Monday, May 14, 2012

The 31 Day Movie Challenge - Day 16 - THE BLACK CAULDRON (1985)

- Rated PG for some scary images.
- Featuring the voices of Grant Bardsley, Susan Sheridan, Freddie Jones, Nigel Hawthorne, John Byner, John Hurt
- Written by David Jonas, Vance Gerry, Ted Berman, Richard Rich, Al Wilson, Roy Morita, Peter Young, Art Stevens and Joe Hale (Based on The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander)
- Directed by Ted Berman & Richard Rich
- Running time: 1hr 16min.

(The 31 Day Movie Challenge was proposed to me by fellow film critic Jessie Hoheisel (from superawesomemovieblog). We each chose 30 films for each other to review for the month of May. The first film chosen will be from 1970. The second film from 1971... and so on. The last day will be a film from 2000. I accepted the challenge!) 

Like most kids growing up, I watched quite a few Disney cartoons.  I saw many in the theater (remember when they used to re-release Disney films every 4 years or so?), but for some reason I missed THE BLACK CAULDRON.  I know my mom took my brother and sister.  Not sure why I didn't go along for that one.  Hmmmm.  I remember that this movie was sort of a big deal upon release since this was the first Disney animated film to be Rated PG as opposed to the more family friendly G.  Anyway, I saw it for the first time about 10 years ago, and then I watched it again last night to refresh myself.

Taran is a teenage boy who lives with an old man on a farm, who tells him that one of their pigs (Hen Wen) possesses a magical power that allows him to see things others can't.  For no other reason than to move the plot forward, the evil Horned King learns about the pig's whereabouts and sends out dragons and shit to find it.  Taran is given a mission to runaway with the pig and keep it safe.  I wasn't quite sure where they're supposed to go, but while he's out he meets an annoying small furry character named Gurgi.  After about 2 minutes Gurgi claims that he's Taran's best and only friend.  Not sure when they became friends, but okay.  Taran gets captured and thrown into the dungeon of a huge dark castle, as the Horned King takes the pig to use it to find the black cauldron which will allow him to raise the dead... I think.  While prisoner, he meets a young personality free princess, and an annoying old man (according to the IMDB his name was Fflewddur, but it sounded like they were calling him Flutey).  They escape the castle when Taran finds a magic sword, then try to reach the black cauldron before the Horned King gets to it.

I love 80's fantasy films.  I grew up on several.  THE DARK CRYSTAL, LABYRINTH, DRAGONSLAYER, WILLOW.  I even love the Ralph Bakshi fantasy cartoons like WIZARDS and LORD OF THE RINGS.  I was really looking forward to seeing Disney's "dark" sword and sorcerery animated film.  It was a major disappointment on almost every level.  However, before I start on what sucks about this I'll talk about the good.  The visuals looks quite good.  I sure do love traditional hand drawn animation.  The design of the creatures (especially the dragons) are very imaginative.  The landscapes look great too.  Elmer Bernstein's score stood out, even though at times it sounded like he was regurgitating some cues from GHOSTBUSTERS.  Even though Disney had the right atmosphere to create something special, they fumbled it big time.

I guess it was a troubled production. This was made at a time when Disney was going through a transition.  Their last few films weren't all too successful (although I liked FOX AND THE HOUND and THE RESCUERS), and they were desperate for a hit.  But they just couldn't get themselves focused.  The movie had a whopping 9 main story writers, and several other writers working on additional dialogue.  It shows.  This felt like it wanted to be a dozen different films.  Every 5 minutes Taran meets some weird character, like a grumpy old man yellow pixie or coven of witches.  I couldn't tell you why any of these characters were in the movie as they offered nothing to the plot.  Even the princess.  There are also several ambitious ideas but there are so many that it brings the movie to an incoherent place.  Before you can wrap your mind around one mystical idea, they introduce 5 more.  Too much in so little time (it's under 80 minutes!).

Taran is one of the worst heroes that the Disney studio has ever created.  Scrawny, boring, and severely underdeveloped, the writers don't even try to make the audience cheer for him.  There's no character development at all.  In the first five minutes, before you can get to know anybody, Taran's master sends him on the mission hardly explaining anything to him (and to us for that matter).  Sure the villain is scary looking for small children, but he couldn't be more bland.  Taran's (too many) sidekicks are shadows of real characters.  Fluty is creepy, the princess is unappealing and Gurgi could be George Lucas' influence for Jar Jar Binks.  That's right, it wouldn't be an 80's Sci-Fi/Fantasy movie without a cute character with an annoying voice. 

There's lots of magic in this movie but I don't know why.  All of the fantastical things happen in this just because it's a fantasy film.   There's no drive.  With all of the talent and effort put into this, the movie only amounts to a bunch of premature ideas that are clumped together, making little sense.

*1/2 (out of ****)

1 comment:

  1. SInce you wonder why many of the characters and elements in this film were included, it helps to know that Disney didn't invent it all themselves. THE BLACK CAULDRON was an attempt to condense two books of a five book series (THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN by Lloyd Alexander) into a single film. Much is lost in the transition, and characters became generalized cliche's, losing their original purpose. None of them are interpreted as Alexander intended. The only character that is an original Disney creation is Creeper, the Horned King's sniveling lackey. The rest are just pared down, simplified, and forced in. And many, many more from the books were left out. Disney tried to copy the icing, but forgot to bake the cake,