty tedious and not much fun.
At the disc’s start, we find ads for Tinker Bell and The Great Fairy Rescue, Beauty and the Beast, and Tangled. These also appear in the Sneak Peeks area along with clips for Oceans, A Christmas Carol and Prnce of Persia: Sands of Time. The disc lacks the trailer for Cauldron, which is a disappointment since that ad appeared on the prior DVD.
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 very good picture sound and a minor complement of extras. The Black Cauldron remains an erratic movie, but at least this DVD serves it fairly well, as it’s a nice upgrade over the prior release.
To rate this film, visit the Disney Gold Classics review of THE BLACK CAULDRON