The Black Cauldron (film)

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The Black Cauldron
The Black Cauldron poster.jpg
Original theatrical release poster
Directed by Ted Berman
Richard Rich
Produced by Joe Hale
Ron Miller
Story by Ted Berman
Vance Gerry
Joe Hale
David Jonas
Roy Morita
Richard Rich
Art Stevens
Al Wilson
Peter Young
Based on The Book of Three and
The Black Cauldron by
Lloyd Alexander
Starring Grant Bardsley
Susan Sheridan
Nigel Hawthorne
John Byner
John Hurt
Narrated by John Huston
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Edited by Armetta Jackson
James Koford
James Melton
Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution
Release dates
  • July 24, 1985 (1985-07-24)
Running time
80 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $44 million[2]
Box office $21.3 million[1]

The Black Cauldron (also known as Taran and the Magic Cauldron) is a 1985 American animated dark fantasy adventure film released by Walt Disney Pictures. The 25th film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics, it is loosely based on the first two books in The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, a series of five novels which in turn is based on Welsh mythology.

Set in the mythical land of Prydain during the dark ages, the film centers on the evil Horned King who hopes to secure an ancient magical cauldron and rule the world with its aid. He is opposed by a young pig keeper named Taran, Princess Eilonwy, the bard Fflewddur Fflam, and a wild creature named Gurgi who seek to stop him by destroying it.

The film is directed by Ted Berman and Richard Rich, who had directed Disney's previous animated film The Fox and the Hound (1981) (which was the final Disney animated film to be recorded in RCA Photophone). It features the voices of Grant Bardsley, Susan Sheridan, Freddie Jones, Nigel Hawthorne, John Byner, and John Hurt. It was the first Disney animated film to receive a PG rating as well as the first Disney animated film to be released in the Dolby stereo since Fantasia (1940). The film was released theatrically by Buena Vista Distribution on July 24, 1985 to mixed critical reviews and was a box office bomb. Disney released the film for the first time on home video in 1998.


In the land of Prydain, Taran is an "assistant pig-keeper" on the small farm of Caer Dallben, home of Dallben the Enchanter. Dallben learns that the Horned King is searching for a mystical relic known as the Black Cauldron, which is capable of creating an invincible army of undead warriors, the “Cauldron Born”. Dallben fears the Horned King may try and steal his pig Hen Wen, which has oracular powers, and use her to locate the cauldron. Dallben directs Taran to take Hen Wen to safety, but the lad's daydreaming results in the pig's capture by the Horned King's forces.

Taran follows them to the Horned King's stronghold. Along the way, he encounters the small, pestering companion Gurgi, who joins Taran on his search. Taran leaves Gurgi to sneak into the castle and rescues Hen Wen, who flees, but he is captured himself and thrown into the dungeon. A fellow captive, Princess Eilonwy, frees Taran as she is making her own escape. In the catacombs beneath the castle, Taran and Eilonwy discover the ancient burial chamber of a king, where he arms himself with the king's sword. It contains magic that allows him to effectively fight the Horned King's minions and so to fulfill his dream of heroism. Along with a third captive, the comical, middle-aged bard Fflewddur Fflam, they escape the castle and are soon reunited with Gurgi.

Following Hen Wen's trail, the four stumble into the underground kingdom of the Fair Folk, small fairy-like beings who reveal that Hen Wen is under their protection. When the cheerful, elderly King Eiddileg reveals that he knows where the cauldron is, Taran resolves to go destroy it himself. Eilonwy, Fflewddur, and Gurgi agree to join him and Eiddileg's obnoxious right-hand man Doli is assigned to lead them to the Marshes of Morva while the Fair Folk agree to escort Hen Wen safely back to Caer Dallben. At the marshes they learn that the cauldron is held by three witches—the grasping Orddu, who acts as leader; the greedy Orgoch; and the more benevolent Orwen, who falls in love with Fflewddur at first sight. Orddu agrees to trade the cauldron for Taran's sword, and he agrees, although he knows that to yield it will cost his chance for heroism. Before vanishing, the witches reveal that the cauldron is indestructible, and that its power can be broken only by someone who climbs in under his own free will, which will kill him. Taran feels foolish for aspiring to destroy the cauldron alone, but his companions show their belief in him. The Horned King's soldiers interrupt, finally reaching the marshes themselves. They seize the cauldron and everyone but Gurgi, and return to the castle. The Horned King uses the cauldron to raise the dead and his Cauldron-born army begins to pour out into the world.

