PG, 1 hr. 22 min. Directed by: Ted Berman, Richard Rich. Release Date: January 1, 1985. DVD Release Date: October 3, 2000.
I was six when my Aunt Sharon, arguably tied with my grandparents in the race to be my favorite person when I was a kid, took me to see this in the theaters. Watching this movie is one of the few memories I have of her from when I was young, although I do know she took me to the arcade at our local Golf ‘N Stuff (made famous by the date scene in The Karate Kid) on a semi-regular basis. Unfortunately, this was also one of the last times I saw her in a truly positive light. By the time I hit a double-digit age range, I knew that she had problems that she wasn’t up to solving on her own, and no one in the family could actually seem to figure out a way to fix the problem. I guess the bottom line is “say no to drugs,” and I’m not going in to further details on this. Just. Say. No.
People hated this movie. A lot of people still do. There’s a reason. This is decidedly not a Disney movie. Not everything in this movie is light and pretty. The bad guy is ridiculously scary if you’re a child, and the discussion of conflict is frank and a bit of a fear generator for Disney’s usual target audience. While I think the original series of books this was based upon was the Harry Potter of its day, the books were aimed at older kids, whereas the Disney brand name attracts a typically younger audience. I actually like The Black Cauldron because it ISN’T like the other Disney movies. The Horned King, the antagonist of this piece, is easily the most disturbing of Disney’s villains. He’s no beautiful witch, or deviously attractive bokor. This guy is BAD. His goal isn’t vague, like world domination. He wants to raise every dead soldier and use them to conquer the world. And here you thought someone else started the zombie horror craze.
In many of the details, this is a typical Disney flick of its time piece. The animation is colorful and without the shadowing effects you see in the classic Disney movies. Backgrounds are beautiful woodsy or pastoral settings, and the supporting casts of characters helps balance a bit of the e-vile that is the Horned King and his purpose. The adaptation of the book is fair, in many ways better than Disney’s traditional performance, although they did have more than a few pages to work with this time around. I really, really like that this movie didn’t have all the action-consequence dichotomies that we expect of traditional fairy tales taken out of it. While I don't have children of my own, it seems ridiculous that we have a generation coming of age that doesn't seem to realize that their actions might (and usually do) have consequences. Makes being an adult that much harder.
If you’re going to have problems with excessive use of magic or a frank discussion of what evil might be… avoid this. Buuut, if you want something kind of unusual from a really good group of filmmakers, check this out.