The Black Cauldron is a 1985 American animated fantasy film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and originally released to theatres on July 24, 1985. The twenty-fifth animated feature in the Walt Disney Animated Classics, the film is based on Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain book series, which is in turn based on Welsh mythology.
The film centers around the evil Horned King who attempts to secure the Black Cauldron in order to rule the world. The Horned King is opposed by the heroes Taran, Princess Eilonwy, Ffleddur Fflam and a creature named Gurgi.
The film is directed by Ten Berman and Richard Rich, who had directed the previous Disney animated feature The Fox and the Hound, and features the voices of Grant Bardsley, Susan Sheridan, Freddie Jones, Nigel Hawthorne and John Hurt. A video game based on the film was released in 1986.
On the small farm of Caer Dallben Taran is an Assistant Pigkeeper to the enchanter Dalben, with dreams of becoming a great warrior. However, he has to put the daydreaming aside when his charge, an oracular pig named Hen Wen is threatened by an evil lord known as the Horned King. The villain hopes Hen Wen will show him the way to The Black Cauldron, which has the power to create a legion of invincible undead warriors, (known as "The Cauldron Born"). Taran is instructed by Dallben to take Hen Wen to safety, however a moment of negligence results in her capture by the Horned King's forces. Taran follows them to the Horned King's castle, encountering a small, pestering creature called Gurgi along the way. After sneaking into the castle, Taran successfully rescues Hen Wen, allowing her to flee the castle, but is captured himself and thrown into the dungeon.
He is soon released from his cell by a girl his age named Princess Eilonwy, a fellow captive who is in the middle of her own escape attempt. While exploring the catacombs beneath the castle, they discover an ancient burial chamber containing a long dead king, where Taran arms himself by taking the king's sword. He soon discovers that his new sword contains a powerful magic, allowing him to effectively fight off the Horned King's minions and fulfill his dreams of heroism. With the power of the sword, Taran and Eilonwy manage to escape the castle, along with a comical, middle-aged bard named Ffewddur Fflam. The three of them are soon reunited with Gurgi, and the foursome set off to follow Hen Wen's trail.
While tracking Hen Wen, they stumble into the underground kingdom of the Fair Folk. These small, fairy-like beings reveal that they have Hen Wen under their protection, and promise to escort her safely back to Caer Dallben. When the king of the Fair Folk, a cheerful, elderly fairy named King Eidelleg, reveals that he knows the location of the Black Cauldron, Taran resolves to find and destroy it himself, before the Horned King locates it. Eilonwy, Fflewddur, and Gurgi agree to accompany him, and they are joined by Doli, Eidelleg's obnoxious right-hand man, who, to his great displeasure, is assigned to lead them to the cauldron's resting place in the Marshes of Morva. When they arrive in the marshes, they discover the cauldron is in the possession of three witches, the grasping Ordu, who acts as leader, the greedy Orgoch, and the more benevolent Orwen, who falls in love with Fflewdur at first sight. The witches are initially uncooperative, but Ordu sets her sights on Taran's sword, and agrees to trade the cauldron for it. Although giving up the sword will end his chances of heroism, Taran agrees and takes possession of the cauldron. Before vanishing, the witches inform the group that the only way to stop the cauldron's evil power is if a living being willingly casts himself into it, though they will die in the process. None of the friends have the courage to do this, and so the cauldron is useless. Taran is furious with himself, and though his friends don't judge him, Doli abandons the group in disgust.
Taran is initially distraught over this news, as he feels that he was a fool for thinking he was capable of destroying the cauldron on his own. His friends manage to encourage him, and make known that they believe in him. Eilonwy comforts him, and it looks as if they may kiss, but at that moment, the Horned King's army finally catch up with them. The cauldron is seized, and everyone except for Gurgi is captured and taken once more to the Horned King's castle. The Horned King uses the Black Cauldron's power to raise the dead, and his "Cauldron-Born" army begin to pour out of the castle. Meanwhile, Taran, Eilonwy and Fflewddur are freed by Gurgi. Taran resolves to cast himself into the cauldron to stop it, but Gurgi stops him, choosing to sacrifice himself instead. The undead army collapse. The Horned King resolves to feed his bumbling henchman, Creeper, to the cauldron, but spots Taran and, certain the turn of events is his fault, throws him towards it instead. But the Cauldron is out of control, and consumes the Horned King, and finally uses up all its powers, destroying the castle in the process. The witches arrive to lay claim to the now inert Black Cauldron. However, Taran, who has finally realised what a true friend Gurgi really is, persuades them to revive Gurgi in exchange for the cauldron, willingly giving up his sword for good. The witches at first refuse, but when Fflewdur taunts them for having no power, they are goaded into granting Taran's wish. Gurgi at first appears lifeless, but soon revives. The four friends leave together to journey back to Caer Dallben. The last scene shows Dallben watching a vision of them created by Hen Wen, whom Doli has returned to the farm, and praising Taran for his heroism.