Gurgi manages to free the captives and Taran decides to cast himself into the cauldron, but Gurgi stops him and jumps into the cauldron himself. The undead army collapses. When the Horned King spots Taran at large, he infers the turn of events and throws the youth toward the cauldron, but the cauldron's magic is out of control. It consumes the Horned King in a tunnel of fire and blood, as well as destroying the castle, using up all its powers. The three witches come to recover the now inert Black Cauldron. Taran has finally realized Gurgi's true friendship, however, and he persuades them to revive the wild thing in exchange for the cauldron, giving up his magical sword permanently. Fflewddur challenges the reluctant witches to prove their powers by the revival, and they honor the request, restoring Gurgi to life. The four friends then journey back to Caer Dallben where Dallben and Doli watch them in a vision created by Hen Wen, and Dallben finally praises Taran for his heroism despite the fact that he prefers to be a Pig Boy.



Walt Disney Productions optioned Lloyd Alexander's five-volume series in 1971,[3] and pre-production work began in 1973 when the film rights to Alexander's books were finally obtained. However, actual production would not begin until 1980.[4] According to Ollie Johnston, it was he and Frank Thomas that convinced the studio to produce the movie, and that if it had been done right, it might be "as good as Snow White".[5]

For The Black Cauldron, a new way to transfer drawings to cels was invented, called the APT process. But as the APT-transferred line art would fade off of the cels over time, most or all of the film was done using the xerographic process which had been in place at Disney since the late 1950s.[6]

The Black Cauldron is notable for being Disney's first animated feature film to incorporate the use of computer generated imagery in its animation for bubbles, a boat, a floating orb of light, and the cauldron itself.[7] Although The Black Cauldron was released a year before The Great Mouse Detective, both movies were in production simultaneously for some time, and the computer graphics for the latter was done first. When producer Joe Hale heard about what was being done, the possibilities made him excited and he made the crew from The Great Mouse Detective project create some computer animation for his own movie. For others effects, animator Don Paul used live action footage of dry ice mists to create the steam and smoke coming out of the cauldron.[8]

It's also the first and only animated Disney film to introduce new sound effects with the classic Disney SFX. In addition, it is also the first Disney animated film to use the remix of the classic Disney SFX (which would later remixed, such as the 1991 re-release of One Hundred and One Dalmatians). The film is also well known for being the first motion picture made by The Walt Disney Company to use the new and widely recognizable Walt Disney Pictures logo, which features the white silhouette of the Sleeping Beauty castle in front a clear blue background. The then-new logo replaced the Buena Vista Pictures Distribution logo and the "Walt Disney Productions Presents" title card at the beginning; it also didn't feature the "The End" title card at the film's conclusion. The film is also notable, in addition, for becoming the first Disney animated feature film since Alice in Wonderland to feature closing credits at the film's conclusion. All of the Disney animated feature-length and short-length films that were made before The Black Cauldron (except for Alice in Wonderland) featured the credits at the beginning of each film and a "The End. A Walt Disney Production." at the end. Ever since The Black Cauldron, Walt Disney Feature Animation used the Walt Disney Pictures logo in the beginning of their films and only three more films, The Great Mouse Detective, Aladdin, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, would use the "The End" title card before it would be abandoned for good.

Revision and editing[edit]

Shortly before the film's release to theaters, newly appointed Disney studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg ordered several scenes from The Black Cauldron be cut, due to both its length and the fear that the graphic nature of them would alienate children and family audiences.[9] Since animated films were typically edited in storyboard form using Leica reels (later known as animatics: storyboards shot sequentially and set to temporary audio tracks), producer Joe Hale objected to Katzenberg's demands. Katzenberg responded by having the film brought into an edit bay and editing the film himself.[9]

Told what Katzenberg was doing by Hale, Disney CEO Michael Eisner called Katzenberg in the editing room and convinced him to stop. Though he did as Eisner insisted, Katzenberg demanded the film be revised, and delayed its scheduled Christmas 1984 release to July 1985 so that the film could be reworked.[9]

