Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB
USA/United Kingdom, 1985. Walt Disney Pictures, Silver Screen Partners II, Walt Disney Animation Studios. Story by David Jonas, Vance Garry, Ted Berman, Richard Rich, Al Wilson, Roy Morita, Peter Young, Art Stevens, Joe Hale, addition dialogue by Rosemary Anne Sisson, Roy Edward Disney, additional story contributions by Tony Marino, Steve Hulett, Mel Shaw, Burny Mattinson, John Musker, Ron Clements, Doug Lefler, based on the novels by Lloyd Alexander. Produced by Joe Hale, Ron Miller. Music by Elmer Bernstein. Production Design by Don Griffith. Film Editing by Armetta Jackson-Hamlett, James Koford, James Melton, Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Disney reached so low a point in the mid-eighties that their animation studio was close to shutting down for good, with the box office failure of The Black Cauldron, combined with criticism over the dark imagery that earned it an unprecedented PG rating, resulting in the studio not putting it on any home video format until more than a decade. Based on The Chronicles of Prydain novels by Lloyd Alexander, the filmmakers, who have unwisely combined all five books into one film, perform a complicated story in an overly simplistic manner, giving no new life to yet another quest narrative set in a mythical land where wizards and magic are real and heroes come from unlikely, low places. Taran tends to the pigs of an elderly farmer who tells him he must travel far from home when they learn that the evil Horned King (voiced quite effectively by John Hurt) is trying to locate a black cauldron that contains within it dark powers that could bring endless destruction upon their land. One of the pigs on their farm has oracular skills that the Horned King could use to locate the cauldron, so Taran must take her to safety. Unfortunately, he and the sweet little swine get nabbed and have a much harder time with their task than they thought they would, though the various stages of their journey feel like interruptions to a different movie than what we are watching and no excitement is generated by the action on screen. A few things work really well, John Huston’s opening narration is a marvelous sequence and the three witch characters are funny and creepy at the same time, but the mixture of what is clearly a more disturbing story with Disney’s softer fairy tale template fails miserably, scaring small children with some actually very cool bad guys while also including an incredibly annoying animal sidekick (with the voice of Donald Duck) and a female love interest who just looks like she has been photocopied over cels of previous Disney princesses. A better result comes from the combination of early, beautiful computer graphic animation that blends in, if not seamlessly, then dynamically with the traditional artistry, making for visuals that perk up an otherwise very dry narrative.