Today I watched Ted Berman and Richard Rich’s The Black Cauldron (1985)
Prydian, a typically idyllic fantasy world is under threat, The Horned King’s armies stalk the land in search of a powerful magical artifact called The Black Cauldron. In this land dwells Taran, the apprentice of a hedge wizard named Dallben, and spends is days caring for the pig Hen Wen. Hen Wen is no ordinary pig though, she is a magic pig with powers of scrying and the Horned King wants her to help him locate the Cauldron. Dallben, knowing that danger is close, sends Taran off to protect Hen Wen in hiding somewhere but the Horned King’s dragons soon catch up with them. Hen Wen is taken to the villain’s stronghold and it is up to Taran to become a hero and save the world, along the way he is rescued by a princess, annoyed by a bard, accosted by goblins, finds a magic sword, and engages in all manner of fantasy hijinks.
The 80’s were the heyday of fantasy film making and this film only really stands out by being a Disney project and thus having some incredible visuals. The story itself certainly has it’s moments and the villain is pretty awesome but this pales in comparison to the intensity of the visuals and the design of the world. This film was Disney’s first PG film and it certainly shows as this still stands as one of their most grim and violent, at least in terms of imagery. That being said the film strikes a very good balance between that dark fantasy grimness and comedy relief and it never goes into complete Dark Crystal levels of disturbing and emotional peril.
Unfortunately this film makes the one big mistake that almost all fantasy films have made, the protagonist is just not a very interesting person. Taran is defined entirely by his hero’s journey and he brings nothing else to the table personality wise. Compare him to the villain, a horned necromancer with a skull face and a propensity for abusing his goblin, this guy is a hardcore badass and I would prefer to hear his story, how did this guy get so awesomely evil? Aside from that though, this is a very solid movie that I really enjoyed from start to finish. It may fail at delivering the depth of it’s Lloyd Alexander source material, but it does deliver a fine 80’s fantasy movie in that decade’s trademark style, and a pretty darn good one if I do say so myself. 4/5