The Black Cauldron: 25th Anniversary Special Edition

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Rating: PG

Starring:
Grant Bardsley as Taran (voice)
Susan Sheridan as Eilonwy (voice)
Freddie Jones as Dallben (voice)
Nigel Hawthorne as Fflewddur Fflam (voice)
Arthur Malet as King Eidilleg (voice)
John Byner as Gurgi / Doli (voice)
Lindsay Rich as Fairfolk (voice)
Brandon Call as Fairfolk (voice)
Gregory Levinson as Fairfolk (voice)
Eda Reiss Merin as Orddu (voice)
Adele Malis-Morey as Orwen (voice)
Billie Hayes as Orgoch (voice)
Phil Fondacaro as Creeper / Henchman (voice)
Peter Renaday as Henchman (voice)
James Almanzar as Henchman (voice)
John Hurt as The Horned King (voice)
John Huston as Prologue Narrator (voice)

Directed by Ted Berman and Richard Rich

Special Features:
The Witches’ Challenges Games
Deleted Scenes: The Fairfolk
“The Quest For Black Cauldron” Game
Short – “Trick Or Treat” Cartoon Starring Donald Duck And His 3 Nephews
Stills Frame Gallery

Other Info:
Widescreen (2.35:1)
5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound
Spanish and French Languages
Spanish and French Subtitles
Running Time: 80 Minutes

The Details:
The following is the official description of the film:

“Fantasy, magic and fun are all brewed together in Disney’s legendary adventure The Black Cauldron – created from a new digital master this 25th Anniversary Edition features vibrant picture presentation and includes exciting new bonus features! Whoever releases the mysterious Black Cauldron’s powers will be invincible! The fearsome Horned King will do anything to possess it, but he is challenged by the most unlikely adversary: a young assistant pig keeper named Taran who dreams of doing heroic deeds. With a motley team of the brave Princess Eilonwy, a minstrel named Fflewddur Fflam, and Hen-Wen, a remarkable pig who can predict the future, Taran embarks on a quest to stop the Black Cauldron’s evil once and for all. Will he have the courage to succeed?

Now with The Black Cauldron – 25th Anniversary on DVD, you can share more magical adventures with your family!”

“The Black Cauldron: 25th Anniversary Special Edition” is rated PG for some scary images.

Mini-Review:
I hadn’t seen “The Black Cauldron” since I saw it in the theater as a kid in 1985. Long considered one of the red-headed step-children of Disney animation, this film hasn’t been widely distributed or promoted like other Disney films. It was released on VHS in 1998 and again on DVD in 2000. Now 10 years later it’s released on DVD yet again. I had fond memories of this film as a kid, so I was eager to check it out again 25 years later. I have to say it didn’t hold up all that well.

“The Black Cauldron” seemed, well, dull this time around. The storyline is pretty basic and we have a lot of fantasy names and creatures thrown at us in seemingly random order. It felt a lot like Ralph Bakshi’s “The Lord of the Rings” animated film, and I wasn’t a big fan of that either. The film very much follows the “Star Wars” formula where we have the lowly farm boy battle the evil villain and ultimately saving the princess and becoming the hero. While that “hero’s journey” formula can work well and be entertaining, it seems forced here. Then when you shoehorn in Disney elements like a cute pig, a comical goblin, and colorful Smurf-like fairies, you start to have something that feels very manufactured. You don’t notice it as a kid but as an adult it’s very apparent.

One of the things that really stood out to me as a kid was Gurgi. I remember ‘munchies and crunchies’ and my classmates doing their best impressions of the character, but now the character seems a lot less cute and more like a Disney version of an Ewok. In fact his cute routine is a bit grating. My kids enjoyed him, but luckily for me he was quickly forgotten.

The animation is OK. It’s a strange mix of styles. You see definitive Disney style like that in “Robin Hood” or “The Jungle Book.” But you also see bits that look like they were from 80′s Saturday morning cartoons. It’s in an interesting stylistic limbo somewhere between old-school Disney and the Disney renaissance that started with “The Little Mermaid.”

On the positive side, I thought “The Horned King” was an interesting dark design. The fact that he was voiced by John Hurt was an added bonus. The use of John Huston has the narrator was also cool. “The Black Cauldron” also has some great action. There is a good action scene featuring some dragons attacking the heroes. There’s also a scene with the Horned King’s henchmen chasing the heroes through the castle.

All in all, I have to say I realize now just what a high bar Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” set for fantasy films, both live action and animated. It helps show how it can be done right and how it can be done wrong. When you put “The Black Cauldron” up against it, those lessons become very apparent. But you have to give Disney credit for trying something different. All this being said, there were episodes of the “Dungeons & Dragons” cartoon that were better.

New bonus features on this 25th Anniversary DVD include the game “The Witches’ Challenges” as well as a new deleted scene. It features an alternate version of the meeting with the Fairfolk. It’s nearly 10 minutes long and significantly different from the one in the final version of the film. The Fairfolk are a lot less Smurf-like in this. Also included on the DVD are the previously released “The Quest For Black Cauldron” Game, the Donald Duck cartoon short “Trick or Treat,” and a Stills Frame Gallery.

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