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DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Bambi - Absolutely Recommended!!! (2 Viewers)

Ernest Rister

Senior HTF Member
Oct 26, 2001
I'm stunned.

Yep, Golden Age feature animation is something to behold. Some day, far far in the future, I expect to see the first five Disney animated features included in the curriculum of film school studies. As animation becomes more and more a tool for live-action filmmakers, Disney's contribution in codifying and in some cases discovering many of the secrets of animation are going to one day be seen as seminal to film technology as D.W. Griffith's use of his camera in Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. When I was taking film classes at the University of Texas, Disney's contribution to film history was limited to a single paragraph in my film history text. Apparently, he made a long cartoon once called Snow White.

Jeffrey Nelson

Sep 4, 2003
Seattle, WA
Real Name
Jeffrey Nelson
I saw THE BLACK CAULDRON in the theater, and remember quite liking it. I find it hard to believe that stuff like ALADDIN, POCHAHONTAS, MULAN, HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and HERCULES could be better...

Granted, it ain't Disney's finest, but how could it be their worst animated feature?

Ernest Rister

Senior HTF Member
Oct 26, 2001
It's not. It isn't great, and it has multiple story and staging issues, but it isn't their worst.

I tend to think that those who believe this is the worst Disney animated feature are those who have fixed ideas about what a Disney animated film should be -- a "genre" idea about Disney animation.

Walt pushed the envleope, he rarely repeated himself. He tested the limits of the medium, he tested audiences and their ability to accept the medium. He was a leader. He was not a follower.

In that respect, The Black Cauldron was a noble failure. You can say many things about the film, and Lord, Lord, Lord, how I wish we could see the original cut of the film before then-new Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg cut it down (not that it would improve the film, but it deserves to be seen whole) -- but one thing you CANT say about Cauldron was that it was somehow some piece of sugary typical Disney pap. It was a bold film, a clear break from the films of the 70's, and while it has multiple issues, I'll take an ambitious experiment from hungry Disney animators any day over a child-centric autopilot work like Brother Bear.

Stephen Brooks

Second Unit
Nov 19, 2003
Indianapolis, IN
Real Name
Stephen Brooks
Did anyone else read the books? The Black Cauldron was loosely based on the first two books in a series called The Chronicles of Prydain. I only vaugely remember the books from my childhood and I haven't seen them in print in ages. If the Narnia movies come anywhere near the success of LOTR, maybe this will be another untapped source for a live-action fantasy saga?

Ernest Rister

Senior HTF Member
Oct 26, 2001
I read all five right after the movie premiered.

Lloyd Aexander liked the movie, and winkingly, mentioned that he especially liked the fact that it drove more business to his books sales.

I don't know if we'll ever see a live-action version of the Prydain tales, but anything is possible.


Senior HTF Member
Aug 20, 2000

I find it hard to believe that a Disney animation "historian" would consider Disney animated films to be typical sugary pap. I have seen what sugary pap looks like and I do not think that Disney animated features
even come close to fitting into that category.

Ernest Rister

Senior HTF Member
Oct 26, 2001
The amount of money expended on the "noble failure" haunted the animation unit for years afterward.

Actually, that's a myth. Cauldron's production costs were $25 million if you believe the press at the time, and the film had a domestic gross of around $22 million, and roughly the same amount in overseas markets.

TBC was a theatrical version of a bad saturday morning cartoon. The animation quality even reminded me of saturday morning cartoons, albeit with more motion.

What exactly are you referring to with the phrase "animation quality"? The clean-up work? The inking? The surface detail? The photography? Because while certain shots are not Disney's finest hour, the film features several instances of stellar character and f/x work in the actual *animation*. Not uniformly excellent by a long shot, but not uniformly bad, either. Not surprisingly, the more outlandish characters receive the best character animation (Gurgi, Creeper, Flewdurr, the Witches), because the animators had more to work with.

I find it hard to believe that a Disney animation "historian" would consider Disney animated films to be typical sugary pap. I have seen what sugary pap looks like and I do not think that Disney animated features even come close to fitting into that category.

