Black Cauldron is a film that I have absolutely no memory of and may well never have seen it as a child. So about the only thing I knew about this movie going in is that it’s largely ignored mostly because it’s dark.
Immediately that reputation is confirmed as in the opening narration, it’s made clear that the eponymous cauldron is one that some ancient evil king was thrown into because he was so evil and unstoppable that the only way to get rid of him was to encase him in molten iron. Fast forward to the time the movie takes place and a new bad guy, the Horned King, wants the cauldron to raise an army of the dead.
Meanwhile, a kid named Taran is busy helping raise a pig that can magically show visions. Taran’s master tells him to take the pig (Hen Wen) to a cabin in the forest to hide her from the Horned King who has inexplicably found out about the piggie power. I’m curious as to how since apparently no one other than the master knows about this. I suspect magic is involved. But apparently not the magic that would have just told the Horned King where the cauldron is.
Taran starts taking Hen Wen to the forest cottage, but he’s so busy dreaming he’s a great warrior that he allows Hei Wei to be captured by a dragon who takes him to the Horned King’s castle. Taran runs into a silly dog looking creature, Gurgi, that sounds astoundingly like Gollum/Smeagol from the Lord of the Rings movies. Not just the voice the word choices as well. It was similar enough that I had to stop and see if they had the same voice actor. They don’t.
Next Taran sneaks into the Horned King’s castle to rescue Hei Wei and gets himself tossed in the dungeon. Princess Eilonwy rescues him and as they’re sneaking out of the castle, he finds a magic sword. They end up fleeing and not rescuing Hei Wei, but pick up an old bard, Fflewddur. No, I didn’t spell that wrong. Oddly enough, the bard never sings. In fact, there’s not a single song in the whole film. But we’ll come back to that.
For whatever reason, the trio goes in search of Hei Wei elsewhere, even though there’s no reason for them not to think she’s still being held by the Horned king. They fall into fairy land where the fairy king tells them where to find the Cauldron and sends one of his minions to take them to it. Oh, and reunites them with Hei Wei.
Turns out the Cauldron is in a marsh and being guarded by three witches who trade it for Taran’s magical sword. But joke’s on him because there’s no way to destroy the magic. Just nullify it’s powers. With a living sacrifice that enters it of its own free will.
Surprise! Bad guys show up and steal it. Thanks for finding it kid! The Horned King creates his army of the dead and everything’s about to be awful again when Gurgi shows back up and sets them free. Taran decides to throw himself into the cauldron but Gurgi beats him to it because he stole an apple from Taran and feels bad or something.
So the undead army starts being re-dead and it’s time for the Horned King and Taran to have the epic fight sequence. Except not. Because Taran isn’t much of the archetypal hero given that he still can’t fight and doesn’t have the magic sword that did the wee bit of fighting this film has seen for him. Instead, he just gives Taran a shove towards the Cauldron but he hangs on to something while the Cauldron’s magic goes out of control or something, and the Horned King falls in it instead. And that makes the castle fall apart because reasons.
The heroes escape and the witches show back up to take the Cauldron back since they think it’s useless now. But Fflewddur insists on a trade. They offer him the sword back, which is odd since they were so keen on it in the first place and the Cauldron is apparently useless. But Taran says he wants Gurgi back instead. Apparently this is something they can do because reasons.
So yeah. That was a mess of a film. It was a standard hero’s tale, but lacking many of the crucial elements as the hero never really heroed. The bard never barded. And the princess, well, we’re not really sure if she is a princess given the Horned King calls her a scullery maid at one point.
The film’s known for being a pretty big disaster. During a test screening, children literally fled the theater because scenes were too scary. In particular, the Cauldron releases a mist when it touched the Horned King’s living mercenaries there were graphic scenes of them dissolving into skeletons. This was cut.
To activate the Cauldron in the first place the Horned King obviously used a living sacrifice as there’s suddenly blood dripping onto the cauldron’s foot with no explanation except another cut.
The escape from the castle is another scene where there’s rumored cuts in which Taran is said to have killed some of his pursuers.
Not surprisingly, the film was a huge flop and nearly bankrupted Disney.
However, one of the highlights is the film’s score which was done by Elmer Bernstein who had just finished working on Ghostbusters. Not surprisingly, there’s some similarities between the two. In particular the use of a theremin for a spooky noise.