When I first decided to do this marathon, my first thought wasn’t, “Boy howdy, how am I supposed to watch all of these films in a timely manner?” It wasn’t “Oh goody, that gives me an excuse to watch Disney movies!” No, my first thought when I decided to write this blog was - word for word - this: “Oh crap. That means I’m going to have to watch Black Cauldron again.” I’ve tried to let y’all know up front when I have a bias towards a film. Well, to give you an idea of how I feel about this film, let me tell you that I each step I took towards the DVD player with The Black Cauldron DVD in hand, was a step filled with all despairing dread.
And yet here I am watching Black Cauldron for a third time. I know that The Black Cauldron has fans; if you need proof, check out the IMDB message boards. I have noticed that these viewers call regular Disney films a “gooey-mess” with “happy characters” and “a long line of happy-go-lucky songs.” Well, obviously this person has yet to see The Fox and the Hound, but the point is I think that the majority of fans of The Black Cauldron are not true fans of Disney.
For one thing, I don’t care at all about the characters. They all seem very shallow and there are few moments that really give their personalities a chance to shine. They’re more stereotypes than actual human beings, and if there’s something that Disney has always done right, it’s create characters that the audience can relate to and care about. In The Black Cauldron its cast of characters is its biggest flaw.
Taran should be the hero that the audience roots for; he should be relatable, likeable, and a better person come film’s end. Instead he goes through the whole film fantasizing about becoming a great warrior and complaining to anyone that will listen – including his pig – that he’s not. He finally goes on the kind of quest that turns boys into heroes and manages to get a magic sword so for a while he feels like a great warrior, but then he loses the sword to witches. So he decides to sacrifice himself to save the day and maybe become a martyr but Gurgi chooses to die in his place. His great moment of heroism finally comes when he pushes the Horned King closer to the cauldron and inadvertently defeats the tyrant. He’s all depressed and down on himself because Gurgi’s dead. When he receives the chance to become a great warrior, he comes to the realization that he’s not a warrior and accepts his station as a pig keeper.
So essentially the film ends right back where it started with Taran now happy being a lowly pig keeper. One of the biggest themes in Disney films is always follow your dreams no matter how big they are, so for Taran to just accept his station in life is almost as though he is doing the exact opposite of what the Disney Company believes in. I get that the message of the film is that one doesn’t always need strength and brawn to become a great hero, but “The Legend of Johnny Appleseed” from all the way back in Melody Time had a similar message and pulled it off beautifully. It’s hard to believe in Taran, and if he’s going to be the leading man of the film, then believing in him is everything.
Of course, Taran is not the only problematic cast member. Eilonwy is the typical feisty princess that tends to make her merry way into fantasy stories, but she doesn’t offer much besides serving as a romantic interest for Taran. Her one source of power was that random bauble that floats around, but that mysteriously vanishes d after the group breaks out of the Horned King’s castle the first time and doesn't reappear until the end. If you ever want to wow your friends with obscure Disney trivia, you can tell them that a lot of the so-called Disney princesses aren’t. Princesses, that is, at least not by birth. In fact, the really famous ones (like Cinderella, Belle, and Tiana) married into royalty. Then say that Princess Eilonwy from The Black Cauldron is one of the few true princesses who received her title by being born into royalty.
And of course they give the required girl stereotype of cooing over all of the adorable creatures they meet, like the elves and… Gurgi. God, I’m hesitant to even get started on Gurgi. I’m usually the kind of person who doesn’t mind the cutesey characters geared towards the smaller children; I get sad when the one ewok dies in Return of the Jedi and I didn’t mind Orko on He-Man. There have been only two silly sidekick characters that have genuinely annoyed me: Jar Jar Binks and Gurgi.
Firstly, his name sounds a lot like the kind of noise a baby would make. Secondly, his voice.
… Not going to say anything more than that. Thirdly, his whole reason for joining the party is kind of weak. Taran let him have an apple that he stole a bite out of, so now they’re BFFs. I’m not sure that an apple should warrant a person sacrificing his or her life for somebody but that’s Gurgi.
|Recognize a Horned head above Lady Tremaine and Frollo?|
There was no Disney magic in this film. The characters felt flat and there wasn’t a sense of urgency in the story. The first time I ever watched The Black Cauldron – and I’m going to sound like a horrible person when I say this – I laughed when Gurgi died. Seriously. I literally went, “Yes! He’s dead! Finally, this film does something right.” And I was a bit disappointed when he was resurrected.
The reason I mention this isn’t because I want people thinking I’m a terrible person, but because Gurgi’s death should have been absolutely traumatizing for the audience to watch. As we all know well, Disney is no stranger to crafting emotional character deaths. Like its predecessors, The Black Cauldron’s death scene should have moved its audience to tears. But it didn’t because there was no emotional attachment to these characters.
Audiences should have responded to the plight portrayed in this film, but they didn’t. It was too dark for the whole family to enjoy but it was not dark enough to appeal to an older audience. For this, we do have someone to place blame upon: Jeffrey Katzenberg. The management team for Disney changed during the film’s production (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088814/trivia) and Katzenberg decided to cut out some scenes and images to make the film more family friendly; the last time fully animated scenes were cut from the finished was in Snow White. This film has the notorious distinction of being the first Disney animated film to earn a PG rating, but without the edits, it could have earned a PG-13 or even an R rating.
That’s right. The Black Cauldron contained elements that could have warranted an R rating. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but that’s the version of The Black Cauldron that I want to see. I think Disney should stop trying to market this as a film the whole family can enjoy and realize that The Black Cauldron could appeal to a whole new and hard to please demographic if they marketed it properly: 18 to 28 year old males. I would love to see Disney stick to this film’s true convictions and release an uncut, unrated version of The Black Cauldron on Blu-ray and market it towards adults and curious Disney fans. I don’t know if that would solve the characterization problems that The Black Cauldron suffers from, but I admit that I would love to see the version of The Black Cauldron that could have made it a landmark film for Disney: their first animated R rated film. But there is something good that comes out of this viewing of The Black Cauldron: since it was Disney’s twenty-fifth animated film, it marks the halfway point for Waking Snow White. Almost there.