Monday, 2 June 2014

The Black Cauldron

With Digital Drift looking at Disney movies, one they watch is The Black Cauldron, and they are not fans at all... but I find it charming. And so, I present the following 'defence':

The movie starts with Taran fed up with his life and wanting more. This is classic and a lot of people can identify with this (I know, as a kid, I did). When the Call to Adventure comes along, his enthusiasm gets ahead of his ability, and it isn't long before he finds himself in trouble. He doesn't get out by himself, he needs the help of Eilonwy and a magic sword, but he's the one who moves things along. For a change, the magic sword doesn't make him the One True One, and it is given up as Taran realises there are more important things than what is basically a fantasy toy.

The main McGuffin is the Black Cauldron, which provides the possessor with Evil Power(tm), and is wanted by the Horned King. With it, he can raise a skeleton army. When Taran and co uncover the Cauldron, they find that the only way to stop it is for one of them to sacrifice themselves. However, because we need the big scene, the Horned King gets it first and gets his army going. Taran is willing to throw himself in, but Gurgi, the otherwise comic relief character, gets a poignant character moment of taking the leap himself. The Cauldron being nullified also takes out the King, leaving the heroes winning with cost. The witches (powerful, but fortunately capricious) show up at this point to bring Gurgi back to life, to allow for a happier ending. A little cheap, but by that point Gurgi had grown on me, so I was glad to see him back. And they all lived happily ever after.

Now, is this movie perfect? Of course not. Most of the trouble lies in the second act. The whole section with the Fairfolk is entirely pointless, and Hen Wen gets written out extremely hastily. Eilonwy changes from the strong personality to second fiddle. And what was ever the point of Fflewddur Fflam? The plot moves swiftly to get to the cauldron - but then, this is a movie so it's hardly surprising that characters conveniently get to the next part. And the animation, while decidedly 80s, is a little unrefined in places, in particular the Horned King's face.

But let's talk about the Horned King. He gets some fantastically dramatic entrances. When he is on screen, you know this is the villain of the piece, and he isn't taking shrift from anyone (which does make a little odd for Creeper to be the second in command, but then that is a common trope). And best of all, he's voiced by John Hurt. If there's someone who can add gravitas with just his voice, it's John Hurt. What brings him down in the end? His own lust for power, not anything the good guys do. (I was reminded of the ending of Raiders of the Lost Ark.) The Horned King is a great standard for Big Bad.

This is a darker story than normal for Disney, which I like. I also like the lack of singing. I get that this is nothing like the original books, but it's hardly the first time Disney changed the story. This is ultimately the story of a boy who wanted adventure, and found out he didn't need it to be happy. Now there's a moral.


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