Note: What do you mean I haven’t written anything in ages? Prove it! Oh right. Yeah fair enough. Sorry about that, to anyone who cares. What can I say? Life is hard. Sometimes you get distracted by real life, hypnotic knitting patterns and sorbet. But I’m back now so I hope we (and by we I mean the 8 or 9 people who sometimes read this) can move on in our relationship.
The Black Cauldron (1985) Review
What do I know about the film?
This film is one of the main reasons I wanted to do this project. As a pop culture junkie, I was aware of its reputation as the movie that nearly sunk Disney. But not all that long ago, with the help from its quiet but nonetheless present fan base, ‘Black Cauldron’ was reinstated into the canon and is now purchasable. So let me get this straight: A film that did so badly that Disney tried to bury it but apparently interesting enough that is has earned a group of fans who helped elevate it to cult movie status? It is like a cinefile’s wet dream. And I couldn’t wait to see it.
And now I have.
But before we get to the review, just what the Hell happened with this one? Well remember in my last post (which I assume you read cause you wouldn’t want to hurt my feelings) I talked about how animator Don Bluth had departed Disney in a huff, determined to show them how to make movies with proper integrity? Well he made a pretty good start in 1982 with his debut full length feature ‘The Secret of NIMH’ which while wasn’t a massive blockbuster, did receive the kind of critical praise Disney had not had in a while. Bluth was off and running, and it is pretty undeniable that the tone of his confident debut would impact Disney’s direction with ‘Black Cauldron’
That isn’t that surprising when you know that Bluth was still at Disney whilst work on the film was being done: ‘Black Cauldron’ was a work in progress that took a loooonnnng time. A lot of effort went into making it…something.
It was a film of firsts for The Walt Disney Company, many of which suggested that this was meant to be a big deal of a project. I can’t even begin to note ALL the ground breaking/tense behind the scene details so I have picked my favourites:
-This was the first time a Disney film had used computer technology.
-Remember when ‘101 Dalmatians’ started using what was essentially a Xerox machine to make the animators job easier but how it made the drawings look less good? Well TBC (The Black Cauldron, not To Be Confirmed, FYI) introduced a breakthrough in animation technology that would replace it: Animation Photo Transfer. Essentially, the drawings are photographed and then these negatives are processed onto subsequent animation cels. This technology won creator Dave Spencer an Oscar.
-This was the first Disney movie not to have THE END to mark the THE END of the film and only the second not to have an opening credit sequence.
-For the first time, there are no musical numbers at all.
And here comes the fact that made me salivate prior to sitting down and watching the thing…
‘The Black Cauldron’ was the first Disney film to get smacked with a PG rating. Fucking…Wow. That means this:
And even this:
Were all considered universally acceptable for children of all ages. Admittedly the rating system chopped and changed a lot over the years, and wasn’t even introduced until the 60’s but still: think about it. TBC was nearly given a PG13 rating, meaning several people had seen A DISNEY FILM and decided it wasn’t really suitable for anyone under 13.
This is fine though. Kids love this crap.
Understandably, the threat of having their target audience forcibly removed from the cinemas made the Studio Chairman lose his shit. Even after the producer refused to resculpt his vision at the 11th hour, the Chair PERSONALLY went into the editing bay and started to take chunks out of the movie to secure the PG rating.
Again, think about the implications of this. Editing an animated film is not like editing a live action movie. Animated films are painstakingly storyboarded so when it comes time to animate for proper reals, everything is in place and no time is wasted. Nearly all cut scenes from animated films don’t get past the hand drawn stage. Think how spooked The Chair must have been to get his own hands this dirty? In total they cut 12 minutes of footage. That is several years of work: Gone. Oh and bonus foreshadowing: The disgruntled Studio Chair was none other than Jeffrey Katzenberg. We will be coming back to him in the future. He will go on to other things…
Only shooting stars break the mo-uld…
Despite Katzenberg’s efforts, test screenings did not bode well with many Parents expressing disapproval at how dark the picture was. And so my Black Cauldron Review drinking game begins: You have to take a shot everytime I use the word ‘dark’ Ok?
So let’s review shall we? (Oh and yes, the actual review too, I am getting to it…) The film took over 12 years to make, with 5 years of actual production, and cost over $25 million dollars. Over 1,165 different hues and colors were used and 34 miles of film stock was utilized. It was the most expensive animated film of all time and the third most expensive film ever at that point, with the total cost being about $44 million. So is this the part where Disney’s hard work and perseverance pay off yet again? Well watch the video below for the answer:
Did you watch it?
