The most prolific list site watchmojo.com came out today with their list of 10 Greatest Animators of All Time. It’s a pretty good list. If it was up to me I would have put Don Bluth on the list and maybe given an honorable mention to Ralph Bakshi, Patrick McHale, Glen Keane, Tomm Moore and Bill Plympton. That said it’s always tough to make a top 10 list (believe me I know) and good stuff always gets left behind. But Don Bluth? He’s so big and practically kept animation alive when Disney was struggling in the 80s.
What do you think? Who would you add or take away? I admit I am a little less familiar with a few of the modern TV animators like Genndy Tartakovsky but I am sure they are very talented.
A popular post on these type of movie blogs is ‘movies everyone likes but I don’t’ or vice versa. You can check out my blogging friend Animation Commendation for his highly controversial picks (Wall-e and Up overrated! Outrage!). He is focusing just on animation and I have decided to just post about the films I like others don’t. As I said in my post Jerks, Trolls and Critics my goal in my writing is to be an advocate for film . It is not to tear down what other people love.
So I want to use this post as a chance to advocate for films that I believe are underrated by critics and fans in general. These movies are far from perfect and I can understand why people don’t like them but for whatever reason I found something to enjoy while watching them. Call it nostalgia, call it low expectations but I like the following films that a lot of others don’t like.
In no particular order.
Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything-
Veggietales are kind of like the Christian fundamentalist cousin of the animation world but you know they are done pretty well. The music is always fun, voicework good and the colors bright and colorful.
Pirates was the first time they tried to do a non-biblical tale (previously they had done Jonah as a feature film as well as their many direct to video films about Daniel, Moses and other stories).
This film could entertain kids of any faith as it focuses on finding heroes and makes a person a hero.
Tomatometer- 39%. I’d give it a C+ it’s certainly not top tier animation but I still find it entertaining.
The Other Side of Heaven-
I admit this one is easier for me to like because it is about a member of my faith, John Groeberg who went as a missionary to Tonga and had some amazing experiences.
This was also the only film we were allowed to watch on my mission for the Mormon church and having served a mission like Groeberg I relate too it.
So maybe it isn’t for everyone but it’s pretty well made and acted. I would think the story would be inspirational for those of other faiths but hard for me to know.
But this is my list and I like it so it makes the list!
Tomatometer 29%. I would give it a B
Lord of the Rings-
Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings has developed a bit of a cult following over the years and I think it is deserved. It is not perfect and Peter Jackson’s version is definitely better but this is pretty good. The animation is strong in parts and weak in others but scenes like the ringwraiths in Bakshi are really well done with a style I haven’t seen in other movies (kind of looks like a hologram)
They pack a lot into the film especially if you like the extended version of the Peter Jackson films and it can feel rushed but I still like the animation and the story is so solid at it’s core that it just works.
Our friend the Nostalgia Critic did a fun compare/contrast between the Jackson and Bakshi’s versions.
Strong language warning
Tomatometer 50%, I would give it a B-
John Lasseter, over at Pixar, says they never do sequels unless they have an idea. That was the problem with most of the made for video sequels of the 90s and early 2000s. Most of them are a repeat of the original but with a new character (usually a child of our leads such as Bambi 2, Fox and the Hound 2, Lady and the Tramp 2 etc). Then there are one’s that continue the story but in incredibly trite and stupid ways. (Pocahontas 2, Brother Bear 2, Cinderella 2, and Hunchback of Notre Dame 2 are the worst examples). Finally there are sequels that are clobbered together from animated series that came after the movie and these are usually passable, on the Saturday morning cartoon level (Atltantis 2, Lilo and Stitch 2, Lion King sequels, Aladdin sequels etc).
But out of all of them The Little Mermaid sequels are passable but my favorite is Cinderella 3. Cinderella 2 is just her wedding and it sucks but 3 they actually have an idea.
Through a variety of circumstances Lady Tremaine finds the Fairy Godmother’s wand, which she then uses to turn back time and make it so Anastasia’s foot fits the slipper instead of Cinderella. The Prince now has to marry Anastasia and things seem pretty dire for our heroine.
The animation is on the Saturday morning level but it is passable and the songs are okay. It’s not great but I enjoyed seeing Lady Tremaine back up to no good and just found it very clever.
Tomatometer is actually high with only 7 reviews at 71% but I still say this counts because the sequels are so generally disregarded and looked down on.
Tomatometer 71%, I would give it a C
North Avenue Irregulars-
I suppose this is probably more forgotten than disliked but I’ve been wanting to make a shout-out to it so here goes.
