Monday, 14 November 2011

Review - The Black Cauldron (1985 - Dir. Ted Berman, Richard Rich)

Before we start, have another look at the directors' names. I didn't know that Richie had a career in films or that he would make something so lacking in innuendo (although you can make up your own filthy caption for the picture below).

I also didn't realise that Skeletor appeared in a Disney film. He always was a tad on the camp side, but here he's gone the whole hog and wears a dress. Can skeletons have sex changes? It's not as if they've got any middles to actually change.

The final stunning revelation is that Andy Serkis is a homaging rascal. There is an irritating small character (as there often is in Disney films) called Gurgi, who speaks in a Gollum voice, even down to the rhythm of the words. Now, I've watched the extras on all of the Lord of the Rings and not once does Serkis mention The Black Cauldron as inspiration. Maybe it was just his tribute, like those kind, caring folk in tribute bands. (Am I the only person completely sick of Serkis and his motion-capture bothering ways?)

Anyway, on with the review. It might seem strange to see a Disney film on obscurendure. Even though I can vaguely remember this coming out, I haven't heard anything about it since. An obscure Disney film that ticks a lot of features on the Sword and Sorcery Checklist: I couldn't resist. 

With a running time of 77 minutes, it plods along at a slow pace and it seems to be missing five or ten minutes of action in the latter stages. Being based on The Chronicles of Prydain books by Lloyd Alexander suggests that they weren't short of material (this could explain Gurgi's similarity to Gollum though). Quite a few shots of people being hacked and slashed were cut to make it more family friendly; these might have gone some way to improving the ending. A scene of Princess Eilonwy partially nude, with her clothes in tatters was also removed (ooh, so close to getting all the features on the checklist.) Even with those cuts, the film is quite dark and scary (relatively speaking) for a Disney film, with skeletons being resurrected left, right and centre. (There's even some blood in it. Crikey.)

My main problem with The Black Cauldron is the casting. There is a strange unnerving disconnect between the voices of the heroes Taran and Princess Eilonwy and their onscreen characters. In a similar fashion to when an actor's voice is dubbed on to another actor's performance, you know that something is amiss. This jarring of sight and sound only served to pull me out of the film on regular occasions.

The Black Cauldron would be perfect to watch on a cold morning at Christmas time; the traditional hand-drawn animation and beautifully painted backgrounds give it a warm and nostalgic feel. Suffice to say, the animation is excellent throughout. I'm not surprised that this film nearly crippled Disney. It might have done better if it hadn't had the Disney name attached and all of the expectations that go with that.

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  1. "Now, I've watched the extras on all of the Lord of the Rings and not once does Serkis mention The Black Cauldron as inspiration"

    'The Lord of the Rings' was written during the late 1930s by Tolkien. Hope you're not seriously implying that the movie, based off of the original novel, is a rip off of The Black Cauldron...

    1. No, not in the slightest. I'm referring to the way that Serkis plays Gollum, in particular his voice. That's where the homaging comes in.

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