Thursday, September 16, 2010

THE BLACK CAULDRON: 25th ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Another of Disney Animation's pre-LITTLE MERMAID box office duds, THE BLACK CAULDRON (1985) has just been re-released by the studio with a nice, remastered transfer, though only on standard DVD.

Based on a highly regarded series of novels by Lloyd Alexander, THE BLACK CAULDRON is a fairly generic fantasy adventure - a young boy named Taran (Grant Bardsley), accompanied by a motley group of companions, must set out on a quest for a powerful, evil, magical artifact (the titular Black Cauldron) before the malevolent, skull-faced Horned King (John Hurt) can get his bony hands on it and use it to raise an unstoppable army of undead warriors - that disappointed the fans of Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain, and failed to enthrall mainstream audiences upon its theatrical release. Now, 25 years later, it is still somewhat underwhelming, despite some very nice character animation and voice performances.

Directed by Ted Berman and Richard Rich, THE BLACK CAULDRON has been too "Disneyfied" for its own good, with lots of cute animals and creatures, and a villain who, despite looking scary, is never much of a threat. I've never read the books, so I don't bring that prejudice to the table, but the movie, while not an unpleasant viewing experience, just doesn't have much juice.

I do like the look of the movie a great deal - the Horned King, his minions and his castle are all appropriately menacing, the character animation is filled with personality and charm, and the backgrounds are lush. The voice cast - mostly British actors that are generally unknown on this side of the pond - are also quite good, and it was refreshing not to be distracted by the over familiar voices of slumming "name" actors in the roles. The most familiar name/voice in the cast is John Hurt, who does a good job as the evil Horned King. Another strong point is Elmer Bernstein's melodic, effective score.

Disney's "25th Anniversary" Edition DVD is graced with a very fine 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and Dolby 5.1 Surround sound. Extras include two games, an unfinished deleted scene, a still gallery and the vintage Donald Duck short, TRICK OR TREAT, included her presumably because it features a witch and there are witches in the feature. Still, it's a classic cartoon, and good to have.

I don't want to be too hard on THE BLACK CAULDRON. It's not a bad fantasy, nor a bad animated adventure. But it's nothing particularly special, either, and if you're an admirer of the Lloyd Alexander books, you're probably not going to be happy with this truncated, Disneyfied version. Fans of the film may want to pick it up for the improved transfer (and it is very nice), but others may want to give it a rental first.

BUY: The Black Cauldron: 25th Anniversary Special Edition