The Black Cauldron (1985)

“I presume, my boy, you are the keeper of this oracular pig.”

Justin’s Rating: Miss Piggy was not harmed in the making of this film.

Justin’s Review: Diving into the murky depths of lackluster ’80s Disney animation, we at MRFH extracted a unique animal: the PG-rated cartoon. Never before 1985 had Disney’s animation studio broke with its lilly-white G-rated mission statement, so it took a move of daring, of courage, and of such ineptitude to bring to the screen a sight that might just terrify the small person demographic they sought to appeal.

That’s right: Disney created an animated zombie movie. I kid you not.

The Black Cauldron is an adaptation of the second book of Lloyd Alexander’s best-selling Chronicles of Prydain fantasy series, which were in turn based on older Welsh legends, which were then based on Welch grape juice. Antioxidants, you know. I was a fan of this series when I was a kid, enthralled with a mini-Lord of the Rings yarn about an “assistant pig-keeper” named Taran, his prophecy-telling pig Hen Wen, and various other members of the pig-keeping entourage. When I re-read it as an adult, however, I found it to be a bit simplistic and lacking expansive imagination.

It’s kind of odd that Disney decided to leap into the middle of a book series that wasn’t widely-known as others. And if you’re familiar with the books, then you’d be a little more than horrified at the chop work they do to repackage it all into a tidy little film. It largely defeats the broader tale of Alexander’s writings, boiling it down to a tale of a Skeletor-like meanie who wants (mua-ha-ha-etc) world domination and his great zombie ambitions.

Meanwhile, there’s an assistant pig-keeper named Taran who is understandably perturbed about his job future. I mean, you just don’t pick up a lot of ladies in bars with the line, “Oh yeah, I’m not even good enough for the number one pig-keeping spot.” The hotties know to hold out for the real deal. Taran is finally given his purpose when Skeletor tries to hunt down the pig and Taran is tasked with taking the swine on an extended holiday.

Prepubescent decoy that he is, Taran promptly takes Hen Wen the pig right into the middle of the Skeletor’s den of evil (on cage match night, no less), who uses the pig’s mystical snout to find a magical cauldron that can raise corpses from the dead. Pesto, chango, and the bad guy has an unstoppable army. It works out well for Skeletor, too, since he has a strange overabundance of corpses in his castle that he’s shown talking too on occasion. I’m guessing “lonely childhood” here.

Despondent and in need of allies far more capable than he, Taran makes friends with a miniature yeti, a progressive princess, and a creepy old man with a harp. They become the elite fighting force known as the Justice League of Wales and wage a cartoony war on Skeletor and all of his undead minions.

The movie gets infinitely more fun and disturbing once necromancy comes into play. I can’t imagine how parents reacted when they took their kids to this movie in the ’80s, expecting the next Bambi or Cinderella, and watching Night of the Clumsy Dead instead. Soooo many kids were scarred for life from thi film.

As such, The Black Cauldron died an embarrassing death in the theaters and is largely considered to be one of the great low points of the Disney animation empire. I guess they needed a few more musical numbers to put things into perspective.

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