The Black Cauldron – Disney’s twenty-fifth animated feature film holds the dubious honor of being the first one I saw during its first run in theaters. It’s also a first in some less personal ways, including being the first to have a PG rating, as well as the main credits at the end instead of the beginning. Unfortunately, for all this, I have to agree with what seems to be the majority opinion, and say it wasn’t very good. What is it that made this film a flop, and causes Eilonwy to be passed over for Disney Princess events in favor of that commoner Mulan?
I’m not sure I can put my finger on it. I read the books by Lloyd Alexander (the film is a combination of the first two, The Book of Three and The Black Cauldron) a few years ago, and I was wondering if this would give me a new take on the movie, but it still didn’t particularly hold my interest. Some people have cited Gurgi as the weak link, seeing him as sort of a prototype to Jar Jar Binks.
I don’t know, though. Gurgi was supposed to be annoying, at least to a certain extent. That said, I didn’t care for his voice, which sounded like a less quacky Donald Duck. It was an interesting choice to have Gurgi redeeming himself by being the one to sacrifice himself to destroy the Black Cauldron. In the books it was another character who did this, and he didn’t come back, making it more of a true sacrifice. Of course they weren’t going to kill off Gurgi, but he makes a strange Christ figure.
One thing I didn’t particularly like was the animation style, which struck me as a bit too Saturday morning, and a little subpar for Disney. I also wasn’t so keen on the decision to make the Horned King’s minions, particularly his trollish right-hand man Creeper, somewhat goofy.
In the books, the Horned King (known as Arawn after the ruler of the Welsh underworld, although he’s unnamed in the film) generally operates offstage, keeping him mysterious and menacing.
This movie was already pretty dark for Disney, though (from what I understand, even getting a PG rating involved cutting some stuff out), so I guess they had to add levity where they could. And since I’ve been looking at how fairies appear in various Disney films, I’ll mention that they were back to the Tinker Bell style of tiny people with wings in this one.
They were a bit overly cutesy, too, especially the one with the childish speech impediment. Doli was described as a dwarf in the books, but in the film he was another one of the tiny winged beings. Finally, what was with Fflewddur Fflam in frog form getting stuck in the one witch’s cleavage? Maybe THAT’S the real reason this was rated PG. So, yes, definitely one of the studio’s weaker efforts.