I am sure you recognise that as first full length cinematic outing of The Care Bears. The cinematic equivalent of pissing yourself to keep warm. Solely existing to sell toys and keep 4 year olds quiet for 75 minutes. Even the voiceover guy in the trailer sounds half asleep. So why do I bring it up? Well…It was released at the same time as TBC. And…it did better.
This. Did. NOT. COST. $44 million. To. Make.
This was an outright disaster for Disney. The company that made Care Bears was not even considered competition from the perspective of the Mouse House. It is no wonder really that TBC was sent to its room without any supper, not even being released on VHS until a decade after it died such a brutal death in the cinema.
Did I see it as a child?
No I did not. I did once stumble across a book with lots of pictures from the film in it (not the book the film was based on mind you) during a rainy recess at school and I remember wanting to seek out the movie as a result. It looked good in that there was a girl character who was wearing a dress that had some purple in it…That’s it. That’s all I needed to know. But because I grew up in the Great Long Ago when films were not a click away, I eventually forgot about it. All in all, it would seem I was not terribly committed to my mission. So what is up with TBC? Is it all about a girl in a purple frock having adventures?
So Taran is a boy. He complains that he would like to be a warrior instead of a Pig Keeper. Which is what he is. Actually, just for an added kick in the balls, he is an assistant Pig-Keeper. Is there a more humiliating job title? Taran doesn’t seem to think so…As he goes on and on and on and on and…on about how he would like to do something else. Namely be recognised as a great warrior. Did I mention he wants to be a warrior? Cause he does. A lot.
His employee/friend/enslaver/grandfather (If their relationship was explained, I wasn’t paying attention) named Dallben tells Taran that the Pig they care for…Hold up. One pig? And he needs an assistant??? Well I suppose he does give the Pig inappropriately intimate baths…Anyway, he tells Taran that the Pig in question, Hen Wen, is super special and maybe one day he will be able to explain why…Oh scrap that she needs to use her powers now. Right now. Well, that was convenient.
So it turns out the Pig can…can…Ok just stay with me: They head down to the The Secret Pig Power Basement and the Pig basically does that thing Gladrial does in Fellowship where she makes the water show stuff that is happening and then it is explained that Hen Wen is a super duper important and while they have managed to keep her on the side of good via the power of sensual baths, the time has come for her to…to…Ok I don’t know what the Pig’s job is, but it would seem the awakening of her secret long dormant until today powers has coincided (or been triggered by? I don’t know) the rise of the Horned King. And now he knows where the Pig is…I suppose? Taran is told he needs to take the Pig somewhere safe because the Horned King is after the Pig because the Pig can show him where the Black Cauldron is kept and the Black Cauldron will awaken the Horned King’s army of the dead. Which would be bad. We wouldn’t want that.
So less than 10 minutes into the film and Taran’s generic desire for adventures has come true…But with the help of some loyal companions will he protect the Pig and stop the Horned King and his undead army and prove himself to be one of the greats?
Spoiler Alert: Absolutely not.
Hey look! A distraction!
Ok, ok, it is not like NOTHING works. First of all, the money that went into to the art was…calling it well spent is going a bit far (the Care Bears did better!) but it is one of the most visually pleasing movies they have done in a good long while. The scary castle looks great, the green smoke during the cauldron scene looks fabulous, There is a largely pointless but very pretty scene involving fairies, the aforementioned scary castle collapsing grooves along nicely, fiery smoke skull shapes, dragons flying right at the screen, atmospheric colours/shade: All in all, I really like the look of the film and that does count for something.
I respect that there was a conscious effort to set a tone that was different from films that had come before and push a few boundaries and a lot of the more ‘mature’ or dark (drink) elements work very nicely. For example in the opening moments of a Disney film, I never expected to hear the phrase: ‘An army of undead warriors’ let alone see a room of long dead men all piled on top of each other.
My absolute favourite of the dark (drink) moments comes close to the end and involves Creeper. Now Creeper is not an especially original character. He is the Igor, the Smee, the sidekick who takes a lot of crap from the main antagonist, a sad little Gargoyle with a dash of the Peter Lorres about him. Even in the 80’s it was a cliché. But he is pretty brutally maltreated by his employer and I empathise: I have had some terrible bosses. Only my worst story involves getting humiliated in a shop by my boss in front a baffled window cleaner while this poor guy has to bring The Horned King dead bodies on a regular basis not to mention getting verbally and physically abused constantly. So…Yeah It is not surprising he is traumatised.