For The Black Cauldron, a new way to transfer drawings to cels was invented, called the APT process. But as the lines would fade off the cels over time, most or all of the film was done with the xerox process in colors. It was the most expensive animated feature made as of its release in 1985. It cost $25 million to produce, but grossed only $21 million at the North American box office.
The film is notable for its early use of computer generated imagery (CGI) for baubles, a boat and the cauldron itself.
This was the last Disney animated feature that was completed in the former Buena Vista studios.
Shortly before the film's release to theaters, newly appointed Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg ordered several scenes from The Black Cauldron be cut, due to the fear that the graphic nature of them would alienate children and family audiences. The bulk of the cut scenes involved the undead "Cauldron Born", who are used as the Horned King's army in the final act of the film. While most of the scenes were seamlessly removed from the film, one particular cut involving a Cauldron Born killing a person by slicing his neck and torso created a rather recognizable lapse due to the fact that the removal of the scene creates a jump in the film's soundtrack. Additionally, a scene involving Taran taking the magic sword and slaying his foes while he escapes the Horned King's castle for the first time was removed, as well as another scene with Princess Eilonwy partially nude as fabric was ripped off of her dress as she is hanging by her hands with Taran and Fflewddur Fflam. Another scene cut featured a man being dissolved by mist. The removal of these scenes was to prevent the film from receiving either a PG-13 or R rating. The final version of the film was the first animated film from Disney to get a PG rating from the MPAA.
The Black Cauldron was released in North America on July 24, 1985. The film was also screened at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
Disney released a 25th Anniversary Edition DVD on September 14, 2010 in the US and UK containing new 2.35:1 16:9 widescreen presentation, deleted scene "The Fairfolk" and new game "The Witches' Challenge" along with features from the 2000 DVD release, including "The Quest for the Black Cauldron" game, an art gallery, and a 1952 Donald Duck short called Trick or Treat.
The film was a failure at the box office, with some critics blaming the film's lack of appeal on the dark nature of the book. However, It has earned a score of 57% "rotten" at Rotten Tomatoes.
Roger Ebert gave a positive review of the film, while the Los Angeles Times'' Charles Solomon praised its "splendid visuals". London's Time Out magazine deemed it "a major disappointment", adding that "the charm, characterization and sheer good humor" found in previous Disney efforts "are sadly absent".
The author Lloyd Alexander said, "there is no resemblance between the movie and the book," but he admitted he had fun watching it and hoped the viewers would read the book, which has more depth.
Video gameA video game of the same name was designed by Al Lowe of Sierra On-Line and released in 1986. It was made shortly after the first King's Quest game, so it resembled that adventure in many ways. Along with The Dark Crystal it remains one of only a few adventure games by Sierra to be based on films.
The player character is a young assistant pig-keeper, Taran, undertaking a quest to stop the evil Horned King, who sought for Hen Wen, the magical pig of the wixard Dallben, for her visionary abilities. With these abilities, the King would be able to discover the Black Cauldron and rule the land. Taran's first mission is to lead her to the Fair Folk while the King's dragons are looking for them. Should the pig be captured (the game allows either possibility), Taran can go to the King's castle and rescue her. Once inside, Taran will meet and rescue Eilonwy with her magic bauble and Fflewddur Fflam, as well as discover a Magic Sword. The Cauldron is in the possession of three witches of Morva who will trade it for the Sword. Unfortunately a dragon grasps the cauldron and Taran goes back to encounter the evil man himself. The game actually featured plot branches and multiple endings depending on many variables, such as whether Hen Wen the pig was saved, how the cauldron was destroyed, and what reward was chosen afterwards. This use of multiple endings predated the more famous use in Lucasfilm's game Maniac Mansion by a year.
In order to make the game more accessible to children, Sierra used an innovative idea that would not reappear in the genre for the next 10 years: the text parser was removed in favor of the function keys that performed various actions:
F3would choose an inventory item,
F4would use it,
F6would perform "Use" near the character's location, and
F8would "look". The simplification of the two actions "Look" and "Use" was not reused in Sierra's later games. However, it somewhat resembles the control system of other later simpler point-and-click adventure games, such as the King's Quest VII or The Dig whose interfaces only consisted of "Look" and "Use". Being based on a Disney film, the graphics present some relative "flexibility", compared to the monolithic and straight sceneries of previous and later games.