The Black Cauldron
(also known as Taran and the Magic Cauldron
in some countries) is the twenty-fifth animated feature
in the Disney animated features canon
. It was produced by Walt Disney Productions
, and originally released to theatres on July 24
by Walt Disney Pictures
and Buena Vista Distribution
. It is based on Lloyd Alexander
's Chronicles of Prydain
book series. The movie was directed by Ted Berman
and Richard Rich
and starred the voices of Grant Bardsley
, Susan Sheridan
, Freddie Jones
, Nigel Hawthorne
, and John Hurt
The story concerns 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, Fflewddur Fflam, and a strange creature named Gurgi.
As the film starts, a voice-over
explains the legend of the Black Cauldron:
Legend has it, in the mystic land of Prydain, there was once a king so cruel and so evil that even the Gods feared him. Since no prison could hold him, he was thrown alive into a crucible of molten iron. There his demonic spirit was captured in the form of a great, black cauldron. For uncounted centuries, the black cauldron lay hidden, waiting, while evil men searched for it, knowing whoever possessed it would have the power to resurrect an army of deathless warriors... and with them, rule the world..."
On the small farm of Caer Dallben, Taran, is an assistant pigkeeper with boyish dreams of becoming a great warrior. However, he has to put the daydreaming aside when his charge, an oracular pig named Hen Wen, is kidnapped by an evil lord known as the Horned King. The villain hopes Hen will show him the way to The Black Cauldron, which has the power to create a giant army of unstoppable soldiers. With the aid of a stubborn princess, an exaggerating bard, and a pestering creature called Gurgi, Taran will try to save the world of Prydain from the Horned King. As the new friends face witches, elves, magic swords, and the Cauldron itself, Taran starts to learn what being a hero really means and that some things are more important than glory.
The Black Cauldron was the first use of the APT process
in a movie, which replaced Xerography
at Disney. The most expensive animated feature made as of its release in 1985, it cost $25 million in actual production costs, but returned less than $10 million at the North American box office. It is also the first Disney animated feature to employ computer-generated imagery
. The dimensions and volume of the animated objects were fed into a computer and then their shapes were manipulated through computer programming before they were transferred as physical outlines the animators could work on. Some CGI
includes the realistic flames seen near the end of the movie and the boat that Taran and his friends use to escape the castle. (Animated features with cels
containing computer animation are probably rather rare as animation studios stopped using cels years ago.) The Disney sound editors began experimenting with newly-recorded sound effects
, beginning with this film, to replace many of the classic effects heard in many animated Disney movies up until after The Fox and the Hound
. This included newer, more-realistic thunderclaps (to replace the "Castle Thunder
" sound effect used on most 1937-1981 animated Disney features), newer crashes and explosions, and more. However, a rare 1985 trailer of this did use the Castle Thunder in it, and The Great Mouse Detective
(released the following year) made heavy use of the old Disney sound effects. After that movie, the classic sound effects (including "Castle Thunder") were officially retired from Walt Disney Feature Animation.
The Black Cauldron was the first Disney animated feature to have closing credits since Alice in Wonderland. The earliest Disney animated feature to have closing credits is Fantasia. This film was shot using the Super Technirama 70 widescreen 70 mm film process, and is one of only two Disney films to have been produced in such a manner, the other being Sleeping Beauty. Some of the film's settings, aesthetics and character designs were recycled in the creation of the Gummi Bears television series.
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.
As of now, the original cut of the film with the removed scenes restored has never been released on video or DVD. A version of the film with more cuts has appeared on the Disney Channel and the Toon Disney channel.
In January 2008, a video showing one of the cut scenes appeared on YouTube, showing the trailer for The Black Cauldron on the Pinocchio VHS that was released in 1985. In this trailer, three Cauldron-Born skeletons jump up, as opposed to the film, where only one jumps up - this is also the scene where the soundtrack jumped in the film, but in the trailer it is intact.
The Black Cauldron
represented the Disney studio's attempt to reach out to teenage
fans of fantasy novels, a popular genre at the time. However, the gamble proved unsuccessful as the film failed at the box-office. Some critics blamed the film's lack of appeal on the dark nature of the book (though some gave it a good review; Roger Ebert
at the time of the film's release was mostly positive). The film's failure at the box office combined with its dark tone led to Disney shelving the film for nearly 15 years.
Although Disney traditionally re-released their animated features every 7 or so years to theatres, The Black Cauldron remained out of circulation (both theatrically and on home video) for well over a decade after its release. Finally, it was released on home video in late 1998. In 2000 the video was re-released on VHS, and released for the first time on DVD under Disney's "Gold Classics Collection" banner. Though the R1 DVD is unrestored and non-anamorphic; the R2 release in France is restored, remastered, and anamorphic. The US DVD release features the film's theatrical trailer (though no mention is made of this anywhere on the packaging), as well as a still frame gallery, the Donald Duck cartoon "Trick or Treat," and a "Quest for the Black Cauldron" set-top game.
The company rarely incorporated characters from the film into any Disney-related merchandise since shortly after the film's debut, although The Horned King has made several low-key appearances in recent Disney merchandise and a series of The Black Cauldron themed beanie toys were produced in limited quantities for sale at Disney Stores in the late 1990s.
Despite the film's lackluster reception, it seemed to have developed a cult following among viewers, and it also got score of 65% "fresh" at Rotten Tomatoes.
A restaurant called "Gurgi's Munchies and Crunchies" was opened at Walt Disney World at the time of the film's release. It featured artwork of the film's characters on the walls and a picture of Gurgi on the front. Due to the film's failure, most attempts at tie-ins at the park were removed, but the restaurant remained for several years (even as the film it referenced became more and more obscure) until it was redesigned and renamed with a Beauty and the Beast motif. The Horned King was also the main villain of Tokyo Disneyland's now removed Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour, in which a guest from the tour group would be chosen to defeat him with the power of a magic sword in the attraction's finale.