That is why I kind of love that little Creeper exits the story having recreated his dead bosses horns on his head while laughing hysterically. It is gloriously, hauntingly, batshit insane and I really, really like it. I love the implication that he might be heading off to become a super villain in his only right having now completely snapped. It is not enough that his abuser is dead: Kid has a lot of work to do on himself. I feel you man, I feel you.
Another great moment which feels unique to this movie is the chase scene when Hen Wen is kidnapped (only let down by Taran’s cries of ‘Look out!’ when Hen Wen is already being chased by a massive fucking dragon…I think she’s seen it dude.) and Taran falls down and when he sits up he is bleeding…It is quite a culture shock to see a character bleed in a Disney film. As the lightening bolt of fail strikes and Taran realises what a numpty he has been, it feels like the film is being set up as a story where characters are going to learn lessons the hard way and it is a cool scene.
In fact, the only interesting thing about Taran as a character is his backwards journey: He starts off going on and on and on and on and ON about what a terrific hero he is going to be-
Then through sheer luck he acquires a magic sword and immediately starts swinging the phallic symbol around like he is in one of Freud’s wet dreams. Brilliantly, his new pal Princess Eilonwy calls him out on his bullshit by pointing out that having a big dick-sword that does all the work for you no more makes you a talented fighter than being a Princess makes you a character people will remember. She hits a nerve and he goes off on her telling her she is an ugly teasing bitch who he never wanted to fuck anyway or the PG 13 equivalent and while I resent that the middle man in the scene tries to make out they are both being unreasonable I am impressed that the film certainly seems to value her point.
Because even after a quick pep talk about how great he is, Taran eventually comes to another conclusion…a truth that was evident from the start: He is not an exceptional person. He can’t fight, he isn’t especially clever, hell even the Pig who unexpectedly departs the story half way through the film is more important than him.
Normally, the main character starts off ordinary and then learns to believe in himself and becomes a leader. But Taran doesn’t have a destiny or any special ability. It is kind of cool that the big lesson here is that having a magic weapon helps but ultimately it doesn’t MAKE you a hero. Behaving like a reasonable human being who doesn’t always put themselves first without making a big deal out of it is what makes you a person worth respecting. And they don’t back pedal either: The film ends moments after he declares that he doesn’t deserve a magic dick-sword because he fucking sucks and the movie seems to agree.
So I love it when Princess Eilonwy called him on his bullshit and I also quite liked her. She doesn’t get a huge amount to do and a lot of her story goes unexplained: Why does the villain refer to her as a scullery maid when she is a Princess? Did he kidnap her so long ago that he forgot where he got her from or did he just never spot her royal face on the side of the milk cartons? Where is her kingdom? Is nobody looking for her? What’s with the glowing ball that follows her around? And why does it disappear around the time they meet some witches never to be seen again? Why she is always giggling when nobody has told ANY jokes? And, my personal favourite, WHAT THE FUCK KIND OF DUNGEON IS THIS WHERE YOUR PRISONER CAN WANDER AROUND LETTING OTHER PRISONERS GO WITH NO EFFORT WHATSOEVER???
Despite being an eternal giggling mystery, I love that she seems to view Taran as an amusing distraction rather than the love of her life: There are some great line readings from ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ legend Susan Sheridan such as this properly brilliant exchange:
Taran: (worst chat up line ever) My pig can tell the future!
Eilonwy: (hardly listening) How interesting…
When they have all escaped the castle, Elionwy doesn’t make for home but instead decides to help Taran find his pig, half heartedly claiming: ‘I’m sure it’s important…’ It doesn’t sound like she is taking Taran’s word for it and she would rather see for herself. I like that whenever Taran tells her to run for safety she leaves but she always comes back to check he is doing ok. She gives him his moment, but never abandons him.
Overall, she comes across as as exactly the kind of curious, chatty and amusing travel companion we could all use in a pinch: Ok, she doesn’t actually DO much in the story but she doesn’t just stand around making moon eyes at Taran and that is good enough for me.