Check that. Who said I was speaking about the animated features? There are dumptrucks full of examples of "sugary pap" in the history of Disney Family Entertainment, with new additions to the sugar mountain produced on a daily basis, which is problematic because this has led to a lower regard than is deserved for Walt Disney's films in general.

But we've been over this before, in another thread, two years ago -- reprinted here for your convenience.


In my personal opinion, at the root of every bad movie is a bad screenplay. Before we can jump into an anlaysis into the wisdom of making Cauldron, I think it's fair to first judge the movie itself. Fantasia was probably an unwise business decision, too, but Fantasia turned out to be a glorious movie and is today one of the brightest gems in the Disney crown. Cauldron is not a bright gem.


The primary reason Cauldron doesn't work is the story. Cauldron is a "chase" movie. Like The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars, the good guys are in possession of an item that the villain wants and desperately needs to consolidate and expand power. In the instance of Cauldron, that item is the pig, Hen-Wen, which has the magical ability to locate people and objects. The villain needs the pig to find the Black Cauldron, an evil object with the ability to create an ermy of the Undead. Those who have been charged with protecting the pig learn that the villain has learned of Hen-Wen's powers, and are now searching for the porcine oracle. The young "assisant pig-keeper", Taran, is ordered to take the pig into a secret location deep in the forest, to hide her from the villain.

Taran is a young man who dreams of proving his manhood. He thirsts for adult respect, and believes that if he were a great warrior and soldier, he would be admired and would be seen finally as a man, and not a boy. He resents his job as "assistant pig-keeper", because how on earth could anyone respect a man whose primary job is servant, and servant to a pig, no less? Fighting and defeating the Horned King in battle, however, would earn him respect.

So far, so good.

Taran heads into the forest with Hen-Wen, and begins to daydream of people cheering his name. When he snaps out of his reverie, he discovers to his horror that the pig has wandered off. He begins to search for the pig, and is waylaid by the small furry animal, Gurgi, who pounces on him to steal his food. While arguing with Gurgi, Taran hears the squeals of Hen-Wen. He runs into a clearing and sees that winged servants of the Horned King are pursuing her. Despite his best efforts, she is captured by the beasts, who then fly off to the Horned King's castle (victory through medieval air power).

Taran decides he must save her from the Horned King's clutches. Again, from a story stand point, so far, so good. Hen Wen is the "prize", and Taran is in pursuit. Taran asks the creature Gurgi to go with him, but Gurgi is a small coward who would never dream of such a thing. Taran goes alone.

He infiltrates the Castle and finally sees the Horned King - a mysterious cloaked figure possessing magical abilities. He is visually terrifying, but as a character, he lacks a personality. He should be "the Wicked Witch" of the story looking for the Ruby slippers, or the Lord Voldemort questing for Harry Potter's blood, or Darth Vader looking for the Death Star plans. The Wicked Witch is a gleeful sadist who enjoys torturing others more than she does killing them. Voldemort is an incredibly arrogant racist who despises Wizards who have breeded with non-magical humans, and he wants to slaughter them all (sort of like Frollo, only without the sense of humour). Darth Vader is a violent, passive-aggressive fascist who persecutes others for his own failures. When angered by his inability to control the world, Vader is the sort who would walk across the street to kick a puppy, to take out his own internal rage on those weaker than himself.

The Horned King, when we see him in action, is like a skeleton on life support. His voice sounds like a strangled whisper, as if it is a struggle to to even speak. Throughout the entire film, we learn nothing of who he really is. The hallmark of Disney animation is "personality animation", and yet, here is one of the most fearsome-looking Disney villains of all-time, and he has the all personality of a dying oak tree. We know the motivations of the Witch, Voldemort, and Vader. We don't know the Horned King's motivations, other than the woefully cliched hunger to "rule the world". Why does he want to rule the world? What makes him tick? We never know.

Taran manages to grab Hen Wen and is chased through the castle. He throws Hen Wen off a high ledge into the castle moat, freeing her, but he is captured himself. Taran is thrown into the dungeon, and at this point in the movie, the story abruptly changes direction.

