Sunday, February 7, 2010

#25: The Black Cauldron (1985)

Ah, "The Black Cauldron." Disney had hoped this new epic would reinvigorate the company in the same vein as "Cinderella" or "Sleeping Beauty," but unfortunately it would do nothing but nearly doom the entire company thanks to its bloated budget and little box office draw. As such, it has become the company's old shame (but nowhere near the company's ultimate shame, the unreleased "Song of the South") and is shunned by many Disneyphiles as such. So what's the deal here? Is the movie really that bad, or just misunderstood? Let's watch and see...
So on a farm in a mythical land is a lad named Taran, who dreams of being a great warrior, rather than be a pigkeeper. This pig, however, is an oracle, who is kidnapped by dragons on behalf of the evil Horned King, who wants the pig to show him the location of the Black Cauldron, which has the power to unleash a legion of invincible undead warriors. Taran manages to bust into the castle and save the pig, but gets himself locked in a dungeon. He escapes with the help of fellow prisoners Princess Eilonway and a middle-aged hack musician Fflewddur Fflam, and now they must stop this evil plot from unfolding by taking possession of the black cauldron first.
This is the darkest Disney movie ever. Hands down. Your main villain is a creepy skeleton in a cloth who wants to unleash insanely scary skeleton warriors to fuck shit up, and he's got dragons and unkempt henchmen at his disposal. I will give the movie a lot of credit for not holding back on the content (though this was before the 90s, when despite the animation resurgence, cartoons got softened... a LOT); the dangers Taran and the rest are facing are very grave and serious, and I did enjoy the dark tone of the film. However, to compare to "Rescuers" again, while it does have a serious tone, the story is epic-seeming enough to support it, and there are also a few lighter elements to it, mostly existing in the scruffy dog-like creature that follows Taran around (who sounds like a raspier version of Meatwad) and the impish goblin who always gets the short end of the Horned King's (im)patience (who sounds like a raspier version of the Cryptkeeper).
The tale of the black cauldron and its powers is nothing spectacular and new; though the movie is engaging enough, it's nothing extraordinary. The characters, similarly, are stock and don't have that much dimension, but they serve their purpose in the story, and sometimes even transcend themselves. Like Taran is hesitant (though understandable going up against fucking dragons and guys wielding giant axes), but he's kind of headstrong and cocky, especially once he retrieves the magic sword; whereas if he were handled today, he'd be some awkward goofy kid who trips over stuff who has to make something of himself. The scruffy dog thing Gurgi is a character who you'd think would be an irritant, but I thought he was very amusing (and has a great redemption at the end).
As I said, the tone doesn't let up at all in the movie, although there are a few places where it meanders, and even cops out of things. Mid-way through the journey they encounter a bunch of brightly lit, gaudily-colored fairies who really serve not much purpose in the story, and the very end (which I won't spoil) is an obvious sidestep to what should have been the truth-be-told ending.

Verdict? I was surprised that I ended up liking this movie and its balls-to-the-wall staunchness on staying dark, creepy and different, but as a whole it didn't leave an huge impact on me. For one a lot of the animation seemed to be on autopilot, so the characters were a lot less engaging. That coupled with the cookie-cutter "epic" plot makes it a bit difficult to label this one a misunderstood classic, but it's absolutely worth a watch. It's a wanna-be epic adventure that's mostly entertaining, and always creepy as hell. Damn.

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