To round up the gang there is an older sad sack song writer called Fflewddur Fflam (Are there no dyslexic people in Wales then??? After 4 attempts I had to copy and paste it. Jesus, guy…) who is actually tied up in the dungeon when they find him even though the kids are allowed to run around free because fuck singers I suppose. There is a running gag that whenever the nervous musician tells a lie his harp looses a string. And he proceeds to argue with it and tell it off for giving him a hard time. I am not explaining it that well am I? Well, It made me laugh. So much so that during one scene when he offers to give it away in exchange for access to the black cauldron I felt a genuine stab of emotion that pretty much the only compelling character in the film was about to leave. That being the harp. Cause that harp be sassy. Because judgemental harp judges you. Fear the judgemental harp. Fear it I say!!!!
I have warmed up enough now.
What Doesn’t Work:
Well Hot Dog have I been waiting for this:
The only problem is where oh where to begin? Why not begin at the beginning? We agree? Groovy. So…
Dallben (The old guy at the start in case you had forgotten. I did. Multiple times.) mutters to himself that bad shit is happening, then tells Taran the war is over and he won’t need to be brave cause there is nothing to worry about and then adds that the Pig they look after is super special: ‘And one day my boy you may learn why’ This line occurs 2 minutes and 56 seconds into the film. Less than 4 minutes later, it is pig power time.
There is a scene in an episode of the Simpsons where Abe Simpsons is remembering when his Father used to tell him that one day they would go and live in America: ‘Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon…And later that day we set out for America!’ it always made me laugh. And yet this film is asking me to take the whole: ‘One day I am going to get a chance to be brave!-Oh cool a chance to be brave!’ shtick seriously. Could they not have spread out the time a little bit? Or just skipped the confused ramblings of an old man and the teeth grindingly irritating whining of Taran and just introduced them as they watched the vision of the black cauldron and the Horned King?
Oh and Taran’s monologuing. Don’t believe me about how badly it is scripted? Behold! The fucking script!:
‘Dallben wouldn’t understand. I’m not a little boy anymore. I should be doing heroic deeds for Prydain! Not waiting hand and foot on a spoiled pig. Is this to be my life? Pampering a pig! I’m a warrior, not an Pig-Keeper. Dallben thinks I’d be afraid, but I wouldn’t. All I need is, is, is a chance! And I could be a famous warrior!’
This. This is the worst. You know the old adage show don’t tell? This film does the opposite. It tells and tells and tells. In the next scene with Taran alone with his Pig, he is at it again:
‘Gosh Hen Wen! I never knew you could create visions and things like that! I thought you were just an ordinary pig. I had no idea you so.. SPECIAL. Dallben’s going to be glad he put his trust in me! Just you wait and see! Now, don’t go wandering about! And don’t you worry! Keep close to me and no one will do you any harm. Not while I’m around. And I won’t let the Horned King get close to you Hen. I’ll protect you! Taran of Caer Dallben, the greatest warrior in all Prydain! A true hero!’
Just…what? What kind of writing is this? I can’t even-Just making your character state all his surface, baseline thoughts out loud is not enough to tell a story. The thing is, I am sure there are plenty of others films, Disney and otherwise, who have characters declaring what is happening and what they want out loud all the time without it bothering me but Taran’s bullshit was like nails down a blackboard. I can only assume it was a combination of bad voice acting, bad script and the plot was confusing enough that I was counting on Taran to drive the story and man did he crash it into the bushes instead.
I mentioned in the synopsis it is really not clear what the fuck is happening in the story. 3 minutes in Dallben says: ‘One day you will learn the truth…’ then at 7 minutes in we get Pig Power then 8 and a half minutes in he is all ‘you must leave at once’ Really? Why? At this point, one of my friends turned to be and asked: ‘How did the Horned King find out about the magic Pig?’ and I had to pause the film to put my head in my hands. If you ever find yourself having to ask a question like that, you have taken a wrong turn in your life.
At 9 minutes in to the film Taran confidently announces ‘I won’t fail you!’ and then 3 minutes of monologuing later he is all ‘Where are you? Oh no!’ because he has lost the Pig he has been seemingly looking after his whole life. He is an Assistant Sodding Pig Keeper and even this task is too hard. He is just made of total fail. After we see Hen Wen get kidnapped by the Dragon I kind of wanted Taran to return to Dallben right away:
Taran: I won’t fail you!
* 5 minutes of quiet later*
Dallben: You’re back early!