Much has been made of the similarities between The Black Cauldron and Star Wars. With apologies to Carrie Fisher, Hen Wen is the Princess Leia of the story. Leia knows where the Rebel Base is, and Hen Wen knows where the Black Cauldron is. Luke infiltrates the Death Star to rescue Leia, Taran infiltrates the Castle to rescue Hen Wen. Vader tracks Luke and Leia to the rebel base, the Horned King tracks Taran to the Black Cauldron. Cauldron has also been compared to The Wizard of Oz, in that Taran/Dorothy and a group of unlikely friends try to face down an Unholy Evil who craves a magical object that will increase her power.

There is a primary reason why Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz work so well - and this has been termed the "victim/villain relationship" by Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston in their book, The Disney Villains. In both Star Wars and Wizard of Oz, the protagonist and the antagonist have a distinct realtionship with each other. Luke hates Vader because Vader killed his father. They are personally linked through a debt of blood. The Wicked Witch of the West wants to kill Dorothy, because she blames Dorothy for the death of her sister, the Wicked Witch of the East. Dorothy also owns the slippers of the dead sister, and so, the protagonist and antagonist are personally linked.

There is no personal linkage between the Horned King and Taran. They have no personal relationship at all, no personal conflicts. If you don't have have conflict, you don't have drama. You feel for Luke and Dorothy because they have suffered an injustice at the hands of the antagonist. Once Taran rescues Hen Wen, the entire dramatic arc of the movie shifts to Taran's quest for respect and heroism. All the drama in the film up to this point has been a Maguffin, we realize. The only real conflict in the story as is Taran's battle with his own pride.

As the second act begins, Taran sits mournfully in the dungeon, deeply ashamed at his failure, his pride stinging as he recalls his own bold promises and dreams from the beginning of the story.

A stone in the floor suddenly lifts up, and a teenage girl enters from the floor below. Also a prisoner of the Horned King, she has escaped her own cell and has heard Taran's mournful self-loathing, and so, she breaks into Taran's cell to see if he can help her escape. She is disappointed that Taran is just a young teenage boy, not a warrior, which rankles Taran (again, the wounded pride), but she invites Taran to come with her on her escape attempt.

The girl says she is the Princess Eilonwy, and once again, we are given a character with no clear personality and motivations. Like the Horned King, she is a paper-thin cliche. A Princess of an unnamed kingdom, with a few token words of empowered feminism ("Girl? If not for this girl, you would still be in the Horned King's dungeon!"), she serves no narrative purpose in the story at all, except to scream at scary things and give comfort and encouragement to Taran.

Why was Eilonmy captured? Because she is accompanied by a magic bauble, a swirling ball of light that swirls around her like Peter Pan's Tinker Bell (only there is no fairy inside the ball of light - we get the image, without the character, which sums up many of the writing problems of the movie in a nutshell). Eilonmy tells Taran that she was captured because the Horned King thought the Bauble could tell him "where some old Cauldron" could be found.

What is the Bauble? What powers does it have? Why does it appear and disappear throughout the story? What is it's point and narrative purpose in the film? The answers to these questions never come. Indeed, the Bauble is forgotten about rather quickly, by both the audience and apparently, the creative team.

Taran and Eilonwy creep through the corridors underneath the dungeons, looking for an escape route. They accidentally stumble into an antechamber housing the tomb of the Good King who once ruled in the castle before it became a domicile of evil. Atop the King's stone casket is a sword. Taran's eyes glitter - all warriors need a sword. Taran performs a bit of grave-robbery, and takes the sword for himself.

When Taran and Eilonwy are discovered by one of the Horned King's soldiers, the sword suddenly comes to life, slashing and shattering the weapons of the guard, who runs in terror. Taran is overjoyed -- the sword is the answer to his prayers...with the magic sword, he can finally be the great warrior he has always dreamed of becoming.

Taran and Eilonwy begin to make their escape, and they run into a room housing another prisoner of the Horned King -- an old man named Flewdurr Flam, a travelling bard with a magic harp. The harp's magic power? It snaps a string every time Flewdurr tells a lie. Taran and Eilonwy rescue Flewdurr and the trio make a daring escape, with Taran's sword saving the day again and again.

