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HTF DVD REVIEW: The Black Cauldron: 25th Anniversary



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#1 of 15 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted September 10 2010 - 11:18 PM

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The Black Cauldron: 25th Anniversary
Directed by Ted Berman, Richard Rich

Studio: Disney
Year: 1985
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 80 minutes
Rating: PG
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English. 2.0 stereo surround French, Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish


MSRP: $ 19.99

Release Date: September 14, 2010

Review Date: September 10, 2010

 

 

The Film

3/5

 

During all of those years before The Little Mermaid when the Walt Disney Company couldn’t buy an animated hit no matter what they tried, the problem was never with the quality of the animation. The artists were talented and their resources were enormous, but they had a vast history of success to live up to: the number of animated classics in the studio’s vaults was (and is) astonishing making for a daunting challenge for anyone no matter how gifted. The Black Cauldron came after the lukewarm reception to The Fox and the Hound, but despite a $25 million production cost and years of labor, the film didn’t meet with much favor. It didn’t produce any characters of either immediate or lasting popularity in the Disney universe, and even in this new twenty-fifth anniversary edition, it’s easy to see why the film met with indifference. It’s beautifully animated, but the characters aren’t strikingly different except for their difficult to remember names, the comedy is rather tame, there are no musical numbers to give the predictable story a kick, and the overwhelming downbeat mood of the piece is rather oppressive. It may have been based on Lloyd Alexander’s award-winning series of books The Chronicles of Prydain, but the animators’ inspiration seems to have been something closer to Raiders of the Lost Ark (without the fun).

 

Alexander’s tales are based on his research into Welch mythology, and the result is that the film is loaded with unusually named beings both human and supernatural, and the names take some getting used to. Taran (Grant Bardsley) is given the mission of protecting the magical pig Hen-Wen who can see into the future. The pig knows the secret whereabouts of the Black Cauldron, an enchanted pot whose power can enable its owner to conquer the world with an army of death spirits. After the pig escapes from his control and is captured by the evil Horned King (John Hurt), Taran must rescue it, aided by the already captured Princess Eilonwy (Susan Sheridan), a captured minstrel Fflewddur Fflam (Nigel Hawthorne), and a cowardly creature named Gurgi (John Byner). Along the way, the heroes must cope with a trio of ornery witches and the Horned King’s weasely assistant Creeper (Phil Fondacaro) along with a duo of flying dragon-like creatures and the King’s burly army of slow-witted, muscle-bound soldiers.

 

In fashioning the story for the movie from the lengthy and heavily detailed children’s book series, a cadre of screenwriters have jettisoned a large amount of the drier details, but what has emerged is a fairly pedestrian adventure tale complete with a klutzy teen hero (who thinks he’s stronger and more resourceful than he actually is) and a series of predictable action set pieces for him and his friends. Characterization isn’t really plumbed to any great depths, so it’s hard to develop more than a rudimentary rooting interest in the protagonists. There’s no denying, however, that the animation is quite beautiful and an advancement on The Fox and the Hound which had preceded it. The artists use many sophisticated shadow effects throughout, and surprise entrances pop up constantly (which may cause the viewer to jump in his seat). The slinky green fumes pouring from the cauldron are sensationally portrayed, and the final destruction of the palace is quite an awesome sight. The twelve years in development and production show in the artists’ work if not in the writers’.

 

There isn’t much spark in either Grant Bardsley’s or Susan Sheridan’s voice work, and the chemistry is lacking between the couple as well making the innocent romance seem like an afterthought. Stalwart British actors Nigel Hawthorne and Freddie Jones (master magician Dallben) give their best efforts to make something out of the lackluster roles they’ve been given. John Byner pushes for cutsey too much as Gurgi. As usual in a Disney cartoon, the villain steals the show, and in this one it’s John Hurt as the Horned King. He has a rollicking good time with the part relishing every outrageous threat and thundering, bellowing fit of fury he has to portray.

