Not content gambling on what in 1985 would become the world’s most expensive animated film with just the same old mythological hero’s journey quest paradigm used time and time again, Walt Disney Studios decided to double down and share the storytelling risk by incorporating the age old favorite coming-of-age approach as well.
Of course, it certainly helped matters and no doubt eased the fears of the money men since Disney was basing The Black Cauldron on Lloyd Alexander’s Welsh myth infused Chronicles of Prydain fantasy novel series.
Yet while the rather dark, surprisingly violent and ominous Lord of the Rings modeled adventure complete with the Disney standby of talking animals and a beautiful princess for good measure may have proved an irresistible combination in book form, the same cannot be said for this unfortunately dreary film.
Upping the potential for accidental audience snoozing, we’re presented with a rather bland assistant pigkeeper lead Taran who not only loses his psychic pet Hen Wen while daydreaming but always seems on the verge of bursting into song.
Hoping to retrieve the pig before Hen Wen gives into the demands of his nefarious kidnapper, the Horned Toad by telling the creature how to achieve world domination via the illusive black cauldron, Taran embarks on a lengthy quest to become the knightly warrior he always wanted to become while saving Prydain in the process.
To its credit, Cauldron fares better in its remastered anniversary release than other ‘80s Disney endeavors such as Oliver and Company because its existence as a fantastical period ensures that it isn’t quite as dated as the more entertaining Oliver.
Unfortunately its gloomily dull color palette and creepy emphasis on things that creep, crawl, slither and go bump in the night is far too intense for young viewers. And sure enough, Cauldron was a box office and largely critical failure upon release, no doubt hampered by the fact that despite new Disney chief Jeffrey Katzenberg’s efforts to cut certain scenes, the film still earned the studio’s first solid PG rating which may have caused some parents to rightfully think twice before bringing the little ones to the theatre.
Admittedly, it’s nice to see Disney abandon princess-centric fare to offer young boys a chance to embrace the House of Mouse. Nonetheless, when you consider both the film’s incredibly slow pace along with its inability to truly give us a lead in whom we can feel invested, it’s safe to say that most children will pass it up in favor of thematically similar works like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Star Wars.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.