What is Flewdurr's point in the story? Comedy relief, I suppose, and a few words of wisdom here and there. Outside the castle, the group rests and regroups. They are set upon by Gurgi, who re-appears once again looking for food. Taran calls Gurgi a coward once again, but Gurgi tells them he has seen Hen Wen's footprints.

The group, with Gurgi leading the way, begin to try and find Hen Wen. They follow her footprints, until they stop at a large pond. The pond is a magical door into the land of the "Fair Folk", winged pixies who are aligned against the Horned King. They have been hiding Hen Wen, and Taran tells them the Horned King is after the Cauldron. Taran figures that if they can reach the Cauldron first, and destroy it, then they can stop the Horned King's plans.

The King of the Fair Folk, Eidelleg, knows where the Cauldron is hidden, and so he sends the crotchety old pixie, Doli, to lead Taran and his friends. Taran says goodbye to Hen Wen, and the pig is never seen again until the last shot of the film. Again, she is a Maguffin, the true story of the film is Taran's quest for respect.

The party is led into the swamp of Morva, where the Cauldron is guarded by three witches. They bargain for possession of the Cauldron, and Taran reluctantly gives up his sword in exchange. Once the Cauldron is raised, the party suddenly realizes they can't break it. The Three Witches re-appear and tell them the Cauldron cannot be destroyed. Once it has been activated, and begins creating the Undead Army, the only way to stop it is by sacrifice. A living being must climb into it of its own free will, and give up its life in exchange.

The group sits dejectedly, and then the screenwriters realize they have no use for Doli anymore, and so he chastises the group for being incompetent, and he vanishes. Suddenly the party is ambushed by the Horned King's soldiers, who have been following them. Cowardly Gurgi runs away, and watches in the distance as the group is taken prisoner and led back to the Castle with the Cauldron in tow.

Why are Taran, Eilonwy, and Flewdurr taken back to the Castle? I suppose the Horned King suffers from "James Bond Villain" syndrome. Killing the group would be too easy. Far better to tie them up so you can call them names and then force them to be victims of the Cauldron-Born.

Mwah ha ha ha. Goodbye, Mr. Bond. I have you tied up so you can watch me turn on my destructive evil weapon. Now, I will leave the room, so you can figure out a way to escape and thwart my evil plan, which will surely end with my own ironic destruction. Come, incompetent lackey - let us watch from atop my fortress, which surely will explode and collapse just as the good guys escape.

The Horned King has the Cauldron taken to a room inside his castle which is full of decomposing skeletons -- bodies apparently dug up out of graves or collected on some distant battlefield and taken to the castle to be used as an undead army. The Horned King sneers at Taran and friends, then deposits a dead warrior into the Cauldron, and then, in a nod to The Ten Commandments, a creepy mist issues forth, which brings the dead soldiers to life.

The skeletons begin to rise and stagger around, killing a few of the Horned King's soldiers. This sequence shows heavy signs of editorial tinkering, with last-minute edits so jarring, they interrupt music cues (as the film cuts from one shot to another, you can hear the tail end of a symbal crash fading into the distance. If you have the Black Cauldron soundtrack by Elmer Bernstein, you can "hear" the original sequence in it's true form. It is well-known that Jeffrey Katzenberg - new to the company - took the scissors to The Black Cauldron in an effort to improve the film weeks before its release (or possibly, cut out certain shots to try to avoid a then-controversial PG rating). Nowhere is Katzenberg's tinkering more apparent than in these climactic scenes, though the rumour goes some lifts were also made during Taran's 1st act trip through the forest looking for Hen Wen before he meets Gurgi, as well as the removal of a character named Moose, who was one of the Horned King's less-intelligent soldiers. According to Disney insiders, the cut footage is nothing to write home about, and amounts to around two minutes, total.

Still, the cuts to this final sequence are readily apparent, and because these cuts were made to lessen the terror and violence of the Cauldron-Born, they therefore somewhat lessen the importance of stopping them. It would be nice to one day see a completely-uncut Cauldron, but it is doubtful two minutes of footage could solve the film's myriad problems.