The film was ultimately cut by 12 minutes,[8] including whole sequences involving the world of the Fairfolk. Some existing scenes were rewritten and re-animated for continuity.[9] Some of the cut scenes involved the undead "Cauldron Born", who are used as the Horned King's army in the final act of the film. While most of the scenes were seamlessly removed from the film, one particular cut involving a Cauldron Born killing a person by slicing his neck and another one killing another person by slicing his torso created a rather recognizable lapse because the removal of the scene creates a jump in the film's soundtrack.[3] One particular deleted scene featured Princess Eilonwy being partially naked with her dress being ripped and torn apart — probably because of being publicly humiliated after or during a skirmish with a couple of the Horned King's henchmen — as she's hanging for her life with Taran and Fflewddur Fflam before or after The Horned King summoned the Cauldron-Born warriors from the Black Cauldron. One deleted scene featured Taran killing his foes with his sword while escaping The Horned King's castle with Eilonwy by his side. Another scene cut featured a henchman of The Horned King being dissolved by the mist of the cauldron itself.[6]


The Black Cauldron
Soundtrack album by Elmer Bernstein
Released 1985 (re-recording)
April 3, 2012 (film tracks)
Genre Orchestral
Length 30:25 (re-recording)
75:27 (film tracks)
Label Varèse Sarabande (re-recording)
Walt Disney / Intrada (film tracks)
Producer George Korngold, Randy Thornton
Walt Disney Animation Studios music chronology
The Fox and the Hound
The Black Cauldron
The Great Mouse Detective
Alternative cover
2012 re-release cover

The Black Cauldron: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is the soundtrack album to the film. It was composed and conducted by the well-known Elmer Bernstein (The Great Escape, Hawaii, The Magnificent Seven, The Ten Commandments, To Kill a Mockingbird) and originally released in 1985.


Unlike most other Disney animated films, the film contained no songs. At the time, Bernstein just came off the success of his Academy Award-nominated score for the 1983 film Trading Places as well as the score for the 1984 film Ghostbusters. Like in the latter of the two, The Black Cauldron saw the use of the ghostly ondes Martenot to build upon the dark mood of Prydain.[10]

Original release[edit]

Because of the film's last minute revisions, much of Bernstein's score was cut and unused.[10] In its minority, the score was re-recorded for the album original release by Varèse Sarabande in 1985, with the composer conducting the Utah Symphony Orchestra. The album soon fell out of print and many of the film's tracks did not resurface until a bootleg copy entitled "Taran" was supplied to soundtrack specialty outlets in 1986.

No. Title Length
1. "Escape from the Castle"   2:30
2. "Taran"   4:01
3. "The Witches"   2:17
4. "Gurgi"   3:26
5. "The Horned King"   2:55
6. "The Fair Folk"   3:10
7. "Hen Wen's Vision"   3:44
8. "Eilonwy"   5:06
9. "Finale"   4:36


The film tracks received their premiere release in 2012 as part of Intrada Records partnership with Walt Disney Records to issue several Disney films soundtracks.[11]

No. Title Length
1. "Prologue"   1:08
2. "Dalben and the Warrior"   3:56
3. "A Special Pig and a Vision"   2:46
4. "Journey"   3:32
5. "Gurgi"   4:31
6. "Decision"   2:23
7. "Belly Good"   1:08
8. "The Horned King"   1:23
9. "A Second Vision"   2:21
10. "First Chase"   1:36
11. "Eilonwy"   1:57
12. "Rats and Tombs"   2:21
13. "Escape"   1:45
14. "Second Chase"   4:02
15. "In the Forest"   1:27
16. "Apology"   3:16
17. "Whirlpool"   2:13
18. "Fairfolk"   3:08
19. "Incantation"   1:51
20. "Morva"   4:12
21. "The Deal"   0:57
22. "Surrender"   0:54
23. "Disappointment"   1:51
24. "Confidence"   2:05
25. "Cauldron Born"   3:32
26. "Sacrifice"   2:24
27. "Destruction"   2:33
28. "He’s Gone"   2:01
29. "Bubble Up"   0:43
30. "Xchange"   1:32
31. "Gurgi Lives"   2:07
32. "End Titles"   4:00

Critical response[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars[12]
Filmtracks 4/5 stars[13]

The score received positive reviews from music critics, and today is regarded as one of the best works by Bernstein and for a Disney animated film, despite its obscurity. Jason Ankeny from AllMusic gave to the soundtrack a positive review, stating that "Bernstein's bleak arrangements and ominous melodies vividly underline the fantasy world portrayed onscreen, and taken purely on its own terms, the score is an undeniable success". The film score review website Filmtracks wrote: "The score for The Black Cauldron was for Bernstein what Mulan was for Jerry Goldsmith in the next decade: a fascinating journey into a fresh realm that required its music to play a more significant role in the film".

