As I am in a little bit of a rut, inspiration for which movies to review has been a little hard to come by for me. Thus I turned to social media and the first suggestion to come my way was The Black Cauldron (1985). Another Disney movie, of course. Weirdly, I have no recollection of this film. If I saw it as a child, I deleted it from my memory. Yet I know many people who are quite devoted to it. Many, that is, except for Disney apparently. Walk around their parks some time and try to find some reference to it in a ride, or in some forgotten corner where people go to smoke. You will not find any, but if you do please let me know. I blame the lack of some memorial to it on the fact that, unlike so many other of the Mouse’s animated offerings, it is not a musical. Or maybe it is because it stinks.
I had to rewind the introduction to The Black Cauldron a couple of times to understand it, and I am still unsure what it meant. Something about an abnormally large, black iron pot (cauldron, by definition) that somebody long ago imbued with evil powers. Why not a stone? Or a ring? You know, classic mythical objects. But no, they went with a cauldron, and it is somewhere. The only creature that knows how to find this object is a magical pig named Hen Wen. You find all this out within the first five minutes of the film, and already I was questioning the decisions made in the telling of this story. But I plowed ahead because Disney. The pig is owned by an old man named Dallben (voiced by Freddie Jones), and it is kept fed by his ward (maybe? I was confused as to their relationship to each other) Taran (voiced by Grant Bardsley). Taran dreams of being more than a humble pig-keeper, wanting instead to be a great warrior. He unwittingly is about to get his chance when Hen Wen’s powers are revealed by dipping its snout into a water basin and revealing the Black Cauldron’s location. Dallben immediately sees the danger in this (because magic) and orders Taran to take Hen Wen to a cottage at the edge of the forrest to hide until it is safe. The potential is for the Horned King (voiced by John Hurt) to get his malevolent clutches on it and enhance his evil powers. Thus Taran sets off . . . and almost immediately loses the darn pig while daydreaming by a pool of water. He does (unfortunately) meet the dog-like creature that talks, Gurgi (voiced by John Byner), who, at first, is only interested in Taran’s apple. Hen Wen meanwhile is captured by the Horned King’s hench-dragons, and Taran attempts to sneak into the evil monarch’s castle and take back Hen Wen. Probably unsurprisingly, he fails and is imprisoned in the dungeon, though he manages to push Hen Wen over the walls of the castle so that the pig can make its escape. Moments later, Taran is busting out of the castle too with the help of Princess Eilonwy (voiced by Susan Sheridan), though what she is princess of we never find out, and the ancient minstrel Fflewddur Fflam (voiced by Nigel Hawthorne) who does . . . nothing. Once out of the prison, they wander about and stumble once more into Gurgi (yay), who leads them to tracks he found that he believes belong to Hen Wen. Instead, they fall into an underground kingdom of fairies, but they end up having Hen Wen after all. The fairies also agree to help the group find the Black Cauldron, which they magically know its location as well. Once they get to this place, they are met by three witches, Orddu (voiced by Eda Reiss Merin), Orwen (voiced by Adele Malis-Morey), and Orgoch (voiced by Billie Hayes). They will not give up the cauldron without a trade, and the only suitable object in their possession is the magical sword Taran obtained while wandering around the Horned King’s basement. While he sees it as his way to becoming a warrior, he reluctantly gives it up for the cauldron . . . even though they now have no method of destroying the evil object. You can probably guess what happens next: the Horned King’s soldiers show up and take them and the cauldron. It is left, remarkably, to Gurgi to summon up the courage to save Taran, Eilonwy, and Fflam, and he even ends up sacrificing himself to the cauldron in order to stop the unstoppable, undead army it had created for the Horned King because, you know, magic. In the process, the Horned King is sucked into the Black Cauldron and dies. Now they have to make it out of a suddenly crumbling castle, which they do only to be greeted by the witches. For some reason, they have to make a bargain for the cauldron once more, which results in Gurgi’s resurrection. The end.
Shortly into The Black Cauldron, specifically when Taran loses Hen Wen, I muttered “You had one job, kid,” and the movie broke down from that point on. Had I been five and watching this for the first time (and I was apparently that old when it came out), I probably would have thought it was great. But my adult brain cannot take characters like Gurgi. Oh, and I am sure that I am not the only who noticed the similarities between Gurgi and Gollum from The Lord of the Rings. Replace Taran’s apple with The One Ring, and you basically have the same thing just with more hair. Gurgi even refers to Taran as master!
Speaking of Taran, I get that he is a teenager and that The Black Cauldron is a cartoon, but what a dope. Had a more capable person been in charge here, I guess there would have been no . . . story? Regardless, he is brave and virtuous. Two moments in the film do him credit. The first is when he gives up the sword to the witches in exchange for the Black Cauldron. Granted, he had no clue what to do after this (the witches even say this out loud while they make the trade), but it shows that he is willing to sacrifice his personal interest for the greater good. This Catholic can get behind such a notion. The second is at the end when he makes the second bargain with the witches. He could have taken back the sword, but instead he remembers the life of Gurgi, who had gave himself for him and his friends. What Taran realizes is that he does not need a weapon to be a hero. When Jesus came, his deeds were heroic and he never bore arms against anyone, which was something the Jews of his day expected from their Messiah. Thus I appreciate the lesson that heroes can come in unexpected ways.
If you are watching The Black Cauldron as an adult, it is a sad mess of a film. There are characters that wander in and out of the plot to no discernible purpose, among other problems. If you have children and Disney +, they might get a kick out of it. When it comes to Disney, I am a fan of many of their obscure works. This one certainly fits that description, though I cannot say that I enjoyed it. But if nothing else, I can now say that I have seen it.
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