Halloween Review – “The Black Cauldron”

As our Halloween coverage approaches the end of the season, we look back at one of Disney’s most mature animated projects.

Cast and Crew Information

Grant Bardsley as Tara
Susan Sheridan as Eilonwy
Nigel Hawthorne as Fflewddur Fflam
John Byner as Gurgi and Doli
Phil Fondacaro as Creeper
Freddie Jones as Dallben
John Hurt as the Horned King

Story credits go to David Jonas, Vance Gerry, Ted Berman, Richard Rich, Al Wilson, Roy Morita, Peter Young, Art Stevens and Joe Hale.
Based on the “Chronicles of Prydain” novels by Lloyd Alexander
There is no screenplay credit.
Directed by Ted Berman and Richard Rich.

Availability Information

This title was recently rereleased on DVD in a 25th Anniversary Edition. (Amazon.com, Amazon.ca)


A young boy must protect an oracular pig from the evil Horned King, lest the King might locate and use the Black Cauldron, which would allow him to create and unstoppable undead army.

High Point

The strong female character. They were starting to become more common in 1985, but if it’s even remotely accurate in its adaptation of her character, then that’s pretty impressive for children’s books published between 1964 and 1968.

Low Point

The awkwardness of the adaptation. I’ve never read the source material, but there are bits and pieces that don’t quite fit, seemingly to allude to information in the books that never made it on screen. As a result, the film feels incomplete.

The Review

When it comes to originality, most adaptations suffer, though it sounds like this adaptation wasn’t terribly faithful. (In fact, it sounds like it suffers from trying to adapt five full length novels into 80 minutes of screen time, including credits.) Even so, whether it’s a problem with the source material or the way they compressed it, the major plot points are very standard for the genre. I give it 3 out of 6.

The animation was decently done. It’s not terribly innovative, but it’s also not irritating or painful. It’s just stock, pedestrian stuff. I give it 4 out of 6.

The story is more mature than we’re used to from Disney. Within the first few minutes, the hero bleeds. Yes, it’s only a bloody lip, but it’s still blood on and from a Disney hero. It’s still a PG flick, but compared to the rest of the company’s animated fare, it’s mature. Unfortunately, there are just too many little conveniences, likely to adapt that much material into 80 minutes. Characters rely too much upon coincidence to make it through. I give it 4 out of 6.

The voice acting is much like the rest: tame. Nothing stands out as great, and the points of weakness at the script level are left to glare. The voice actors turn in their work in classic Disney fashion: funny voice timbres are more important than emoting. I give it 4 out of 6.

The production is also midrange. I was greatly annoyed to hear Elmer Bernstein effectively plagerize himself, though. This was released a year after “Ghostbusters,” and had many of the same musical cues by the same composer. Given that the score is one of the last things to be finished on a movie, and that there’s a 13 month gap between them, there should have been time for Bernstein to compose an alternative. The editing, sound and images get the job done. I give it 4 out of 6.

The emotional response was stronger than it should have been, mostly because of the Disney name. Had this been Fox or Warner Bros, I would have been less impressed. However, given the usual Disney target audience, watching something aimed at the young adult set is an impressive choice. I give it 5 out of 6.

Overall, it’s worth checking out with kids who are starting to outgrow Disney’s other stuff, but the parents alone probably won’t spend a lot of time with it. I give it 4 out of 6.

In total, The Black Cauldron receives 28 out of 42.

6 replies on “Halloween Review – “The Black Cauldron””

  1. It’s also the first (only?) mainstream DIsney animation that has the movie’s token fuzzy critter commit suicide to save his friends, which definitely puts it out of the league of younger children.

  2. I have read the books and the movie is cobbled together with bits and pieces from them. There are missing characters and added characters. With regards to the finale that Damien mentions, it’s far more powerful in the book. And far more permanent.

    The animation started far more ambitious. Supposedly there was to be a hologram integrated into the cauldron born sequence (which is pretty freaking disturbing by itself). I was look at this as “could have been awesome” and I give the company kudos for the attempt.

  3. To be fair on the score category – composers plagiarize themselves often. For example, James Horner plagiarized his score from Star Trek II for Aliens (the semi-fanfare for the Marines references Kahn’s theme), and then plagiarized Aliens for Patriot Games (the cue when Jack’s reading “The Cat In The Hat” in the hospital references the main theme from the start of Aliens).

    • Heck, Mozart and Beethoven reused their own stuff all the time. It’s a grand old tradition, particularly when you’re trying to churn out enough music to make a living.

  4. I’ve heard similarities and cues and the like before. This had at least 3 segments of 30 seconds or more that were taken from “Ghostbusters” with no modifications of any kind. To me, that’s going to far.

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