This review originally appeared on the now-defunct site FamilyWonder.com, which showcased children's entertainment for parents and caregivers.
Title: THE BLACK CAULDRON
Year: Disney, 1985
Running Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
An evil king raises an army of the dead in this animated Disney adaptation of an award-winning children's book. Taran, an assistant pig-keeper in Prydain, longs for adventure. The boy gets more than he bargained for when he discovers that the pig in his care has a gift for prophecy. The evil Horned King wants to use the animal to find the cursed black cauldron, which contains a spirit capable of animating the dead. Trying to save the pig, Taran ends up in the Horned King's dungeon. He hooks up with a princess, a minstrel, and an enchanted sword that helps them escape.
Taran decides to find and destroy the black cauldron before the Horned King can use it to raise an army. But when his plan fails, he finds himself and his friends trapped in the dark castle once again. Meanwhile, the Horned King's forces of evil prepare to destroy Prydain. Only a fierce battle and a tragic sacrifice can save Taran and his home.
Best For Ages:
5-8: The cute sidekicks and rapid pace will appeal to this group, but the frightening images may fuel many a nightmare.
8-12: Kids interested in fantasy will enjoy the mystical plot, and horror aficionados will find plenty of familiar Halloween images.
12-up: Teens may find the love story immature, but the spectacular visuals might hold their attention anyway.
Educational Value: This imaginative movie may induce viewers to read the book BLACK CAULDRON and perhaps even the entire award-winning series, Lloyd Alexander's CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN.
Entertainment Value: The darkest of all the Disney animated features, THE BLACK CAULDRON will have much greater appeal for those who enjoy ghost stories and war epics than for fans of musical comedy. There are no songs, and even the comic relief involves violent images.
Violence: An unusually grisly Disney movie - the Horned King twice attempts to murder the hero; skeletons come to life and attack people; witches use magic to hurl objects.
Sex: A voluptuous witch attempts to seduce sidekick Fflewddur; at one point he is turned into a frog and nearly suffocates between her breasts.
Frightening Situations: The Forbidden Forest and the enchanted marsh contain lots of scary creatures. Other scenes feature violent soldiers, skeletons, a dungeon with a tomb, and the menacing Horned King. The hero is faced with death in several scenes. An adorable sidekick throws himself into the black cauldron and dies before being brought back to life.
Questionable Behavior: Drunken loutishness among the Horned King's followers; dependence on weapons to solve problems.
Mature themes: Death. Reincarnation.
The spookiest animated film in Disney's collection, THE BLACK CAULDRON may frighten even fans of GOOSEBUMPS and other youthful horror videos. The main character is faced with death several times, while both animal sidekicks survive torture. With the face of a skeleton and a voice somewhere between Darth Vader and the Wicked Witch of the West, the Horned King emanates evil, while his minions act like representations of the Seven Deadly Sins. Prydain isn't exactly an inviting world.
Nonetheless, Taran makes a compelling hero. He starts out fearless because he has little to lose. As he makes friends, however, his concern for Princess Eilonwy and cuddly Gurgi makes him more cautious, until in the end he is ready to sacrifice his life to save the others. One eight-year-old, impressed by the heroism, found it surprising that Taran would return to fight without the magical sword that once made him invincible. Girls may be frustrated at the non-centrality of the princess, but Princess Eilonwy makes a strong showing--besides a screaming fit near the end.
The striking animation is not very attractive: the dark landscapes of the castle and the woods have many subtle shades, yet few bright spots. The realistic warrior skeletons create the most memorable images from THE BLACK CAULDRON, but they're also likely to terrify children. This is a film for kids who really enjoy exploring the dark side of fantasy. For those young enough to be afraid of Snow White's stepmother, it will only cause nightmares.
If your young HARRY POTTER fans enjoy this movie, also try THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS and THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD & MR. TOAD.
Children's Television Reviews