Monday, September 28, 2015

Ask JKM a Question: The Black Cauldron (1985)

A regular reader, Chuck, writes:

"As a huge fan of your blog/work, I have a particular request that I realize may seem a bit outside of your normal repertoire—if for no reason other than the fact it includes the words “Walt” and “Disney” near its title. 

But, if there is anyone who can properly deconstruct Disney’s The Black Cauldron, it might be you. The Black Cauldron was (in)famously one of Disney’s biggest flops. It almost destroyed its entire animation studio. 

Without going too much into that history, I would recommend the fantastic documentary “Waking Sleeping Beauty” for anyone who is interested in learning more. The film is an adaptation of the five-book series of books, “The Prydain Chronicles” by Lloyd Alexander. I will admit I am a huge fan of the books, which probably informs my interest in the movie. To say that the books are superior to the movie is probably non-controversial. But this is neither the time nor the place for another “the book is better than the movie…” diatribe.

Instead, let’s just focus on the movie itself. 

One of the biggest criticisms against it was (and probably still is) that it was too gory for young audiences, which earned it a “PG” rating (a Disney movie rated PG?!? Gasp!). 

And the villain seemed particularly dark and scary, at least by standard “Disney measures.” He was hardly seen, and had very little dialogue. Of course, like all Disney villains, he had a short side-kick who was created for the film as a possible source of some comic relief.

Indeed, I may be wrong about this, but I believe The Black Cauldron was the first animated Disney film to show actual (albeit animated) blood. 

I would really love to know your thoughts on this movie. Was it a classic by any measure? No—I don’t think so. But I think it certainly deserves better than its initial reception."

Chuck:  What a great question!  And this is the perfect time to remember The Black Cauldron, as it is celebrating thirty years since its premiere  (or was, anyway,  in July of 2015).  

I still remember all the controversy the film generated.  It was considered a new style for Disney, and one that, to old hands, anyway, seemed too graphic, violent and dark.  I remember the debate well.

Was this the future of Disney and animation? Or a blind alley?  Today, the film is much appreciated by fans, but representative of a different brand of creative thinking, for certain, than the current crop of animated films.

I shall take up your call to action and post a full review of this animated film tomorrow at 6:00 am. So stay tuned!

Don't forget to ask me your questions at

1 comment:

  1. One would think this movie wouldn't shock people too much at the time as earlier Disney put out The Black Hole which featured Anthony Perkins getting disemboweled by a scary red robot with Cuisinart blade hands. Sure, it was live action not animated but still...