It is the kind of movie almost never made today. A live action comedy starring A list talent for families. The story is silly and your enjoyment will probably depend on your taste of slapstick but it makes me laugh.
It was a dream team of comedic women with Barbara Harris, Susan Clark, Karen Valentine, Cloris Leachman, and a long list of faces you will recognize when you see them.
Edward Herrman is a nice foil for the ladies as the Reverend Hill who decides to take down local gambling syndicate using the ladies as the spies and detectives.
It has a pretty high tomatometer of 75% on 11 reviews but I still think it’s one that is easy to criticize but I like it. Great opening credits sequence too.
Tomatometer 75%, I would give it a B-
Disney’s Christmas Carol
Readers of my other blog smilingldsgirl.com kn0w The Christmas Carol is one of, if not my favorite stories ever written. I make sure to see it at the local theater every Christmas and watch as many versions as I can. There’s everything from Alastair Sims, George C Scott, to Bill Murray, Muppets, and Mickey Mouse.
I think what I like about the story is it is about lost causes and how anyone can change their lives if they embrace Christmas (and for me Christ) and decide to be a better person. It’s a story about redemption and I just love it.
When I heard that Jim Carey was being cast as Scrooge you can imagine my concern with a ham like him taking on my favorite character in literature. However, he plays it surprisingly straight and there are only a few antics when soaring through space. The spirits are done very well and there is a ton of the actual script taken from the novel, which is cool.
Some don’t like the stop motion animation but it doesn’t bother me. It’s a style just like any other and I can go with it. I wouldn’t say this is my favorite version but I still like it.
Tomatometer- 54%, I would give it a B
I wonder sometimes if people really hate this movie or if they just are mad at it because it’s not Up, Wall-e, and Ratatouille. Don’t get me wrong. It has major problems but is it really one of the worst movies ever made? While I’m not rushing out to buy the blu-ray I thought it was fun, decent level kids movie and an homage to the spy flicks their parents and older siblings get to watch.
As I said in my Planes: Fire and Rescue review, the world of the Cars and Planes movies is nutty and does not stand up to much examination. I guess there are car sex or car eggs hatching baby cars in this world? But then they run out of parts which is strange. Evidently some models are worthy of saving and others are not?
See how fast you can go down the rabbit hole with this world? So I suggest just going with it and not diving too deep. Just enjoy it as an homage to spy movies an leave it at that.
The other beef with this movie I hear is people don’t like Mater. I’m not sure why because I find him funny, as funny as a car can be at least…
It’s beautifully animated and the voicework is all good. The plot is actually pretty convoluted and complicated involving natural fuel. (Wouldn’t a world of just cars actually like the world to be poluted, that is their life sustaining liquid like we have water, they have oil…Again over-thinking it!
Overall I think the bad buzz is overrated and this movie is an ok, fun time at the movies.
Tomatometer- 39%, I would give it a C
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
We’ve talked a lot about this movie on the blog. I am aware I am in the minority on it. I thought it was a fun adventure movie with a wildly creative made up world that engaged me the way other good B Summer Adventure movies have like Indiana Jones, the Goonies, National Treasure etc. I liked the language and culture they created and the troop of explorers was fun and diverse.
The animation is gorgeous especially once they get to the Lost City and we have the blue crystals and their power. It has a bit of a steampunk feel and all in all I liked it. I thought it was a fun action adventure, treasure hunting story with a good, exciting ending. It all just worked for me in the spirit of those B adventure movies. So there you go!
Tomatometer- 49%, My Grade A-
Where the Wild Things Are
This is a movie you either go with and love or hate. I love it. It takes Maurice Sendak’s children’s story of a boy sent to bed without any supper finding a land of wild things and turns it into a brilliant movie.
It is the only film I’ve ever seen that captures the brooding quiet nature of childhood. Some say that makes it depressing but I remember being that kid. I remember hearing things in school like global warming or war and puzzling at how this could be. To me it was amazingly refreshing to have a kid who isn’t perky but a real person with all moods. His behavior when he meets the Wild Things is so authentic to what a kid, especially a boy, would do and I love it!
It’s a brilliant film in how it gives our character an opportunity to confront himself and his mother and realize they are both imperfect but trying. What a beautiful moment that is?
The puppets were the perfect choice as opposed to CGI. It makes it feel real and palatable and the voicework is PERFECT!
Tomatometer is high because of people like me- 72%, My Grade A+
To be honest I am really surprised the Space Jam tomatometer score so low. This is one of the few spots we can see our Looney Tunes friends on the big screens and I think it is charming. All the characters like Bugs, Daffy, Yosemite Sam and more are there in this live action/animation combo. Bill Murray is pretty funny and Michael Jordan is one of the better athletes turned actors (need I mention Shaque in Kazaam?)
