Professor Joseph Campbell built his scholarly career as a mythologist and cultural anthropologist with many subjects but he remains best known for quantifying and defining a trans-cultural standard; stories about heroes. In every cultural there is at least one set of myths detailing the epic journey of a hero in training. This is so ingrained in the fabric of humanity that it is no surprise that such themes become the basis for more literature and films than you might realize. The Star Wars saga is just one modern proof of Campbell’s hypothesis. These themes are not just suitable for films like this it has even found its way into the lauded Walt Disney animated canon in several instances but one on the most notable examples is under consideration here; ‘The Black Cauldron’. It’s hard to believe that this movie is now celebrating its 25th anniversary, especially since I saw this one in the theaters with my wife. this might seem odd since we were both past the age usually targeted for an animated film and we had not yet had our daughter both of us were in a mood for something different than the typical flicks of the time and we both grew up watch Disney movies play well to both children and their parents ‘Black Cauldron’ returns to a tradition of darker themes featuring grand battles between the absolutes of good and evil. This film is light of the furry woodland creatures but concentrates more on the integrity of the story and how it related to the classic hero origins story. The important factor has to be taken into account with any analysis of the movie. This was a period where the Disney Studio was in the process of trying to resurrect their animated film division. Just prior to the release of this movie that part of the wonderful world of Disney had become quiescent with nothing but a few relatively minor releases. It was the hope of the studio that this film would help put them back on track to recapture their former domination of the genre. The movie was floated for theatrical but release was at best half hearted; strange in a way considering what the film represented to the division. It just goes to show how historical perspective can change. While not considered one of the great representatives of the canon at this point the film does command more respect than previously held.
David Jonas took the novel by Lloyd Alexander turning it into the screenplay for the film. Although Jonas continued on with his career in the art department this was his only time scripting. When it comes to creating a screenplay for an animated feature having experience in the art side of production is an immense help. This usually allows the author to better imagine what would eventually be used as the all important story boards. Actually in most Disney animated flicks most of the key production team worked their way through the ranks of the art department. To a lesser extent this held true for the co-directors Ted Berman and Richard Rich. Both did, however, rack up considerable credits on their resumes directing similar projects. This film represented another paradigm shift for the studio. Embracing a then new trend this was the first computer generated animated film for Disney. While nowhere close to what is considered standard today this did give the computer one of its first footholds for this purpose in cinema. After watching this flick you will be reminded as to just how far computer generated animation has come in what amounts to a rather short time.
The story starts off in the long held tradition of the genre with a boy living on a small farm. Taran (voiced by Grant Bardsley) has the low social station of Assistant Pig keeper but despite this handicap to future success the lad daydreams of his true desire; to be a great warrior. His employer, Caer Dallben (voiced by Freddie Jones) is a wizard who sets destiny in motion when he places Taran in charge of a very important pig, a sow named Hen Wen. It turns out that the animal possesses the ability of seeing into the future making him a considerable treasure. This does not go unnoticed by the dark Horned King (voiced by John Hurt) the evil lord makes a covert plot to kidnap the magical creature for his own nefarious schemes. The pig has the key to locating the mystical Black Cauldron. This artifact has the ability to unleash a legion of undefeatable undead warriors who if under the control of the Horned King who plunge the world into despair. The only possible hope of salvation is for Taran to sally forth to find the cauldron first. In typical fashion for a heroic journey the boy goes out into the unknown to prove himself worthy of being a hero. Along the way he meets the usual ragtag associates to help him on his mission. First there is the lovely Princess Eilonwy (voiced by Susan Sheridan), an over the top brad Fflewddur Fflam (voiced by Nigel Hawthorne), and Gurgi (John Byner), a strange annoying creature who’s saving grace is fierce loyalty. As the trek progresses the troupe faces an assortment of magical evils and dangers ranging from trolls to witches. As each obstacle is faced down Taran draws one step closer to realizing his dream of heroic proportions.
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