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The Black Cauldron: Gold Collection DVD Review

The Black Cauldron: 25th Anniversary Edition DVD -- click to read our reviewIn 2010, Disney reissued The Black Caludron in a new 25th Anniversary DVD, with remastered 16:9-enhanced picture, a new deleted scene, and a new game.

Click here for our review of that DVD and here to buy it from Amazon.
The Black Cauldron movie poster The Black Cauldron

Theatrical Release: July 24, 1985 / Running Time: 80 Minutes / Rating: PG

Directors: Ted Berman, Richard Rich

Voice Cast: Grant Bardsley (Taran), Susan Sheridan (Eilonwy), John Hurt (The Horned King), Freddie Jones (Dallben), Nigel Hawthorne (Fflewddur Fflam), Arthur Malet (King Eidilleg), John Byner (Gurgi/Doli), Eda Reiss Merin (Orddu), Adele Malis-Morley (Orwen), Billie Hayes (Orgoch)

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Review by Jack Seiley

With a string of generally lackluster films behind them, Disney was poised to release The Black Cauldron in 1985. It was their most expensive project since Pinocchio, second after Sleeping Beauty to be shot on 70mm film, and one of the first movies to have a Dolby surround soundtrack. In addition, it was a fresh and unique production for the studio, serving as a fantasy quest adventure with no musical numbers.
It would seem that, with all these characteristics, Cauldron was to be the big one - the movie that would lift Disney out of its ‘dark period’ and bring about a revitalization in the animation department. The final result, however, did nothing to take the company out of a rut, released to underwhelming box-office and a poor reputation.

Since this film has been pushed into the background by Disney, resulting in so many overlooking or being unfamiliar with it, I’ll describe the main plot. Based on Lloyd Alexander’s “The Chronicles of Prydain” books, the story begins by telling us the legend of the black cauldron, explaining that it holds the power to wield an undead, undefeatable army. We are then introduced to a young pig-keeper named Taran, who dreams of being a great warrior. One day, it is revealed to him that his pig can magically foresee the future, leading to the discovery that the evil Horned King is looking for the cauldron to command the army. To keep the Horned King from using his pig to find it, Taran flees his home with the animal at the instruction of his master. Through a series of misadventures, Taran makes a group of friends, and they altogether decide to find the Cauldron and destroy it before its army is unleashed.

Taran is the protagonist of Lloyd Alexander's "The Chronicles of Prydain" series of books and Disney's 1985 animated filming.

This is the first time I ever saw The Black Cauldron, and I found that I wasn’t as bad as I’ve continually heard it to be. It certainly doesn’t feel like a Disney movie, and as you may have noticed from my summary, it comes off as a hybrid between The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Everything from the structure of the story, the characters, the setting, and the creatures seem extremely familiar. But in my opinion, that isn’t necessarily a problem. Many similarities can be drawn between numerous fantasy stories, and a lot still manage to be enjoyable. What makes Cauldron problematic is that it’s nowhere near the caliber of the aforementioned stories.

Several disappointments plague the movie. The personalities and relationships of the characters come off as one-dimensional and contrived, as if having been forced to fit a specific mold. The best example is that of Taran, who spends almost the entire run time dreaming of being a warrior, and at the end of the movie, simply says, “I’m no warrior,” and gives up his dreams with no point or reason. The way the story plays out is rather messy, and for the first time in while, I looked at my watch a few times during a movie. I also noticed the animation often times appeared mechanical when it should’ve had a life-like fluidity.

The Horned King's henchmen are bad to the bone!

I don’t mean to come down too hard on The Black Cauldron, because I don’t feel it’s a bad movie. Scenes in a fairy cave and with three wacky witches are fun to watch and quite charming. Though the Horned King is given no real background or motivation, he makes a sinister villain that serves his purpose well. As you can see, it’s more of a mixed bag than anything, and isn’t the garbage that some make it out to be. I think the source of its pedestrian nature came from the stretched-thin, 10-year-plus production timeline, during which its major potential eventually faded. In the end, I can’t bring myself to say it’s a good movie, but it’s worth a watch regardless.

The Black Cauldron was released for the first time on DVD on October 3, 2000 as part of the Walt Disney Gold Collection. The single disc is stored in a standard, white amaray case, with a one-page insert that has a chapter listing and bonus material highlights.

