Friday, 9 May 2014

Ani-MAY-tion Month: The Black Cauldron (1985)

Often cited as a low point for Disney, I am not going to beat about the bush with this review. I absolutely agree with the majority. This is a big disappointment. More than that, it's just a bit too bizarre to have come from the house of mouse (and, don't get me wrong, I LIKED some of the bizarre elements).

The black cauldron is an evil receptacle that would allow someone to raise an army of the dead. Someone like, ohhhhh, The Horned King (John Hurt). But, thankfully, The Horned King doesn't know where the cauldron is. Nobody really does. Apart from a cute little pig that can be put into a trance, allowing it to display a talent for second sight not often seen in porcine individuals. That little pig is to be looked after by Taran (Grant Bardsley), a young man who dreams of one day being a hero and of seeing more excitement than anything he has experienced in his life so far. So, being a bit of a moron, Taran loses the pig within minutes, ends up almost hand-delivering the creature to The Horned King and soon has to seek out the black cauldron before it falls into the wrong hands.

Based on work by Lloyd Alexander, it's hard to know whether the fault for the poor material onscreen lies with the source material or the people who had a hand in adapting it for the screen. Well, anyone who has read the any of the books will know, but I am sadly unfamiliar with them. I do, however, trust more in one author taking care with their creation than the dozen or so people that it took to put this script together. Considering the final result, it certainly seems as if too many cooks well and truly spoiled the broth this time around. And then poured the broth all over the animated cells. And then urinated on them.

Directors Ted Berman and Richard Rich don't seem to have done anything to improve the situation. The sub-par animation drags viewers along from one disparate scene to another, with the whole movie lacking any kind of fluidity whatsoever. It doesn't help that a little creature called Gurgi puts itself forward for consideration as the most irritating Disney "sidekick" of all time. He may not be in it for the whole runtime, which is a small mercy, but he's in it enough to make you hate him. Which makes any moment when you're supposed to care about him completely ineffective.

The cast providing the voices are perfectly fine. As well as Hurt and Bardsley, we get Susan Sheridan as Eilonwy, Freddie Jones as Dallben, and Nigel Hawthorne as Fflewddur Fflam. Yes, even the names of the characters are quite irritating, especially when you have to spell them correctly while writing out a review. I would explain who these characters are, but it doesn't seem worth it. Nothing about The Black Cauldron really feels like an actual film. It's more like a selection of deleted scenes that have been stitched together to create the semblance of a feature.

Having listed numerous complaints here, I must just finish by saying that this isn't an unwatchable movie, as surprising as that may seem. No, it's just a very poor one. There are some nice animated moments here and there, and a scene in which Taran and his companions meet three witches is amusing enough, mainly due to one witch blurting out a couple of innuendos and comments that seem out of place in an animated Disney movie from this time.

As with any Disney movie, this one has its fans. I'm just not one of them.


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