 

 

Video Quality

4/5

 

The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is faithfully reproduced and is anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. Compared to the previous DVD release, this new DVD has been scrupulously cleaned and now shows no evidence of dirt, scratches, or other debris. Color is very impressive with strong hues that are deeply saturated (though there is an occasional mottled quality to the shading). There is some flickering present and some slight banding as well though these aren’t major concerns. There appears to be some edge enhancement with the image, too, though this is also limited and not a major problem. Sharpness on the whole is quite excellent except in the cave scene with the fairfolk which is unusually soft. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.

 

 

Audio Quality

4.5/5

 

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix makes very effective use of the entire soundfield with Elmer Bernstein’s engaging score wonderfully spread through the fronts and rears. A great amount of directionalized dialogue is present in the mix and though the recorded voices are easily discernible, the sound quality of the vocals is sometimes a bit hollow and thin though this is only a sporadic problem. The LFE channel gets a nice workout with this mix.

 

 

Special Features

2.5/5

 

There is one deleted scene which is presented in nonanamorphic letterbox and runs for 9 ¾ minutes.

 

The still frame gallery presents a collection of photos and drawings divided into seven categories: Visual Development, Character Development, Behind the Scenes, Voice Talent, Layout/Backgrounds, Tokyo Disneyland, and Promotion.

 

There are two games presented on the disc:

 

  • Quest for the Black Cauldron is a question and answer game requiring the players to remember trivia from the film. There are two different versions of the game offered.
  • The Witches’ Challenge requires the player to answer a series of riddles and then find in answers in a series of four pictures.
 

“Trick or Treat” is the 1952 Donald Duck cartoon presented on the disc. Presented in 4:3, it runs for 8 minutes.

 

There are trailers for Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue, Beauty and the Beast, and Tangled.

 

 

In Conclusion

3/5 (not an average)

 

While it’s very disappointing that Disney chose not to release a Blu-ray version of The Black Cauldron in its 25th anniversary year, the DVD looks the best this film has ever looked on home video. It’s not a great film, but those who have memories of it from childhood or who have read the series of Lloyd Alexander books it’s adapted from may find something of merit in it.

 

 

 

Matt Hough

Charlotte, NC



#2 of 15 OFFLINE   Jason_V

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Posted September 12 2010 - 06:53 AM

It's very hard for me to justify redipping on The Black Cauldron, even at a relatively cheap $14.99 this week, when I've watched my existing Gold Collection title once in four or five years.  Yes, it's nice for Disney to acknowledge this movie exists and to provide a better transfer than the old DVD.  But this isn't an A-list title...heck, it's not even B-list Disney.  There's nothing that shouts at me this is a MUST GET.  (Maybe when Wal-Mart knocks it down to $9.99 like they did Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Pete's Dragon.

 

Thanks Matt!



#3 of 15 OFFLINE   Brian Borst

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Posted September 14 2010 - 05:26 AM

It would've been great if Disney released a Special Edition for the animation buffs for this. Forget the kiddie games, and load this thing up with audio commentaries, a big, long, honest documentary on the making of, and art galleries, trailers, all the deleted scenes (that means the stuff that Jeffrey Katzenberg cut out too), along with a Blu-ray release. Let's face it, it's too little known for the general audience, anyway, and parents are unlikely to buy it, because it'll be "too scary for the children". Let's cater to the fans, just like in the Laserdisc era.


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#4 of 15 OFFLINE   Steve Tannehill

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Posted September 14 2010 - 06:22 AM

Sorry, but no blu-ray, no sale.