Buy The Black Cauldron on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.20:1 Non-anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Dolby Surround 2.0 (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English
Closed Captioned
Release Date: October 3, 2000
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 (Was $29.99)


Presenting the movie in its original aspect ratio of approximately 2.20:1, the transfer is not enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Image quality is generally good, with accurate display of colors and detail throughout. However, as I’ve noted on other Gold Collection discs, there are instances when the image looks slightly blurry or print imperfections pop across the screen. Nothing is very severe, which means that overall, it’s acceptable.

For audio, there is a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that I found to be good, with some problems. The sound itself is rich and has good range, with bass being simply excellent. During some of the most active scenes, though, it was difficult to discern dialogue, as the sound effects and music overpowered what the characters were saying. In addition, I didn’t notice the rears being particularly strong, but rather enforcing what was being produced in the front. Since this is a relatively recent film, I expected something a little better, but I was still pleased. I think this title would really sound superb if it was given a new remix, but alas, that’s unlikely to happen.

The Horned King has a cauldron full of tricks.


Straying somewhat from the usual Gold Collection extras,
The Black Cauldron has bonuses that will definitely be of interest to Disney fans in addition to kids.

A set-top destination game, “The Quest for the Black Cauldron,” gives the stagnant trivia games found on many 2000 Disney DVDs a new twist. At the start of the game, the player can choose either the “East” route, or the “West” route. Either way, the player journeys across the land of Prydain, encountering different environments along the way to reach the Black Cauldron before the Horned King does. At each environment, a multiple-choice question is asked about the film – if you answer it correctly, you advance further; if you get it wrong, the Horned King gets closer. This was certainly more fun than other bland trivia games, though it would be nice to have a prize at the end once it’s completed, like some of the aforementioned games.

“Trick or Treat” (8:12) is a Donald Duck cartoon, which seems only be included because it shares a spooky aura with the film, and a big cauldron makes an appearance. On Halloween night, a witch on a flying broom sees Donald play a prank on his trick-or-treating nephews. She offers to help the boys get back at their feisty uncle with the help of a witch’s brew and some magical spells. Like pretty much all Donald cartoons, I thought this was very amusing and often times funny.

A welcome addition is a Still Gallery that covers most aspects relating to the film, presented in thumb-nails, set inside the Horned King’s gloomy castle. Each gallery has text screens that precede the artwork and provide helpful background information. “Visual Development” (35 stills) contains pieces of concept art. “Character Development” (33 stills) has numerous sketches (including some by this guy named Tim Burton; ever heard of him?). “Behind the Scenes” (9 stills) and “Voice Talent” (9 stills) keep several making-of photos. “Layouts and Backgrounds” (9 stills) shows both the actual backgrounds as well as the artists working on them. “Promotion” (9 stills) has posters, newspaper ads, and trinkets. My favorite, “Tokyo Disneyland” (9 stills), shows an attraction that takes place underneath Cinderella’s Castle in the park, where guests encounter the Horned King.

Finally, the original Theatrical Trailer (1:37) makes an essential inclusion. Additional Sneak Peek trailers play before the menu loads for the DVD releases of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins, Toy Story 2, Fantasia 2000, and Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure. These can also be accessed from the main menu.

Taran, Dallben, and Eilonwy stand up to the forces of darkness in "The Black Cauldron."


The Black Cauldron is a movie I can’t completely recommend, as it feels like a watered-down version of other fantasy tales that falls short of its potential severely. As I said before, it still deserves at least one viewing by any Disney fan. The DVD displays the movie in acceptable quality with a fair amount of solid extras, but its transfer is non-anamorphic. Perhaps Disney may eventually put out a version that’s enhanced for 16x9 televisions, and whether or not it would have more extras nobody can say. Personally, I doubt the overall quality of this DVD will be improved upon in the near future. Therefore, if anyone wants to own Cauldron, I recommend this release.

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Related Reviews:
The Black Cauldron (25th Anniversary Edition)
The Fox and the Hound (1981) | The Great Mouse Detective (1986) | Adventures of The Gummi Bears: Volume 1 (1985-87)
Oliver & Company (1988) | The Little Mermaid (1989) | Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) | Return to Oz (1985)
My Neighbor Totoro (1988) | Howl's Moving Castle (2005) | The Incredibles (2004) | Unidentified Flying Oddball (1979)
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) | Hocus Pocus (1993) | Sing Along Songs: Happy Haunting (1998) | The Small One (1978)
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (2005) | Tuck Everlasting (2002) | Dragonslayer (1981)

Related Pages:
Top 30 Disney Villains Countdown (featuring The Horned King)

Medicom Toy Real Action Heroes

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Reviewed March 23, 2004.