Taran: Yeah, about that…
As you have probably spotted, I have a problem with how this film is paced. It drags like hell, but as you can see things happen stupidly close together, it has no room to breathe but very little of consequence seems to be happening most of the time. There is a lot of toing and froing and hand wringing and looking for things and then ditching those things for something else and then they are caught and escape and are caught and escape and then that plot point, then that plot point then that comes back and that is over and…
But back to Taran. Our hero. As I mentioned I appreciate that he goes from believing he is great to realising that he definitely isn’t. It is a cool reverse of the hero’s journey. But man, is getting him there insufferable. After the Pig gets kidnapped he has an argument with a character he just met like the creature let him down as a friend (we will get to him) and then proceeds to make the journey to the castle, which looked quite far away initially, in about a 4 second time cut. God damn it movie.
While imprisoned in said scary castle he finds a magic sword by stealing it from a random corpse he stumbles across. While he and Elionwy are running away he drops it and rather than sticking with his new friend he goes back to get his new toy. Nice. He battles a jump scare Furrie in a fierce outfit and immediately realises that it a special sword and then…he starts to laugh. It is so effing creepy. Our brave hero begins to rattle like an overused drain, fucking delighted that he now has a tool that will make them ALL PAY. Even Elionwy, who renters the scene, seems a bit unnerved by Taran’s ‘I can’t wait to kill things with this powerful object I didn’t earn’ dance.
Then when they are getting attacked by incompetent guards (they throw their sharp weapons at the goodies when they could just stride three feet and stab them at close range) Elionwy has to REMIND TARAN TO USE THE SWORD. That is how useful this little wank stain is. He FORGOT about the magic sword he JUST got.
Afterwards Taran is ready for Elionwy to be all ‘my hero’ and doesn’t acknowledge his own dumb luck stating: ‘It takes a great worrier to wield a sword’ and of course using the word Girl as an insult twice. Oh cool. I certainly hope he doesn’t accidentally impale himself through his scrotum or anything. Elionwy throws back ‘You’re so boring!’ and I could have cheered. Yes. Yes he is. You NAILED it. He is soooo very, very boring.
Later, when they visit some Witches (we will get to them too) Taran’s sword gets their attention as it starts cutting up their shit without Taran even touching it (but sure you’re the impressive one, kid) the head Witch tells him she will have his sword in exchange for the cauldron they are looking for. Taran acts like it is this big sacrifice even declaring it ‘my dearest possession’ Need I remind you he stole it from a corpse about an hour earlier and he has only used it a couple of times and only then by accident. But sure, how noble of him? I guess…I have not seen such a sacrifice since earlier today when I saw someone throw their chewing gum on the street for some other passer by to chew. Beautiful.
So you might have realised, I am not a fan of Taran. He learns a good lesson in the end but that doesn’t absolve him of being a snotty little prick monster from the beginning right to nearly the very end.
But he is not the biggest disappointment in the film. After all, heroes are often bland and/or irritating and can only be removed via copious amounts of cranberry juice. No. The biggest disappointment was the Horned King.
Disney villains have personality. Sure, they are not often complex (though some are) but they are memorable because they are likeable or entertaining or both. They stick out because they love being bad or because they have a sympathetic weakness or a passion for fashion. The Horned King is built up a lot. The film really tries to make him a thing. The voice of John Hurt, the loud music, the moments when his face fills the frame-they want me to fear him. I know they do. When he shows up for the big ‘force the Pig to reveal the Cauldron’ ceremony his minions stop having a good time with their mead, Wenches and racism against Creeper and immediately take on the look of ‘Oh shit, the boss has turned up at the work night out…’
But…the music seems to be saying he is Darth Vader when he is actually just…an old man shuffling around his castle mumbling about pigs and cauldrons who is dispatched so easily that I actually shouted: ‘Oh come on!’ at the screen. How could anyone be remotely impacted by what is essentially an OAP with a half baked plan and weak old bones who is killed off by his own arthritis?
Ok…so apparently a lot of people dig the Horned King and I guess he is one of the reasons this film has a cult fan base. Personally…I don’t see it. There is nothing original about him at all. He is generic movie villain 101 from costume, voice (I like John Hurt but he doesn’t sound all that invested in his lines), design -The design just made me think of He Man’s Skeletor, and who is afraid of him???
1983. Count it suckers.
Despite a couple of good moments (stroking a corpse in his first scene, creepy eyes) he is just an old, frail, slow talking bore who just plain sucks.