The Horned King leaves the room so he can go to a high ledge of his castle and watch the Cauldron Born slowly walk forth and slaughter everyone in the Kingdom. Gurgi suddenly appears, having had a change of heart, realizing he must not be a coward and must stand up for his friends. Gurgi frees the group, and then Taran decides he must jump into the Cauldron and sacrifice himself to save it. Gurgi will not let him, saying "Master has many friends. Gurgi has no friends." Gurgi throws himself into the Cauldron, the Cauldron switches gears from "Blow Green Mist" to "Suck Green Mist Back In". A fierce wind whips through the room as the Cauldron begins to vacuum the green mist back into itself.

The Horned King becomes enraged as he watches the bodies of his undead warriors stop in their tracks and fall apart. He storms back to the dungeon (as fast as he can, which isn't very fast), and sees Taran near the Cauldron, wondering if he can still save Gurgi. The Horned King decides to try and throw Taran into the Cauldron to "satisfy it's hunger". Taran kicks the Horned King into the Cauldron's "vacuum", and the Horned King is swept across the floor to the Cauldron's base. The Cauldron glows red, the Horned King grabs a hold of it to try and hold on, and then then the wind becomes extremely fierce, ripping all the clothes and flesh off the Horned King's bones, leaving nothing of the King other than a shocked and stunned skeleton, which then explodes.

The Cauldron grows super-hot, Taran rejoins Eilonwy and Flewdur as they try to escape the castle by boat. Apparently, there is a sizable lake around the castle, a fact the filmmakers have forgotten to show us up until now. The castle collapses, pushing the boat to safety on a giant blast of water.

Taran and friends paddle to shore and watch silently as the castle submerges into the lake. The Cauldron suddenly bubbles to the surface, and floats towards them. The Three Witches then re-appear, to reclaim the Cauldron. Flewdurr (suddenly acting as Taran's attorney) refuses to give up the Cauldron for nothing. The Witches offer to exchange Taran's magic sword in exchange for the Cauldron so he can be a hero.

"I'm no hero. Gurgi was the hero." Taran says, grieving. "I'm not a warrior. I'm a pig-keeper." Taran says. He is now at peace with his station (we guess).

Taran proves his inner strength and true quality of character by rejecting power and his own dreams. He offers to exchange the Cauldron for Gurgi. The Witches balk, and Flewdurr chides them. The Witches grow angry, and turn into streaks of light that swirl around the Cauldron. When the lights vanish, so has the Cauldron, and in its place is the lifeless body of Gurgi. Taran picks up Gurgi's body and the animal's head flops back, mouth open. It is an uncomfortable image, a degree of unnecessary realism that for my money is more distasteful than anything else in the movie.

The camera switches to a close up of Taran's face, and then we suddenly hear Gurgi's voice. Disney Ex Machina! Gurgi is alive! The band rejoices, and then they all march off happily back home (which is actually only Taran's home - Princess Eilonwy apparently seems in no big hurry to get back to her Kingdom). Meanwhile, Taran's mentor and Doli the Grumpy Pixie watch as Hen Wen projects a vision of all that has transpired. "You did well, my boy! You did well!" the mentor says. Taran has achieved Adult Respect.

The End.


The Black Cauldron was photographed in Technirama 70, the same wide-screen process used for Sleeping Beauty in 1959. Lacking compelling characters and a compelling story and compelling drama, Cauldron tried to rely instead on rock-'em, sock-'em f/x animation, swooping camera moves, and booming 6-track Dolby Stereo Sound in the 70mm venues.

Several experimental procedures were used in the film. Cauldron was the first animated Disney film to incorporate Computer-Generated Images alongside hand-drawn images (*not* The Great Mouse Detective, which is often incorrectly cited by Disney as being their first film to use CGI in their hand-drawn films). In Cauldron, the escape-boat and Eilonwy's Magic Bauble were both created by Computer.

Another experimental choice was the use of live-action fog elements seen as a red, swirling background in the shots of Taran first approaching the Horned King's castle. Live-action elements were also used for the shots of green broiling smoke bubbling out of the Cauldron. The use of live-action film elements in Disney feature animation stretches all the way back to Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi, but these were somewhat subtle, used for rain f/x at night or revolving snowflakes seen in close-up. In Cauldron, these are not subtle.

