The Curator of Schlock #332: The Black Cauldron

The Curator of Schlock #332 by Jeff Shuster

The Black Cauldron

I liked it!

Wally has kept me locked in my bedroom as I churn out pages for a spec script that reads like My Dinner With Andre, but with vampires.

schlock mansion

Wally figures once we pique the interest of Hollywood execs, he can pressure them to choose him as director. Of course, he’ll insist on directing the scenes at night. I keep trying to explain to him that nobody buys spec scripts anymore!

Tonight’s movie is 1985’s The Black Cauldron from directors Ted Berman and Richard Rich. This Walt Disney production with a sordid reputation is is based on The Chronicles of Prydain series of children’s fantasy novels written between 1964 and 1968 by Lloyd Alexander. The House of Mouse snatched up the film rights in 1971, but the film suffered a deeply troubled production.

I remember The Black Cauldron being hyped by Disney back in 1985 along with the movie Return to Oz (another problem release for the studio). That summer, my mother took me to see The Black Cauldron and I remember liking it at the time. I didn’t love it, but I liked it. The estimated budget was around 44 million, but the box office only took in 21.3 million.

This was my first introduction to a box office bomb. The news media tore into it, calling it one of the worst movies of the year. The Black Cauldron had a eputation of being too dark and scary for children (the same could be said for many children’s movies from the 80s). I also remember fans of Lloyd Alexander’s work dismissing the film as it deviated quite a bit from the source material.

The Black Cauldron faded from my mind. I never got the chance to re-watch it during my childhood. The movie became one of these forbidden Disney movies like The Song of the South. The Black Cauldron hadn’t gotten a VHS release nor was it aired on The Disney Channel.

Whenever someone tells you that you can’t watch a movie, you want to watch it all the more.

The Black Cauldron had received a European home video release and I managed to get my hands on a crummy bootleg while studying film at community college. Disney eventually relented and gave The Black Cauldron a home video release in the late 90s. I eagerly purchased a copy, but again the quality wasn’t ideal. Disney must have used the cheapest VHS tapes they could find and the movie was pan & scan which is a problem for movies shot for widescreen. Years later, Disney would begrudgingly release a decent print of it on DVD (a Blu-ray has yet to be released), and I believe you can catch it on Disney+.

Is The Black Cauldron worth your time? Shot on 70mm, it is one of the most gorgeous animated features I’ve ever seen. John Hurt voices The Horned King, a skeletal menace WHO has to be the scariest Disney villain I’ve ever laid eyes on. Elmer Bernstein provides a score that is both haunting and enchanting. Is the movie good? Yes, and good is good enough for your curator of schlock.

Photo by Leslie Salas

Jeff Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124episode 131episode 284episode 441episode 442episode 443 and episode 444) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

2 responses to “The Curator of Schlock #332: The Black Cauldron”

  1. I liked it too Jeff. This was Disney trying to be more current after seeing receipts falling for their more traditional (outdated) offerings. Black Cauldron is notable in being the first animated Disney film to incorporate computer graphics like that wonderful cauldron. It also was their first PG rated cartoon. Hard to believe they thought that would be scarier than the wicked witch in the G rated Wizard of Oz!

    1. Speaking of wicked witch, I need to revisit The Return to Oz.

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