It’s a shame that Disney treats “The Black Cauldron” kind of like the black sheep of the family they don’t mention at family reunions. It’s such a riveting and creepy film that evokes a lot of what makes the fantasy genre so appealing. There’s even the Horned King, one of Disney’s most frightening, if not their most frightening villain ever created, he’s a skull faced, horned monster with one goal to grab the magical black cauldron and use it to take over the world. In galleries and retrospectives, he’s almost never mentioned, which says a lot considering Disney is fond of including the Chernabog, who is only on screen for eleven minutes in “Fantasia.”
While I’d never want to screw with the Chernabog, The Horned King is a contender for Disney’s most horrific villain right alongside Maleficent and Ursula. One of the first Disney animated movies to get a PG rating, “The Black Cauldron” is definitely one of the most entertaining and menacing in their animated library. Often feeling like a mixture of Don Bluth, Ralph Bakshi, and Frank Frazetta, “The Black Cauldron” is a wildly entertaining and dark fantasy adventure that aims higher than children, and is so much more suited toward hardcore fantasy fans. It hasn’t aged much at all, and that might be due to the excellent animation matched with the simplistic tale of good and evil, and a very interesting macguffin known as the Black Cauldron.
In the land of Prydain, we meet pig herder and farmer Taran, who wants to become a knight and hero. Fate comes knocking at his door, when the monstrously evil Horned King (John Hurt delivering a painfully underrated performance) kidnaps his pig Hen-Wren, a magical animal with the ability to see in to the future and foretell prophecies. Deciding to track down the Horned King and save Hen-Wren from an uncertain fate, Taran is helped with a charming furry sidekick named Gurgi, as well as a spunky princess named Eilonwy. Forming a pact, the trio setout to locate the magical, powerful black cauldron before the Horned King does, summoning an undead army to help take over the realm.
The animation is unlike anything ever seen in a Disney film, and “The Black Cauldron” just garners a unique sense of dread and menace that allow us to feel like our heroes are always in imminent danger while the stakes are always very high. It’s rare classic Disney animated films put their heroes in the sight of pure utter evil, with the potential to die, and it’s also a rarity that they kill off the lovable comedic sidekick. “The Black Cauldron” is painfully simple in its motivation and premise, but it compensates with interesting characters, a very likable hero, and some stellar visuals. This includes the Horned King, and his undead army, not to mention the antagonist trio of witches that also want the black cauldron. If you haven’t seen “The Black Cauldron,” it deserves a chance, as it’s surely one of the most entertaining, epic, and fantastic entries in Disney’s animated library.