Show Notes – The Black Cauldron

The Black Cauldron (film)- Episode 38

  • American animated dark fantasy adventure film produced by Walt Disney Pictures
  • July 24, 1985 Budget of $44 million and a Box office of $21.3 million
    • officially budgeted by Disney executives at $25 million
    • The $44-million budget made it the most expensive animated film ever made at the time
  • Set in the land of Prydain during the Early middle ages (6th-10th century)
    • Centers around The Evil Horned King who is trying to get a magical cauldron could help him conquer the world
    • The Protagonist of the film is a young pig keeper Taran, a princess named Eilonwy, a bard named Fflewddur Fflam and a creature named Gurgi who are all trying to destroy the Cauldron and save the world

Based On:

  • Loosely based on the first two books in The Chronicles of Prydain, a series of five novels that are, in turn, based on Welsh mythology.
    • Written by: Lloyd Alexander
      • His last book in the series “The High King” won the 1969 Newbery Medal
      • Co created the children’s literary magazine “Cricket”
  • On March 17, 2016, Variety confirmed that Walt Disney Pictures had acquired the film rights to The Chronicles of Prydain, with the intention to adapt the book series into a multi-film fantasy epic a la Harry Potter

Directed By:

  • Ted Berman
    • Was on staff with Disney for almost 50 years
    • Co-Directed The Fox and the Hound (1981)
    • Also worked on Alice in Wonderland(1951), Bambi(1942), Mary Poppins(1964), 101 Dalmatians(1961), Bedknobs and Broomsticks(1971), and The Rescuers(1977), Fantasia (1940)
    • This was his last project with Disney before retiring
  • Richard Rich
    • Also Co-Directed The Fox and the Hound (1981)
    • founder and owner of Crest Animation Productions
    • Robin Hood(1973), The Rescuers(1977), Pete’s Dragon(1977) uncredited

Produced By:

Story By:

Music By:

  • Elmer Bernstein
    • Unlike most other Disney animated films, the film did not contain any songs.
    • At the same time, Bernstein just came off the success of his Academy Award-nominated score for the 1983 film Trading Places as well as the score for the 1984 film Ghostbusters. Like in the latter of the two, The Black Cauldron saw the use of the ghostly ondes Martenot to build upon the dark mood of Prydain
      • Because of the film’s last minute revisions, much of Bernstein’s score was cut and unused. In its minority, the score was re-recorded for the album original release by Varèse Sarabande in 1985, with the composer conducting the Utah Symphony Orchestra. The album soon fell out of print and many of the film’s tracks did not resurface until a bootleg copy entitled “Taran” was supplied to soundtrack specialty outlets in 1986.
      • The score received positive reviews from music critics, and today is regarded as one of the best works by Bernstein and for a Disney animated film, despite its obscurity.

Production Company:

Distributed by:



  • Hurt’s career spanned six decades. He had roles in more than 129 films with dozens of television roles. The character he portrayed died in 40 of those productions (the counts range from 39 to 42), widely considered to be the record for an actor in mainstream TV/film.


Reviews & Reception

  • It was so poorly received that it was not distributed as a home video release for more than a decade after its theatrical run
    • released on VHS in the UK in 1997, and in the United States on August 4, 1998, as part of the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection, in a pan-and-scan transfer, thirteen years after its theatrical release.
    • The best version out there is the 2010 DVD release with a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer
  • Adding insult to injury, the film was also beaten at the box office by The Care Bears Movie ($22.9 million domestically), which was released several months earlier by Disney’s much-smaller rival animation studio Nelvana. The film was however more successful outside North America notably in France where it had 3,074,481 admissions and was the fifth most attended film of the year
  • 55% at Rotten Tomatoes based on 29 reviews with an average rating of 5.7/10, with the consensus stating “Ambitious but flawed, The Black Cauldron is technically brilliant as usual, but lacks the compelling characters of other Disney animated classics
  • Jeffrey Katzenberg, then-Chairman of the Walt Disney Studios, was dismayed by the product and the animators felt that it lacked “the humor, pathos, and the fantasy which had been so strong in Lloyd Alexander’s work. The story had been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it was heartbreaking to see such wonderful material wasted.”
    • Lloyd Alexander, the author of the books said: “First, I have to say, there is no resemblance between the movie and the book. Having said that, the movie in itself, purely as a movie, I found to be very enjoyable. I had fun watching it. What I would hope is that anyone who sees the movie would certainly enjoy it, but I’d also hope that they’d actually read the book. The book is quite different. It’s a very powerful, very moving story, and I think people would find a lot more depth in the book.