Even his plan is just…first of all, until he forces Hen Wen to show him the Cauldron he wasn’t even sure it existed. Wait, what? You have been collecting corpses for God knows how long in the hope that you could wield a big pot that reanimates the dead. What if the Pig showed it was all bupkis? What were you going to do with all those corpses???
And then when he finally gets his big moment and his undead army stand shakily to their feet…he is all ‘We are moments from victory’ What? It would seem the only difference between the undead army and the regular army he already has is the undead army move soooo slowlllly…Off they go…yep…Wait? Victory soon? How? Where are they going??? Who are your opponents? There is nobody waiting to fight the slowest moving army in the world, so what is your plan? Who has this all been for? Who is your competition? What has been the point of any of this????
But it his death that really gets me. Finally he is going to attack someone himself rather than sending everyone around him to do it. He goes for Taran and now it is time for the final battle where Taran most prove his worth without his magic dick-sword and Horny the King must show why he is so scary-But no. Taran’s advantage is opposable thumbs as he grips hold of something and the 227 year old bag of bones King is sucked effortlessly into the Black Cauldron causing it to go nuts and destroy the castle. It is terrible
So many moments in this story end up being without a point. At all. And this is a common complaint in films with lots of filler but this film TRIES to make some characters seem important. Like the Pig. Protecting her secret (that apparently the Horned King knows about so why did Dallben say it had to be secret?) proves pointless and the Pig shows him the cauldron and then is taken back home by some fairies. Seriously. After all that, the Pig is just sent home again. She went for a walk, got kidnapped, showed everyone her power, went home. So why did they try and make out that keeping her from the Horned King is important? He still doesn’t know where the Cauldron is after the vision. The Cauldron only shows up after Taran and his crew bargain for it with some Witches. So the whole Pig plot…is it like it is abandoned when they can’t think what else to do with it.
Then there are the fairies that are all cutesy cause they are voiced by children. Because whimsy. Ugh. Pointless. They briefly gain a new member of their gang with a Grumpy from ‘Snow White’ type Fairy whose name I can’t be bothered writing and he doesn’t stick around long. The King Fairy asks if there are still burnings and killings going on up above the ground. God I wish.
Then the Witches. Who we learn via Grumpy Fairy live in Morva. Not Mordor. Nope. Morva. Don’t go thinking it is Mordor. Cause it isn’t. This story so isn’t trying to be Lord of the Rings so stop saying that.
So the Witches: Ok, they are not pointless exactly but when the little group enter their home one of them spends a good few minutes sexually assaulting FF the musician and showing off her massive tits. There are a lot of cleavage shots for a family picture something I can only assume is there as something for the Dads.
While FF is assaulted, turned into a frog, stuck in some boobs and turned back the other characters are all just standing around awkwardly when finally after a long ass time Taran goes ‘Enough!’ You think?
Everytime they try and introduce some comic relief into this dark (drink) film it falls so flat that it is kind of painful. Grumpy fairies? Not funny. Scared musician? Not that annoying and I do like his harp but not funny. Big titted giggling witches where I guess the joke is that fat women are desperate for love? Not funny. And then there is…
If Jar Jar Binx from the Star Wars prequels, Dobby from Harry Potter, Snarf from Thundercats, Scrappy Doo from Scooby Doo and Gollum from Lord of the Rings had a blood orgy Gurgi would be their spawn. The voice, the mannerisms, the personality, the little sayings-All of it seems to have been specifically and carefully constructed to piss me off. Gurgi is to me what lotus holes are to people with trypophobia: he makes my skin crawl.
Observe as he enters the already unimpressive mess that in the film and then goes out of his way to ruin all our lives:
(hairy little…thief. Yes. That is the word I was looking for.)
Out of all the characters I mentioned above, most of whom came after Gurgi anyway, he most resembles Gollum. Gollum is actually a character I like for the record but, like a lot of the elements in this film, they seem to be aiming for a cut price straight to DVD adaptation of the Lord of the Rings. So they keep the third person chat and the distinctive vocal ticks (I swear Gollum actually says the phrase munchies and crunchies at some point…) but leave out the vulnerability, the wit, the strength, the juxtaposition between his junkie self and his true self-This is what is wrong with executives who don’t actually pay attention to what people like about movies: ‘Give him a funny voice-kids will love him’ No. No they fucking won’t.
