As the black sheep of the Disney family, The Black Cauldron is certainly undeserving of its lack of recognition. It is a lovely film in that it is beautifully animated. The characters are interesting but we really do not get a chance to learn much about them. This is a movie about going on an adventure. We watch the adventure and then it is done, all being well with the world.
There is no singing, no dancing, no amusing side plots, no plucky sidekicks…the most well-rounded character is a dog-like creature. Even the protagonist falls flat. He does go through character development, but it feels forced. Meanwhile, the sidekicks simply appear alongside him (characterized as a band of misfits) and while they all pull together, they still miss the mark on character depth. Princess Eilonwy is an airhead and Ffleddur is a buffoon – neither are particularly memorable.
Overall, I enjoyed this film. I see why it was not well-received, however. Even in the 1980s, this was not up to Disney’s usual calibre. Most importantly, it was not all that entertaining.
The feeling that I get from this movie is that it was rushed. Disney needed to get the movie done because it had languished half-made on the shelf for a long time. It needed a family movie for a deadline. It needed something that was a bit more edgy to compete with other animated films at the time. Whatever the reason, like a school project close to the deadline, it fulfils all the required elements and gets a passing grade, but lacks anything substantial or impressive.
It is not as though the source material for the film, Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain, are lacking in character and plot. Rather, the film attempted to adapt the books into a) one story and b) a family film. While they did an incredible job bringing the story to life visually, they forgot that the story and characters themselves are essential for it to live as well. You can buy a baby all the toys and cute outfits that you want, but it will be deprived if it has none to little food, water, and love.
On the other hand, Hen-Wen the pig and Gurgi the dog(?) are absolutely adorable. They made this film all worthwhile. I imagine their cuteness does not transcend the novels well.
Otherwise, read the books.
And Disney – do a remake…a much better one.