Release history[edit]

Region Date Format Label Catalog
United States 1985 Cassette, CD, LP Varèse Sarabande B000OODDXS
April 3, 2012 CD, digital download Intrada Records D001744102



The summer theatrical release of The Black Cauldron partnered with the 30th anniversary of Disneyland which ran throughout 1985.

Box office performance[edit]

The Black Cauldron was finally released in North America on July 24, 1985.[1] The film was also screened at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City.[14] While it both was the most expensive animated film ever made at the time and tied with Cleopatra and Heaven's Gate as the most expensive film (unadjusted) made at the time, costing $44 million to produce,[2] it grossed only $21.3 million domestically.[1] It was so poorly received that it was not distributed as a home video release for more than a decade after its theatrical run.[9] Adding insult to injury, the film was also beaten at the box office by The Care Bears Movie ($22.9 million domestically), which was released several months earlier by Disney's much-smaller rival animation studio Nelvana.[15] The film was however more successful outside North America notably in France where it had 3,074,481 admissions and was the fifth most attended film of the year.[16]

The film was the last Disney animated film completed at Walt Disney Productions in Burbank, California.[17] The animation department was moved to the Air Way facility in nearby Glendale in December 1984, and, following corporate restructuring, became a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Studios known as Walt Disney Feature Animation (later Walt Disney Animation Studios);[15] it returned to the Burbank studios in a new building in 1995.

Critical reception[edit]

In addition to becoming a failure at the box office, The Black Cauldron also received mixed reviews,[1] with some critics criticizing the film's lack of appeal on the dark nature of the Prydain book pentology and its absence of great storytelling, directing, and sense of Disney magic. It has earned a "rotten" score of 55% at Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus "Ambitious but flawed, The Black Cauldron is technically brilliant as usual, but lacks the compelling characters of other Disney animated classics."[18] Roger Ebert gave a positive review of the film,[19] while the Los Angeles Times' Charles Solomon praised its "splendid visuals".[20] London's Time Out magazine deemed it "a major disappointment", adding that "the charm, characterization and sheer good humor" found in previous Disney efforts "are sadly absent".[21] Jeffrey Katzenberg, then-Chairman of the Walt Disney Studios, was dismayed by the product and the animators felt that it lacked "the humor, pathos, and the fantasy which had been so strong in Lloyd Alexander's work. The story had been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it was heartbreaking to see such wonderful material wasted."[22]

Lloyd Alexander, the author of the books on which the film was based, had a more complex reaction to the film:[23]

First, I have to say, there is no resemblance between the movie and the book. Having said that, the movie in itself, purely as a movie, I found to be very enjoyable. I had fun watching it. What I would hope is that anyone who sees the movie would certainly enjoy it, but I'd also hope that they'd actually read the book. The book is quite different. It's a very powerful, very moving story, and I think people would find a lot more depth in the book.

Home media[edit]

Following many requests from fans, The Black Cauldron was finally released on VHS on August 4, 1998 in a pan-and-scan transfer, thirteen years after its theatrical release.[24] The film received DVD release with a non-anamorphic letterboxed 2.35:1 transfer followed in 2000, as part of the Walt Disney Gold Classic Collection line, featuring an art gallery, a new game "The Quest for the Black Cauldron", and the 1952 Donald Duck short Trick or Treat.[25]

In 2008, Disney announced a Special Edition DVD release of the film to be released in 2009. However, its release date was pushed back to June 2010 before it was cancelled. Instead, the film was re-advertised as the 25th Anniversary DVD and released on September 14, 2010 in the US and UK. It contained a new 2.35:1 16:9 anamorphic widescreen transfer, one unfinished deleted scene called "The Fairfolk", and a new game called "The Witches' Challenge" along with the features from the 2000 DVD release.[25]

Video game[edit]

Cover of the video game.

A video game of the same name was designed by Al Lowe of Sierra On-Line and released in 1986. It was made shortly after the first King's Quest game, so it resembled that adventure in many ways. Along with The Dark Crystal it remains one of only a few adventure games by Sierra to be based on films.