It isn’t just the voice. He steals, he whines, he keeps leaving the film and then coming back which was frankly cruel because I kept hoping against hope that he wasn’t coming back-At one point Elionwy calls him charming. Seriously Black Cauldron? The whole Show don’t Tell thing? You really need to look it up. Like, right now.
But it was nearly all worth it. Our band of heroes idiots find out that the only way to halt the Black Cauldron is to willingly sacrifice yourself by climbing inside it. Wow. Ok. Fair play that is pretty dark (drink). So as the army of the undead start shuffling meaninglessly forward, Taran decides he better do just that, only for Gurgi to show up and declare that Taran can’t do it because he has friends who would miss him while Gurgi doesn’t have any friends.
It is a wonderful, wonderful moment of self realisation which frankly nearly promoted his arc from this section to the ‘What works’ section. To have such a worthless character argue with another worthless character about who is the most worthless out of the two of them only to conclude he edges him out due to how unpopular he clearly is and will continue to be and to then follow up his declaration of uselessness with committing suicide…it is the sort of thing an old cynic like me usually could only dream of and it actually happens. He kills himself because he suddenly and without warning realises that he is lame. Fair play, The Black Cauldron. Fair play.
But then, of course, the Witches show up and agree to return Gurgi to them. I had a brief hope that in the sprint of the classic deal with the Devil scenario, since Taran didn’t specify Gurgi had to be alive, the Witches would leave him with the body and they would be left with no option but to drop kick his corpse into the sea but of course he is reanimated and his first act is to try and rob Taran. Yeah. All the characters keep crying out: ‘ He’s alive!’ Ok, ok, no need to rub it in.
Then he forces these two children to kiss each other. He is a menace to to decency!
But then thankfully the film ends. But Jar Jar Smeagol remains. Seriously I will be surprised if Disney manage to come up with another character I like less in the remainder of the canon.
So that was ‘The Black Cauldron’ Huh?
Given that I know how heavily edited it was, there is every chance that a cool story is trying desperately to be born from the uneven mess that is ‘The Black Cauldron’ as a whole. Perhaps in the book the baddie isn’t dispersed by a strong gust of wind, perhaps the protagonist doesn’t monologue about how great he is going to be and perhaps Gollum Scrappy Snarf Doo is fucking mute. Perhaps in the original script there was no frog in the cleavage, no mandatory cutesy scene, perhaps Jar Jar Dobby Binx not only stayed dead but was shown dying painfully while weeping the snot that only comes out of your body when it is being pushed beyond its limit. Who knows? But all I can do is judge the film they gave me and the film they gave me was…
I wanted it to be steam punk Disney. Grunge Disney. Two fingers up at conventional story telling Disney. Bootleg Disney. Black market Disney. What I got was how many crackers can I fit in my mouth Disney. A pointless exercise that left me choking on the dust of my own disappointment.
All that build up. All the months. It is no camp classic nor is it a misunderstood dark (drink) gem. It is like eating dried shredded wheat without milk: Completely dry and flavourless with enough nutrients involved that you suspect the act hasn’t been a TOTAL waste of time but only something you would eat again if literally every other food on the planet was wiped out.
Disney Nightmare Inducer Count: 9
As I say, plenty of people find this film nightmare inducing. The only nightmare I endured was watching it more than once. But, for the sake of universal inclusivity, let me count the ways in which this film COULD induce nightmares. To be fair, these generally make up my favourite moments in the film so for all my grumpiness I am happy to highlight them:
The room of corpses, the horned king close up, pig is nearly executed, all the eyes in the Witch house especially a pair of eyes in one skull eye socket, Horned King cradling a long dead corpse, smoke skull, corpse army, the feeble villian getting the remained of his flesh ripped off and Creeper flying off with faux horns on his head.
Well dark. (drink)
Best Song: Well, this is the first film where I have nothing to say on this matter. Not because the music is bad but because it is non existent. That’s right, this is the first Disney film sans ANY musical numbers. Which must make this a damn short record:
Ok, so there is a score but none of it stands out enough to earn my coveted ‘best song’ award. So rather than cut this bit, I thought I would select the introduction of early 80’s kid sitcom ‘Square Pegs’ as my favourite song from TBC. Because why the fuck not?
Next Time: Disney tackle Sherlock Holmes…Kind of…The Great Mouse Detective (1987)