The Lost Disney Cartoon You May Have Never Heard Of: The Black Cauldron
"Black Cauldron" (1985) tells the story of Taran, a young assistant pig keeper who, accompanied by the wild pig Hen Wen, sets out on a mission to save his land from the evil Horned King, who has stolen a magical cauldron. The film was not well received by audiences and is regarded as one of the most unsuccessful animated feature films in history.
The film was released in theatres on December 12, 1985, but it was a flop. It only made about $4 million at the box office despite a $15 million budget. It received an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Short Film but did not win. The film was also nominated for two Annie Awards, including Best Individual Achievement for Technical Achievement and Outstanding Individual Achievement for Character Animation in an Animated Feature Production (Taran).
The Black Cauldron is an adaptation of Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain. Don Bluth directed the film, which was released in 1985. Taran is played by Nigel Hawthorne, Princess Eilonwy is played by Catherine Mary Stewart, and Gwydion is played by Patrick Stewart (who was voiced by Richard Dawkins).
Taran is on his way to save his mother from an evil lord named Lord Caerleon, who has stolen her magical cauldron. A subplot involving Taran's love interest, Princess Eilonwy (Catherine Mary Stewart), and her quest for freedom after being enslaved by Lord Caerleon is also included in the film.
Some of the film's flaws are undeniable, such as the uninteresting main character Taran, and can be attributed to its failure. However, the majority of the negative feedback was due to plagiarism claims based on similarities to Peter Jackson's other hugely successful fantasy film, "Lord of the Rings," which was released only a year earlier.
Disney made no objections. In fact, they paid New Line Cinema $200,000 to use Gurgi in some of their films. Disney did not protest at all. In fact, they paid New Line Cinema $200,000 for the right to use Gurgi in some later films.
Despite its limitations, The Black Cauldron was an innovative film. In these days, intense family films are the norm; Toy Story 3, Up, How to Train Your Dragon, and the Shreks should all have been rated PG-13. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which owes much of its astronomical success to its fidelity to the source material, hints at a more intelligent, multifilm Chronicles of Prydain that Disney could have created 25 years ago.
Despite its flaws, The Black Cauldron was a film that was ahead of its time. Up, How to Train Your Dragon, and Shrek were all rated PG, while Toy Story 3 was terrifying. The Lord of the Rings series—which owes its success to its faithfulness to its source material—suggests a better, smarter, multi-film version of Chronicles of Prydain that Disney could make today—the studio still owns the rights.
John Lasseter recalls his time on Cauldron and is hesitant to return. But perhaps the masterpiece Lasseter seeks is right in front of him, in the story that Disney used to lure him away from CalArts. Disney animators attempted to transform Cauldron into Snow White. I wish they'd try again twenty-five years later.