Although it was first released to video in 1998 as part of the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection video line, it was originally going to have its home video debut in 1989 as part of the Walt Disney Classics video collection which ran from 1984 to 1994. It was even mastered on tape, but didn't make it due to the success of The Little Mermaid.
International release dates
- Argentina: July 25, 1985
- Brazil: September 19, 1985
- U.K.: October 11, 1985
- France: November 27, 1985
- Sweden: November 29, 1985
- West Germany: December 5, 1985
- Finland: December 13, 1985
- Netherlands: December 19, 1985
- Spain: December 19, 1985
- Italy: January 28, 1986
- Hong Kong: February 20, 1986
- Australia: May 8, 1986
- Japan: July 19, 1986
- China: October 19, 1986
The Black Cauldron release history
Differences between the film and the books
- Quite a number of significant characters were omitted from the film, including Coll, an assistant to Dallben, an evil queen/witch named Achren, a war hero named Gwydion, and an evil lord Arawn who was actually the master to the Horned King. However, Arawn may be the "spirit" trapped within the Cauldron.
- Also missing is Ellidyr, a prince who sacrifices himself to the cauldron; Gwystyl, a Fair Folk who has a way post near Annuvin; Adaon, Son of Taliesin; Medwyn, an enchanter who helps the companions; Morgant, a king who tries to use the cauldron for himself; Smoit, a king who helps Gwydion find the cauldron; and Kaw, a crow who can talk.
- In the books Eilonwy is described as having red-gold hair, but in the film her hair is mainly blond.
- Dallben had a beard in the books, perhaps having an appearance closer to Gandalf, in The Lord of the Rings.
- Creeper, who served as the henchman to The Horned King was an added character in the movie, not found in the books.
- Fflewddur Fflam is described as having more yellowish hair in the books, as well as being lankier and much younger than he appeared in the film.
- In the book, Taran does indeed find Dyrnwyn (the magical sword) but is injured when he attempts to clear it from its scabbard. Dallben later tells him that had he drawn it completely, it would have likely killed him. (He is able to wield it in Book 5, The High King, since by that point he is able to draw it "for noble worth").
- The Horned King did not try to get his hands on the black cauldron. Unlike the movie where the cauldron is hidden, and being sought by the Horned King, in the books the Horned King was the servant to the evil lord, Arawn, who already owned the cauldron to release the cauldron-born. In the beginning of the second book, the good characters planned to steal it from Arawn, only to find it had already been stolen (by the Witches of Morva).
- In the book, Prince Gwydion defeats the Horned King by shouting his true name aloud (similar to the way; In the movie, the Horned King dies by being swallowed up by the Cauldron.
- In the movie Doli is clearly able to disappear/become invisible. In the first book, The Book of Three, Doli's main wish is to be able to have the power to become invisible.
- In the movie, Taran meets Eilonwy in the dungeon of the Horned King's castle. In the first book, The Book of Three, Taran was trapped in the evil witch, Achren's castle, and was then rescued by Eilonwy.
- The characters met Fflewddur Fflam, in the movie, in the dungeon. However, in The Book of Three, Taran and the war hero, Gwydion are separated in different dungeons. Taran sends Eilonwy to rescue his war hero friend, but mistakenly takes Fflewddur Fflam for Gwydion.
- At the end of the film, The Horned King's castle collapses. In the middle of the first book, Achren's castle collapses.
- There were inconsistencies in character motivations. Doli is presented as a bit of an oaf in the movie, when in the book he is an ill-tempered but talented craftsman. Eilonwy is much more sarcastic in the book than in the movie. The witches of Morva, in the book, are more care-free about the Black Cauldron, opting to trade it to Taran for Adaon's Brooch. When the witches (who really aren't all that afraid of Arawn or the Horned King) meet the protagonists, they are much more motherly and much less sinister.
- In the movie, Gurgi puts his body into the cauldron to destroy its powers. However, in the book it was a character named Ellidyr. Ellidyr goes into the cauldron and dies. (In the movie Gurgi died, but was brought back to life by the Witches of Morva.) The cauldron is also destroyed when Ellidyr jumps into it, but he is not restored to life. The Cauldron is destroyed, but Arawn's Cauldron Born warriors still serve him.
- In the movie Hen Wen is a piglet; in the book she is a full grown white sow.
- In The Book of Three Hen-Wen runs from Caer Dallben because she is frightened by the nearby presence of the Horned King. Taran is hooked into his adventure when he chases after her to return her to Caer Dallben. Dallben wants to keep her home so she can read a prophecy that might help them fight the Horned King. In the movie, however, Dallben is sending Hen-Wen away with Taran to keep the Horned King from getting her.
- Hen-Wen uses her oracular abilities by gazing into a dish of water, in the movie. In the book, Dallben has a set of ash-sticks with symbols carved on them. Hen-Wen then points to the symbols with her snout to dictate the prophecy.
- In the movie Eilonwy's bauble floats. In the book it doesn't, and she carries it in her hand.
- In the movie, Eilonwy tells Taran that the Horned King kidnapped her so that her bauble would give information about the Black Cauldron. In the book, Eilonwy lives, more or less reluctantly, with her "aunt" Achren, who is keeping Taran prisoner.
- In the movie, Taran and the others are pulled into the Fair Folk realm by mistake. In the book, the lake is made to pull people in on purpose, as it is felt that if they reach the lake, they are already "too close" to Fair Folk territory to leave.
- Doli is a dwarf in the book.