Where I Watched It: Disney Plus
Description Created By: WGBH
Narrated By: Claudia Dunn
The film that time forgot, and Disney was Ok with that. The Black Cauldron is more notorious than anything else, largely because it didn’t do well on its initial theatrical release, despite being from the house of mouse. It was their first foray into something more serious, a PG rated animation. I’ve seen almost every theatrically released Disney animation film, except Home On The Range and this… until now.
I was more surprised than anything that Disney bothered to put this on Disney Plus. I was even more surprised to find it had audio description. There are two films Disney made that they like never to come up in conversation, the first being obviously Song of the South, and the second being this. As someone who used to frequent Disney World, I always wanted to ask all the employees if there were any Black Cauldron characters I could meet.
The truth is, this film is bizarre. It just is. It takes place in this fantastical world, like we’ve seen in so many other stories over the years, where kids are the heroes of the story, but there’s magic involved, and some evil force is trying to secure power. It has witches, the undead, and death. It is by far the most baffling choice for an animated feature i think Disney has ever made, as it lacks all the usual trappings. It’s almost like they were purposefully trying to kill the Disney brand, kind of like how former Disney stars do really adult roles as soon as they can so they can shed their squeaky clean image.
I really do wonder, when Disney makes films aimed at a young audience, how many kids were able to follow this. It’s a fairly complicated plot, and kids were used to films much more lighthearted with some songs, or cute animals, or comedy, and this film really manages none of that. This is dark in the way Don Bluth was shooting for with The Secret Of NIMH, or how Zack Snyder later got there with Legend Of The Guardians. It feels like it’s not meant for everyone, especially little kids.
And probably, at least for my money, reviewing this is hard. I remember what this film looked like, from seeing still imagery, and the poster. So I get the concept art. I always try to review films without just punishing them for being old, though my audio description experience was directly affected by the films age and lack of preservation or restoration. The audio track sounds ancient, but Claudia Dunn’s narration sounds like it was made yesterday. It’s a back and forth that doesn’t quite gel well.
But even if i ignore that and transport myself back to the 80’s, a time when Don Bluth was a thing, it still was the dark ages of Disney. Their renaissance doesn’t begin until The little Mermaid, though i can acknowledge that Oliver and Company has its fans, as do some earlier films like The Rescuers and The Fox and the Hound. But, between this and The Great Mouse Detective, the 80’s, even when people were living through them, were not the golden age of Disney.
So it’s easy to say that I appreciated feeling like a completionist for being able to see The Black Cauldron on Disney Plus, and checking that off my long bucket list of films. But, I’m not better for it, and I don’t really think anyone ever was. That being said, Disney has actually made worse films, and while this isn’t for everyone, there remains parts of The Black Cauldron that work, and are salvageable.
I cannot and will not claim the same thing for Mars Needs Moms, a film that no one needed. The Black Cauldron might have historic notoriety, but it is not the worst thing Disney has released upon the world. It’s just a bit more confusing than it needed to be, and generally a baffling choice for a studio that built its success off a talking mouse and films about Princesses finding true love.
Final Grade: C