The player character is a young assistant pig-keeper, Taran, undertaking a quest to stop the evil Horned King, who sought for Hen Wen, the magical pig of the wizard Dallben, for her visionary abilities. With these abilities, the King would be able to discover the Black Cauldron and rule the land. Taran's first mission is to lead her to the Fair Folk while the King's dragons are looking for them. Should the pig be captured (the game allows either possibility), Taran can go to the King's castle and rescue her. Once inside, Taran will meet and rescue Eilonwy with her magic bauble and Fflewddur Fflam, as well as discover a Magic Sword. The Cauldron is in the possession of three witches of Morva who will trade it for the Sword. Unfortunately a dragon grasps the cauldron and Taran goes back to encounter the evil man himself. The game actually featured plot branches and multiple endings depending on many variables, such as whether Hen Wen the pig was saved, how the cauldron was destroyed, and what reward was chosen afterwards. This use of multiple endings predated the more famous use in Lucasfilm's game Maniac Mansion by a year.

In order to make the game more accessible to children, Sierra used an innovative idea that would not reappear in the genre for the next 10 years: the text parser was removed in favor of the function keys that performed various actions: F3 would choose an inventory item, F4 would use it, F6 would perform "Use" near the character's location, and F8 would "look". The simplification of the two actions "Look" and "Use" was not reused in Sierra's later games. However, it somewhat resembles the control system of other later simpler point-and-click adventure games, such as the King's Quest VII or The Dig whose interfaces only consisted of "Look" and "Use". Being based on a Disney film, the graphics present some relative "flexibility", compared to the monolithic and straight sceneries of previous and later games.[26]


  1. ^ a b c d e "The Black Cauldron (1985)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved October 23, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Magical Kingdoms
  3. ^ a b Kols, Dan (October 19, 2010). "The Black Cauldron: Is the movie that almost killed Disney animation really that bad?". Slate. Retrieved January 11, 2012. 
  4. ^ Blowen, Michael (August 3, 1985). "`Black Cauldron` A Brew Of Vintage Disney Animation". Boston Globe (Chicago Tribune). Retrieved February 20, 2015. 
  5. ^ Ollie Johnston - an interview, part 1 (in Norwegian). Interview with Jo Jürgens. 1996. 
  6. ^ a b - The Black Cauldron
  7. ^ Maltin, Leonard (1995). The Disney Films (3rd ed.). Hyperion Books. p. 286. ISBN 0-7868-8137-2. 
  8. ^ a b "Cauldron of Chaos, PART 3 - Ink and Paint Club: Memories of the House of Mouse". Peraza, Michael. Retrieved February 20, 2012. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Stewart, James B. (2005). DisneyWar (1st ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 68–70. ISBN 0-7432-6709-5. 
  10. ^ a b "Filmtracks: The Black Cauldron (Elmer Bernstein)". Filmtracks. May 12, 2012. Retrieved May 26, 2012. 
  11. ^ "Intrada Records: The Black Cauldron". Intrada Records. Retrieved May 26, 2012. 
  12. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "The Black Cauldron – Elmer Bernstein". allmusic (Allrovi). Retrieved July 30, 2012. 
  13. ^ "Review: The Black Cauldron". Filmtracks Publications. November 1, 1996. Retrieved July 30, 2012. 
  14. ^ Goodman, Walter (July 26, 1985). "Screen: Disney's 'Black Cauldron'". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). Retrieved November 22, 2010. 
  15. ^ a b Hahn, Don (Director) (2010). Waking Sleeping Beauty (Documentary film). Burbank, CA: Stone Circle Pictures/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ Crew Picture The Balck Cauldron [sic]. Upload to Creative Talent Network blog.
  18. ^ "The Black Cauldron". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 17, 2011. 
  19. ^
  20. ^ Solomon, Charles (July 24, 1985). "CAULDRON is a treat for kidvid-sore eyes". Los Angeles Times (Tribune Company). p. OC_E1. Retrieved August 15, 2010. (registration required (help)). 
  21. ^ Peretta, Don (2008). "The Black Cauldron". In Pym, John. Time Out Film Guide 2009 (17th ed.). Time Out Group Ltd. p. 104. ISBN 978-1846701009. 
  22. ^ Johnston, Ollie; Frank Thomas (1993). The Disney Villain. New York: Hyperion Books. p. 173. ISBN 1-56282-792-8
  23. ^ Lloyd Alexander Interview Transcript (1999). Interview with Scholastic students. Scholastic Inc. Retrieved 2011-12-17.
  24. ^ ""The Black Cauldron" : What went wrong". Jim Hill Media. Retrieved February 20, 2012. 
  25. ^ a b "The Black Cauldron 25th Anniversary DVD Review". DVDDizzy. Retrieved February 20, 2012. 
  26. ^ "The Black Cauldron for Amiga (1987) - Mobygames". Mobygames. Retrieved August 23, 2012. 

External links[edit]