The multiplane camera also received a work-out unlike anything seen in Disney animation since the ambitious films of the early 40's. The production notes state that the film was the most technically elaborate animated feature since Pinocchio, though a quick glance at the tremendous visuals seen in 1942's Bambi would seem to refute that claim.

The quality of the clean-up animation and line work in Cauldron is best described as spotty, at best - some shots are pristine, some are alarmingly rushed, as the production team raced to complete the film on time. Some shots are as refined as anything seen in Alice in Wonderland, only to cut to a shot of a character with apparent construction lines and line scrawl.

As for character animation, the film betrays the inexperience of the young animation team. An early shot of Taran swinging a stick like a sword is particularly unconvincing, with no weight passed down through the body. The Fair Folk are also weak in both design and animation, coming off like Smurfs with wings.

The best character animation seen in the film is saved for the comedic supporting characters, such as Gurgi, and Creeper, the Horned King's abused lackey. Some bravura animation was also employed for the Horned King's dragon-like spies, the Gwythaints.

The best the film has to offer for animation buffs is the f/x animation. The emergence of the Cauldron in Morva, complete with ground-ripping earthquake and landscape-shredding tornado, is a stand-out, as is the moment when the Cauldron is brought to ghastly life by the Horned King.

The film was not the huge flop people today assume it was. According to Disney, the film had a production budget of $25 million dollars, and had a domestic gross of almost $22 million. Still, it was the first Disney animated film to not recoup its production budget in over two decades, and as such, it stood out as a failure. The film was never re-released theatrically in the U.S., and it sat on the shelf in the Disney vault for over a decade, before finally seeing home video release in Europe, followed by a pan-and-scan only home video release in Region 1 in 1998.

The VHS release of Cauldron featured muted colors, a drab and fuzzy transfer, a stereo mix that could not possibly replicate the film's wall-shaking sound design, and because of the severe frame-cropping, the film's wide-screen staging could not be appreciated at all. This is the version of The Black Cauldron that most Americans are familiar with, and it's a shame.

Finally released on DVD in 2000 as part of Disney's Gold Collection, the film was given a substantial digital makeover. Disney chose to present the film on DVD in its original aspect ratio, and created a new transfer that dramatically improved upon the previous release image in terms of both color saturation and sharpness. The wide soundstage of the 5.1 audio track also restores the intended sonic-oomph of the film, with aggressive use of isolated sound f/x in the front left and right channels, as well as the eerie omnipresent voice of the Horned King, reverberating through the rear channels to surround you with John Hurt's strangled whispers.

Though it lacks a wide-screen enhacement, it is still miles ahead of the VHS release, and if you ever choose to view The Black Cauldron, the DVD is the only way it should be seen.


The Black Cauldron didn't fail because of spooky animated skeletons or scary visuals - it failed because the writers and directors could not place them in a fantasy context that audiences could connect to. Snow White and Pinocchio feature moments of great horror, but they are rooted by solid story construction and characters that audiences could relate to and care about. There is little empathy with anyone in the film, because the characters are one-dimensional stereotypes. Unlike The Wizard of Oz or The Dark Crystal or Star Wars, the film fails to establish a compelling fantasy realm. Prydain should be a land rich in visual imagination, instead, it is made up of locations that almost feel as if they're recycled sets from some animation back-lot, from Maleficent's haunted castle in Sleeping Beauty to the Dwarfs' Log Bridge in Snow White.

Ultimately, the film is a failure of imagination, which is a shame, because so much hard work was obviously put into it. Unlike Treasure Planet, there was an opportunity for The Black Cauldron to score with mass audiences, but the muddled story and limp screenwriting scuttled the film before the first frame was ever drawn.

At the end of the day, story and character are what matter the most in any film of this kind. Without them, all the visual and sonic gimmicks in the world will not save you. Cauldron is an interesting, ambitious film, with some bold choices and nice visuals, but it serves animation fans best as a prime example of what happens when you can draw a great dragon, but can't write a great character.

-- Ernest Rister, 2/7/04

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