The Animated Fantasy On Streaming That Nearly Destroyed Disney

By Tara Clapper | Updated

the black cauldron

Now known for entrancing and engaging audiences of all ages, Disney’s The Black Cauldron was not a crowd-pleaser when it was released in 1985. While critics had mixed reviews about the animated feature, audiences found it overall displeasing. But with the spooky season in full swing The Black Cauldron is now streaming on Disney+.

The 1985 animated fantasy film The Black Cauldron is streaming on Disney+.

In contemporary times, especially among adult audiences and fans of Disney movies, The Black Cauldron has seen a revival, especially around the Halloween season. This may be due to the millennial and Gen X Disney fans growing enough to appreciate the more complex themes and undertones of The Black Cauldron. The complexity of the themes and the atypical progression of the character development were heavy points of criticism when the movie was initially released.

The Black Cauldron is based on a book series by Lloyd Alexander entitled The Chronicles of Prydain. These books were inspired by Welsh mythology.

The film follows the adventure of Taran, an assistant pig keeper in a medieval world. Taran assembles an unlikely crew of companions to aid him in his mission to stop the Horned King from becoming invincible by accessing the Black Cauldron.

the black cauldron
The Black Cauldron (1985)

The assembled team consists of Fflewddur Fflam, a minstrel and harpist by trade; there’s also Hen Wen, a pig who can divine the future; and Eilonwy, a fearless princess. During the movie, this group encounters a powerful antagonist, the Horned King, who is portrayed as an evil emperor.

The Black Cauldron was directed by Ted Berman and Richard Rich, who found success with a previous hit in The Fox and the Hound.

In the film, the protagonist Taran, has notions of becoming a famed warrior. He works for Caer Dallben, an Enchanter who also owns a farm.

Dallben learns that the Horned King intends to use the powerful Black Cauldron to make an army of invincible undead warriors, and he aims to do this by seeing through the eyes of Hen Wen. Dallben asks Taran to protect Hen Wen, but the Horned King’s minions capture the pig instead.

This is what leads Hen Wen to the Horned King’s castle, where he befriends Gurgi (a creature that resembles a dog) and eventually frees Hen Wen. Taran is then captured himself, but he meets Princess Eilowny, and she helps to free him.

During their exploration of this castle, the adventurers discover various artifacts and mythological objects, and they eventually head into the Fair Folk’s underground kingdom. Fortunately, the Fair Folk protect Hen Wen and reveal information about the Black Cauldron and the three witches guarding it.

According to these three witches, the only way to destroy the power of the Black Cauldron is for someone to climb into the cauldron willingly, which means they will also die. The dramatic and controversial climax includes the creation of an undead army and multiple characters attempting to climb into the cauldron to sacrifice themselves and solve the problem of the evil emperor.

More deeply entrenched in a darker, sword and sorcery fantasy genre than other animated Disney films, The Black Cauldron provides a concoction of magic and fantasy. Ultimately, the movie is about friendship and camaraderie, but it’s achieved with a plot involving self-sacrifice that scares some children.

the black cauldron
The Black Cauldron (1985)

Though The Black Cauldron is derived from Alexander’s books, the plot connections and character depictions are only loosely tied to the original work, per the author and fans of The Black Cauldron in both formats.

The Black Cauldron was directed by Ted Berman and Richard Rich, who found success with a previous hit in The Fox and the Hound. Disney began producing The Black Cauldron in 1980, seven years after securing the rights to the books. Disney’s goal was initially to release the film around Christmas 1984.

Fortunately, Disney found redemption by releasing The Little Mermaid, a 1989 Disney classic about a mermaid who sacrifices her voice to get closer to a human prince.

However, during the production process, The Black Cauldron hit snags, which critics felt impacted the quality of the final product. The primary disruption was the film’s climactic scenes, which children found to be too scary when Disney conducted test screenings.

the black cauldron
The Black Cauldron (1985)

To correct this problem, Jeffrey Katzenberg, the new chairman of Walt Disney Studios, cut the scary scenes. This delayed the movie’s release, and it eventually debuted in 1985. Additionally, the film received a PG rating and included a light amount of computer-generated images.

The film was expensive to make, featuring talent such as Grant Bardsley, John Hurt, Phil Fondacaro, John Byner, Arthur Malet, Nigel Hawthorne, Susan Sheridan, and Freddie Jones. John Hurston provided the narration.

The Black Cauldron‘s budget was $44 million, but grossed only $21.3 million at the box office. This put Disney in a financial crisis for a short time.

Fortunately, Disney found redemption by releasing The Little Mermaid, a 1989 Disney classic about a mermaid who sacrifices her voice to get closer to a human prince. While The Little Mermaid also features scary villains, children, and critics responded more positively to it, making it a box-office smash that redeemed Disney’s reputation.

Now, there’s renewed love for The Black Cauldron. Contemporary Halloween means craft and bargain stores filled to the brim with Halloween-related decorations and crafts, and anything and everything related to magic, witchcraft, and mythology. This modern acceptance, in conjunction with a surge in popularity for witchcraft and general Gen X and millennial nostalgia, has given films like The Black Cauldron new life. Since its video release in 1998, The Black Cauldron has been gaining a steady stream of fans and remains a cult classic.