The Black Cauldron – The Lost Disney Cartoon You May Have Never Heard Of
Updated: Aug 24
“Black Cauldron” (1985) is a story of the young assistant pig keeper named Taran, who accompanied by the wild pig Hen Wen, goes on a mission to save his land from the evil Horned King who stole a magic cauldron. The film was not recognized by the audience and is considered one of the most unsuccessful films in the history of animated features.
The movie was released in theaters on December 12, 1985, but it did not do well. It only earned about $4 million at the box office and had a budget of $15 million. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film but didn't win. The film also received two nominations for Annie Awards: Best Individual Achievement for Technical Achievement and Outstanding Individual Achievement for Character Animation in an Animated Feature Production (Taran).
The Black Cauldron is an adaptation of The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. The movie was released in 1985 and was directed by Don Bluth. It stars Nigel Hawthorne as Taran, Catherine Mary Stewart as Princess Eilonwy, and Patrick Stewart as Gwydion (who was voiced by Richard Dawkins).
The film's plot involves Taran going to rescue his mother from an evil lord named Lord Caerleon who has stolen her magic cauldron. The film also includes a subplot involving Taran's love interest, Princess Eilonwy (Catherine Mary Stewart), and her quest for freedom after being enslaved by Lord Caerleon.
Some of the film’s problems, such as the uninteresting main character Taran, are undeniable and can be attributed to its failure. However, most of the negative feedback was due to plagiarism backlash over similarities to “Lord of the Rings” which was released only a year earlier, another hugely successful fantasy film by Peter Jackson. Disney did not protest at all. In fact, they paid New Line Cinema $200,000 for the right to use Gurgi in some later films.
The Black Cauldron was a film that was innovative despite its limitations. These days, intense family movies have become the norm; Toy Story 3 should have been classed PG-13, as should Up, How to Train Your Dragon and the Shreks. The Lord of the Rings series, which owes much of its astronomical success to its fidelity to its source material, hints at a more intelligent, multifilm Chronicles of Prydain that Disney may have created 25 years ago.
For all its flaws, The Black Cauldron was a film ahead of its time. Nowadays, intense family films are common— Up, How to Train Your Dragon, and Shrek were rated PG, and Toy Story 3 was terrifying. The Lord of the Rings series—which owes its success to its faithfulness to its source material—suggests a better, smarter, multi-film version of Chronicles of Prydain that Disney could make today—the studio still owns the rights.
John Lasseter remembers his experience on Cauldron and isn't eager to revisit it. But perhaps the masterpiece Lasseter is looking for is right under his nose, in the story that Disney once used to recruit him from CalArts. Disney animators tried to make Cauldron their Snow White. Twenty-five years later, I wish they'd try again.