BLACK CAULDRON, THE
Reviewed August 20th, 2001 by David Nusair
The Black Cauldron is quite an oddity, especially considering it's a Disney cartoon. It's too dark and scary for younger children, and it's too silly and childish for older viewers to embrace. But this is a cult classic, for some bizarre reason...
The hero of the movie is a young boy named Taran. He spends his days helping out an old man and guarding a mystical pig named Hen Wen. One day, though, trouble comes to town when the evil Horned King decides that he wants to get his hands on the titular Black Cauldron for the sole purpose of wielding control over an army of darkness (and taking over the world, while he's at it). Now, Taran must rescue Hen Wen along with the help of Princess Ellonwy and an obnoxious little animal named Gurgi.
The Black Cauldron is one of those pre-Little Mermaid Disney flicks that doesn't really fit in with the overall Disney oeuvre. For one thing, there are no songs. And for another, the whole army of dead soldiers thing is pretty scary - far scarier than anything you'd expect from such a cartoon.
But, as I mentioned earlier, the whole story is far too childish for older viewers to really enjoy it. This problem is certainly not helped by the presence of Gurgi - a sort of cross between Gizmo from Gremlins and an Ewok. Gurgi must have been an attempt by the animators to lure in the kiddies, while staying true to the dark storyline. And while the kiddies no doubt love Gurgi, to someone over the age of 12, Gurgi comes off as cloying and irritating (and makes Jar-Jar Binks look cool in comparison).
But The Black Cauldron does have some fantastic sequences in it (the rise of the dead army is particularly neat), so for animation buffs, this may be worth a look.
Audio: The Black Cauldron is, surprisingly enough, presented with a DD 5.1 soundtrack and it sounds great. From the opening narration to the quieter scenes to the rollicking attack sequences, this track has it all (and it delivers). Spatial effects are quite good, with characters routinely moving from one side of the screen to the other.
Video: And on the other hand, you have this transfer. This non-anamorphic 2.35:1 is technically quite good, but the film itself has obviously not been restored and has aged quite poorly. There are scratches galore and the colors are never consistent (the image often fades from scene to scene). In comparison to the amazing soundtrack, this image is particularly disappointing.
Extras: As with the rest of Disney's DVDs, there's an interactive trivia game that is strictly for children. Also on the disc is a short 8-minute Donald Duck cartoon that - not surprisingly - looks better than the film itself! Up next is a still gallery, with well over 100 pictures and photographs on display. Finally, there's the trailer presented full-screen and looking quite terrible (along with preview trailers for Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, Toy Story 2, Fantasia 2000, and Lady and the Tramp 2).
Conclusion: If you're a fan of The Black Cauldron, this is likely as good as it's going to get.
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