The Black Cauldron
The Tolkein / D&D brand of sword & sorcery common in Lloyd Alexander's classic Chronicles of Prydain was a bit dark for the Disney set, but the Mouse factory went ahead and made The Black Cauldron anyway. Too bad they Disneyfied it to death.
THE BLACK CAULDRON (1984)D: Ted Berman and Richard Rich; with the voices of John Hurt, John Huston, Nigel Hawthorne, Lindsay Rich, Grand Bardsley, Susan Sheridan. In the elite inner circle of children's fantasy authors, Lloyd Alexander is right up there with C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle, and J.R.R. Tolkein. Alexander's mythical Prydain was a land of sorcery, battle, and folklore, featuring the growth of young Taran from an assistant pig-keeper into a High King over the course of five volumes. Alexander's world was Middle-Earth for a younger crowd, with more emphasis on character development and the coming-of-age thread. It's commendable that Disney ever even attempted The Black Cauldron, based on the first two books of Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain. The Tolkein/D&D brand of sword & sorcery is a bit dark for the Disney set, yet it was a popular source of animation throughout the Seventies and early Eighties. Disney wanted a piece of the pie and gave Alexander the Disney treatment, Prydain lending itself to a Mouse makeover far better than Middle-Earth. There are the lovable creatures -- Hen Wen the oracular pig, Gurgi the furry sidekick -- and the lovely Princess Eilonwy, whom Taran gets to save (of course). These characters were all in Alexander's books, but their portrayal in the film is shallow and reductive, at best. In the opening sequence, John Huston (also the narrator/Gandalf in Rankin & Bass' The Hobbit) sets an appropriately grave mood for what the story should have been, but what follows is a bit dumbed-down. The evil Horned King (voiced by John Hurt) is passable as a sort of dark Skeletor figure, but his minions -- particularly his little gnome-like lieutenant -- are way too cute. In the books, Eilonwy is not revealed to be a princess right away, but the film just throws it in without even explaining what she is a princess of. That kind of oversight is common here. Eilonwy's a princess just because, the wild-roaming Gurgi is impossibly cute just because, and Taran continually escapes the clutches of the Horned King just because. Worst of all, after making the ultimate sacrifice, Gurgi comes back to life at the end just because. Simply on the merit of the source material, this is in some ways one of Disney's better films, and its long-awaited video release a couple of years ago was a treat for Alexander and Disney fans alike. Still, it's a little disturbing to see the empty husk of Alexander's classic story, just Disneyfied to death.
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