  • The first Disney animated feature to not contain any songs, neither performed by characters or in the background
  • Tim Burton’s last and only other involvement with a Disney animated film before he became a filmmaker in his own right
  • Tim Burton, who worked as a conceptual artist on this film, wanted to incorporate minions of the Horned King that were akin to the “facehuggers” from the Alien (1979) movie series. Some samples of his work can be seen on Disney’s 2000 DVD of this title.
  • The production of this film can be traced back to 1971, when the Disney Studio purchased the screen rights to Lloyd Alexander’s “The Chronicles of Prydain”. The film took over 12 years to make, 5 years of actual production, and cost over $25 million. Over 1,165 different hues and colors were used, and 34 miles of film stock was utilized.
  • The management team at Disney changed during production. New studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg screened the mostly-completed film and was appalled by its darkness. He suggested editing the film, and when producer Joe Hale protested (animated films are typically not edited in post production the same way live-action films are), Katzenberg himself brought the film into an editing bay and began cutting it himself. Disney company chairman/CEO Michael Eisner talked Katzenberg down, and reached a compromise: the film’s release would be postponed from the 1984 Holiday season to Summer 1985 to allow for more rewriting and editing.
  • According to producer Joe Hale, “When [Jeffrey] Katzenberg first screened the film he told us to cut it by 10 minutes. Roy [Disney] and I got together and found some scenes we could get rid of that didn’t affect the story that much.” When they ran it again for Jeffrey Katzenberg and the film finished he asked Roy Edward Disney, “Is that 10 minutes?” When Disney replied that no it was only around 6 minutes. Katzenberg stated, “I said 10 minutes!” Hale continued, “Eventually he cut out about 12 minutes, which really hurt the picture.”
  • The first Disney animated feature to use computer technology
  • The first Disney animated theatrical feature to receive a PG rating, and had been the only one to have that rating up until Dinosaur (2000) 15 years later. It even had to be edited twice to avoid being released with a PG-13 (a New MPAA Rating introduced 1 year prior) or R rating. Ironically, it was given a U rating in the U.K. (their equivalent of a G rating), uncut for “mild fantasy violence and scary scenes”.
  • According to animation artist Michael Peraza Jr., when Disney started having screenings for the public at the studio theater to gather their reactions to the rough cut of this film, he knew that the “un-dead” section would most likely be revolting to some in the audience who would not expect to see a bunch of rotted corpses slowly fermenting. When the film reached the “un-dead” sections close to the end of the film, the doors opened and a mother was angrily leaving with her two wailing children. She was followed by another, and soon there was a sizable exodus of crying kids and upset parents fleeing from the theater. The un-dead sections were quickly cut from the film
  • During the beginning of the film when Dallben uses Hen Wen’s magic to find the Horned King, the first image that appears in the water was a recycled section from “The Night On Bald Mountain” sequence from Fantasia (1940).
  • Various members of Disney’s “Nine Old Men” as well as Don Bluth took stabs at making this film during the 1970s
  • There is an urban legend that, despite the film’s failure in the US, it was popular in Japan, so much so that the creator of the Legend of Zelda series, Shigeru Miyamoto, based a lot of the game’s elements on this film.




Roger Ebert’s (positive) Review:


Check out our episode on The Black Cauldron here.

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