Sunday, October 25, 2009

The darkness of Disney 8: The Black Cauldron

Just prior to his death in 1966, Walt Disney acquired the film rights to author Lloyd Alexander's childrens fantasy series, the Chronicles of Prydain, of which The Black Cauldron (Newberry Honor book, 1966) was the second volume out of five. In 1985, the Disney studio released an animated film adaptation of the book, advertised as Disney's "25th" animated feature (counting all of the package films the studio released between 1942 and 1949, but conveniently leaving out Victory Through Air Power).

The movie was the darkest animated film Disney had released in a very long time. Just prior to release, it was subjected to censor demands that certain scenes be cut (mostly those involving the film's villain, the Horned King), in order to bring the film down from a PG-13 rating to a PG rating. The final result was panned by most critics and did poorly at the box office. However, the film has gained quite a cult following since then, thanks primarily to Disney keeping it readily available via home video (instead of keeping the film on "special release" status, like most of its other animated features). A "restored" version of the film has yet to be released.


Servo said...

Been reading your insights with a great deal of interest. Thanks for doing this series.

I was huge Disney fan at one time, and was always fascinated how some of its darker elements have been ignored.

The Black Cauldron was one those that it seemed like a last gasp by Disney's animation to be taken more "seriously." I tend to think of it as the studio's last big animation gamble until the animation renaissance of the 90's. I also can't remember if this one of those that Don Bluth was involved with before his departure.

I have one request/question, but I don't know if falls into the "darkness" category. The scene in Dumbo where his mom is caged, and he can only reach her trunk was pretty wrenching to me as a little kid. But that's just me.

Anyhow, great job on this. Sorry if I am rambling a bit.

Kandou Erik said...

Oh - I remember hating that movie. A friend of mine got me so scared of the book - telling me if you said "Black Cauldron" three times, bad things would happen. (I was very young)

It was a very ambitious movie on Disney's part, but it did indeed go too far in the scare factor for kids.

Sea-of-Green said...

Ah, yes, that Dumbo sequence is another one of those that always makes me bawl my head off. Don't worry -- I haven't forgotten Dumbo. :-)

I first saw Black Cauldron when it was released in the theaters, and I remember being rather shocked by the death of the Horned King. It definitely ranks up there as one of the most violent and disturbing deaths of a Disney villain.

Sea-of-Green said...

Footnote: The last animated feature that Don Bluth is credited with working on prior to leaving the studio is Fox and the Hound (1981). However, Black Cauldron was supposedly in production for at least seven years; so Bluth would no doubt have known about it, even if he didn't personally work on it.

MetFanMac said...

Oh yeah--this movie (and its villain) were scary as anything. It was, however, poorly made, so I hate it.