The Black Cauldron Reviews
Disney films are a kind rooted very much in a formula. They rely on cutesy characters and catchy songs as their main staple. With The Black Cauldron, the film breaks away from its generic conventions for a far more simplistic story. The story is so simplistic that hardly anything actually happens in the film. During the majority of the first half of the film, I felt like much of the time I was just watching a feature-length adaptation of the video game Dragon's Lair (1983) as it just follows a young boy's journey to the castle of the villain and his following escape. After that there is some generic conversation of mythology about the titular Black Cauldron before the heroes confront the villain and end the movie. The story is ridiculously simple in The Black Cauldron, and there is nothing to distract viewers from this. A lot of Disney films do have simple stories, but there is frequently something to disguise this for viewers. This is the area where The Black Cauldron really comes up short.
The darker ambitions of The Black Cauldron didn't live up to what I was expecting. Anything that would be considered frightening is featured sporadically throughout the story, Rather than exploring the underside of the fantasy mythology in the story, the "darker" nature of The Black Cauldron simply comes from its lack of cheesiness. The story takes itself very seriously with a distinctive absence of anything much that is lighthearted. Yet rather than taking this to the extent of its potential and embracing a more gothic nature of storytelling, all it really does is prevent the film from having any real humour. There is an intention to take the story seriously even though there is really no story there and nothing to hide this all beneath.
There is no character development either. Aside from the design of the story's villain who goes by the name of The Horned King, there are no characters in The Black Cauldron that are really all that memorable. There is a half-assed attempt to make a cutesy character out of the little furball named Gurgi, but in actuality he is just a rather annoying character who speaks in a repetitive lingo with a manner of speaking that is difficult to understand. He essentially follows a similar tone of voice to Golem from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003) but attempts to be cute in the process, and it just doesn't work. On top of that, the hero is seemingly one rewritten from the young male protagonist of every animated Disney movie ever; an archetype given a coat of whiteout but ultimately not offered anything distinctive. Frankly, The Black Cauldron is just another example of a film which took a loose concept from another text which turns into a story that has no relevance to its source material. And without the stereotypical Disney charms that fans have come to love, there is no narrative achievement in The Black Cauldron. The film has no story, no interesting characters and no mythology which comes with any intrigue. The voice cast hardly helps out by delivering a series of underdeveloped performances with the slight exception of John Hurt whose booming voice proves an ideal fit for the villain.
All in all, the only area of success in The Black Cauldron is its technical achievement. Luckily enough the animation is really beautiful. Given that The Black Cauldron boasted the largest budget for any animated film up until that point as well as the first animated film to feature computer-generated imagery, its no surprise that the imagery is so attractive. But what's mainly appealing about it is the actual colour palette used in the film. Rather than the stereotypically bright colours used in the more lighthearted Disney films, The Dark Cauldron plays with a creative experimentation of darker colours and shadows for its setting. The entire film has the feeling of a grand classical animation, but the fact that much of the animation depicts the images of witchcraft imagery with spells, fires and skeletons as the most memorable of the lot really gives The Black Cauldron the ability to stand out. It's a shame that the story doesn't spend too much time exploring the darker mythology of the universe because the imagery that the film procures is truly impressive in its colourful detail. The fact that The Black Cauldron mixes traditional animation with CGI presents an innovative step forward in the world of animation, and even though it is implemented it at a sporadic rate it is nevertheless creative enough to make an impression.
And as well as that, the musical score is truly marvellous. The experience proves to be a very atmospheric one at the right moments depending on how key the music is to the scene, and the work of Elmer Bernstein is consistently spectacular. The man captures an atmosphere of real fantasy adventure with a dark edge to it, and its very appropriate to the intended mood of the experience even if the narrative doesn't reach the ambitious extent of the composer. The sound editing might not necessarily be spectacular because the limited amount of actual sound effects used in The Black Cauldron comes off as feeling very slack, but during the more intense moments of the film Elmer Bernstein is present to support the film with a musical score which has been declared to be one of the best scores to ever grace an animated Disney film. For a film with no songs to it, The Black Cauldron is one which maintains a very memorable soundtrack.
The Dark Cauldron offers enough grace with its detailed animation and sweeping musical score to boast a stylish distraction for the least demanding viewers, but the unmemorable characters and lack of story combined with the absence of traditional Disney charm or ambition to explore the darker territory that it presents makes for an extremely empty experience.
Damn you critics, haters, and book purists.
The list of things flat out wrong with this flick are numerous but among the biggest complaints I had were shoddy animation work, characters and plot lines that serve little purpose to the story, and an abundance of plot holes.
Two stars though for the scene in which the old man/frog gets lost in the witch's cleavage.