#5 of 15 OFFLINE   Alfred Bellows

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Posted September 14 2010 - 01:44 PM

Good comments by the other posters here, and I'll draw on what they have to say. What's the real cost-benefit for studios to add in a few extras that might provide more of an incentive to buy? I'd love an audio commentary, the trailers and perhaps some EPK material if available. Those things would make me buy now instead of waiting till it hits the Wal-Mart discount bin; for others, who look at the features list on the back of the DVD and see a more "loaded" disc, it might influence the decision to buy at all. Is it really too much trouble to get some cast members and co-director Richard Rich together for a commentary? (Co-director Ted Berman died in 2001.) Couldn't a low-level staffer or even intern coordinate the inclusion of trailers and EPK material on the disc at a cost in the mid-three figures?



#6 of 15 OFFLINE   ahollis

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Posted September 14 2010 - 01:49 PM

Just finished watching the new disc.  It is a great impovement over the first release.  The transfer is bright when it needs to be and dark when it has to be.  The aspect ratio finally looks right and the sound is clear.

"Get a director and a writer and leave them alone. That`s how the best pictures get made" - William "Wild Bill" Wellman


#7 of 15 OFFLINE   Richard--W

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Posted September 15 2010 - 05:28 AM

This was the last animated film by Disney that I can stand. I quite enjoy it. I remember filling out a question card after the screening. Disney wanted to know if it was too scary for children. I think I said yes. Since this DVD is evidently an improvement, according to feedback above, I'll buy it again, although I'm disappointed and a little puzzled that Disney isn't offering it on Blu-ray.



#8 of 15 OFFLINE   bob kaplan

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Posted September 15 2010 - 05:44 AM

Nice improvement over the old disc...that is for sure!!! Though i would have prefered a Blu Ray release....and hope i am not "diverting the thread" too much by requesting an improved release of HERCULES....with at least an anamorphic transfer.  Really enjoy that movie too!!



#9 of 15 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted September 15 2010 - 08:44 AM



Originally Posted by bob kaplan 

Nice improvement over the old disc...that is for sure!!! Though i would have prefered a Blu Ray release....and hope i am not "diverting the thread" too much by requesting an improved release of HERCULES....with at least an anamorphic transfer.  Really enjoy that movie too!!


I'd love to see that, too. I liked Hercules much more than The Black Cauldron, but with its very bold and bright color scheme, I am really hoping for a Blu-ray release for it.
 



#10 of 15 OFFLINE   WadeM

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Posted September 15 2010 - 12:02 PM

This was released already ?! Wow, time flies. I better go out & pick it up.

 

 

Hercules is one of the few I haven't seen. It was made during a period that I felt was Disney's worst--ever. Maybe one day...



#11 of 15 OFFLINE   Jason_V

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Posted September 15 2010 - 01:03 PM

I've never understood why we've never gotten a better Hercules disc.  Same thing with Treasure Planet and Black Cauldron...well, until this one came out.



#12 of 15 OFFLINE   MatthewA

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Posted September 15 2010 - 01:51 PM

Is the 9 minuted deleted scene finished animation?


Enough is enough, Disney. No more evasions or excuses. We DEMAND the release Song of the South on Blu-ray along with the uncut version of Bedknobs and Broomsticks on Blu-ray. I will not support anything your company produces until then.


#13 of 15 OFFLINE   Brian Borst

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Posted September 15 2010 - 10:01 PM



Originally Posted by Jason_V 

I've never understood why we've never gotten a better Hercules disc.  Same thing with Treasure Planet and Black Cauldron...well, until this one came out.


At least Treasure Planet looks and sounds great, and has plenty of extras for a single disc release.


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#14 of 15 OFFLINE   WadeM

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Posted September 16 2010 - 01:05 AM


Nope.


 

Originally Posted by MatthewA 

Is the 9 minuted deleted scene finished animation?



 



#15 of 15 OFFLINE   WadeM

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Posted September 16 2010 - 01:11 AM


Actually, I see that Hercules is the only one I haven't seen.  I'll have to watch it when it gets proper treatment.
 

Originally Posted by WadeM 

Hercules is one of the few I haven't seen. It was made during a period that I felt was Disney's worst--ever. Maybe one day...