I actually think I got this movie in a Happy Meal when I was a kid. Those were the days when McDonald’s dinners and boxes of Shreddies yielded computer games and Voltron rings. What a magical time. But The Black Cauldron keeps resurfacing in my life. I never hear anyone talk about The Fox and the Hound or The Little Mermaid Part 2; but The Black Cauldron is the topic of radio shows, nostalgic documentaries, and dreams I discuss with my therapist. The funny thing is, it’s neither that memorial nor particularly groundbreaking…
The Black Cauldron feels like the all-encompassing bible of our favourite clichés. There’s the lowly farmer boy who dreams of being a warrior, the sensitive princess in a pretty dress, the henchman who fears a strangling from his master, and the evil hooded figure with skeletal hands and an affinity for cobweb curtains. It all fits within the story of a boy, Taran (voiced by Grant Bardsley), who promises his boss that he will protect his vision-seeing pig from the clutches of the Horned King (voiced by John Hurt). The great danger is that the blue-eyed lady pig will reveal the whereabouts of the black cauldron, thereby enabling the Horned King to raise an undefeatable army and wipe out humanity – or something like that. Taran and the greased pig that slips away at a blink, are aided by the beautiful Princess Elionwy (voiced by Susan Sheridan), Fflewddur (voiced by Nigel Hawthorne) the comedic minstrel with a lie-detector harp, and a furry cross between Gollum and Dobby the house elf (voiced by John Byner). The quartet escape castles, fall into fairyland, bargain with three wicked sisters, and destroy private property all in one bright, cloudy, and red-skied afternoon.
It’s not a subtle fact that Taran wants much more than this provincial life. He wants adventure in the great wide – war-ravaged battlefield. All Elionwy wants is to escape the castle – she hasn’t really thought about a future beyond. And Fflewddur (gazoontite) wants an untorn pair of pants. Three guesses who the most interesting character is. We’re committed to finding out how Taran will protect the special pig at all costs, but shortly after hearing the black cauldron is findable and potentially breakable, Taran ditches the pig, wholeheartedly trusting that fairies will take her home. “Thank you!” Peace out.
I suppose pig-sitting is less likely to impress his lovely companion than adventure-seeking. Taran, however, is hardly prince charming. He robs royal graves and has the nerve to call Elionwy silly, causing the princess to run away and cry behind a tree. Many things, however, can be fixed by mature female instincts, undeserved complements, and twirling your pretty dress, so Taran gets past this particular faux-pas relatively unscathed.
Unlike the Horned King. The Black Cauldron may look, sound, and feel like a babysitter of a movie, but the Horned King’s (spoiler alert) eventual demise proved me wrong. Sure Taran’s company are cheesily honest, trustworthy, and flat out lucky, but the Horned King is a mean old bastard with a skeleton fetish and a maniacal laugh who’s just asking to be slain. The cauldron doesn’t joke around; it takes care of the evil ruler by sucking the flesh from his bones as he screams in agony before setting his hollow skeleton on fire. What’s the rating on this movie?
The cauldron is like the One Ring in a surprising number of ways. Taran, after being held up by a furry creature that addresses him as “Master”, follows two dragons to a dark castle beyond a nearly impassible stretch of badlands. The castle’s owner is looking for a mysterious object that only grants the power of pure evil. An honest soul must sacrifice him/herself willingly to stop the cauldron’s evil from spreading. Frodo – I mean Taran – only gets as far as he does thanks to a glowing sword and advice from the grammatically incorrect creature who knows the way to the Black Gate – I mean, can follow hoof prints in the dirt. I have to keep reminding myself that The Lord of the Rings was written well before and filmed well after The Black Cauldron.
Definitely not as charming as I thought it would be, The Black Cauldron is a little boring in parts and hardly a twisting and mysterious plot. The characters say what they feel and repeat their mandates at every new chapter. The Black Cauldron neatly captures almost every fantasy/princess cliché out there, making it feel unoriginal and predictable. Sadly, it sits around a 4/10.