I guess the plot follows a similar underdog theme but is anyone watching this for the intricate plot? No. They are watching it to see Bugs, Daffy and others tell good jokes and have a fun time and I think that’s what they get out of it.
Give it a watch through I bet you will agree it’s an entertaining flick.
Tomatometer- 35%, I would give it a B-
Follow that Bird-
Again this is probably more underrated than disliked. It has a very high tamotometer score in fact but I wanted to give it a shoutout anyway. Follow that Bird is the first Sesame Street movie and it is a real gem. Some people might discount it as a only a movie for little children because it is from Sesame Street but if you do that’s a shame because it is very clever and heartfelt.
Big Bird finds out he should be raised with a family and is adopted by the Dodo family making his new name Big Dodo. Despite having everything with the Dodo’s he isn’t happy, so he runs away. The rest of the film is part roadtrip and part our yellow bird finding out who his real family is.
It’s a lovely message for kids, there are lots of laughs and real heart too. I love all of the Muppets movies but this one will be close to the top for sure . I need to do a list of my favorite Muppet’s movies soon. What are your favorites?
Tomatometer- 91%, I would give it an A
Another Christian film critics were incredibly tough on. It tells the true story of Bethany Hamilton who lost her arm to a shark while surfing and how she made it back to compete in the pros with one arm. I will agree that the special effects are not great and it does look pretty obvious where they cut off Anna Sophie Robb’s arm in post-production.
However, if you can get over the technical flaws there is a lot to like . Bethany is an amazing person. In fact, at the moment she is on The Amazing Race and tearing it up there. I thought at first she was stunt casting to get sympathy but she has been up for every challenge. She does with one arm what others struggle with 2. Everything from rock climbing to balancing tasks she’s been up for and she’s done it all in such a pleasant and happy way. I like her even more than I did after this movie.
The supporting cast is strong with Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt as her parents and Carrie Underwood as a youth minister. Aside from the arm special effects the rest of the surfing shots are well done and the story didn’t play out exactly as I thought it would and it is an exciting moment when she gets back on the surfboard.
Doesn’t reinvent the wheel but what it does it does well and I enjoy watching it.
Tomatometer- 46%, I would give it a B-
American Tail Fievel Goes West
Most people like the first American Tail but are tough on this sequel. I would agree it is not as good but I still enjoy it.
This one is not directed by Don Bluth like the original but Steven Spielberg is a producer.
In part 2 we get the Mousekewitz family deciding to leave New York for the promises of the West (streets weren’t paved with gold I see!). Fievel idolizes Wylie Burp the sheriff of the west who is brilliantly played by the great Jimmy Stewart in what I believe is his last role on screen.
On the way they meet a conniving cat who is trying to get them out there as cheap labor. Our friend Tiger voiced by Dom DeLuise again shows up and we also get Amy Irving, John Cleese and Jon Lovitz.
In the end, it’s a pretty entertaining story with twists and turns. I enjoy the homage to the western and hearing Jimmy Stewart as Wylie.
The music by James Horner is also wonderful and I particularly love Dreams to Dream.
Tomatometer- 40%, I would give it an A
So that’s my list! What do you think? Seen any of these? Do you hate them or think they are pretty good? I’d love your thoughts. Thanks for reading my ramblings.
I just thought you might be wondering what my opinion is on non-Disney animated films. I’m not talking Pixar,Studio Ghibli or other Disney wings because they should get their own list. I’m talking about other studios like Dreamworks, which while not as consistently my favorites like Disney, they have made some great animated films.
So here we go in no particular order.
1. The Adventures of Tintin- underrated action adventure movie. Yes, it is motion capture not traditional animation but I figure if it looks, feels, acts like an animated film it is an animated film. More people should have seen this movie. It was so entertaining!
2. The Lego Movie- one of the most visually inventive movies I’ve ever seen. The effects with the legos blew me away. Great voice work by whole cast, and the script is so well written. Every joke got a laugh from me and then there’s moments that were surprisingly tender. It is the best movie I’ve seen at capturing how a child plays with their toys and how incapable adults are at understanding that play.
3. Kung Fu Panda 1 and 2- both films are very entertaining with a likable lead character, fun action, beautiful visuals, and great villains.
4. Secret of Nimh- wonderful movie featuring one of the toughest Moms in movies. She doesn’t want to be a hero but will do anything for her son. There’s humor, adventure and most importantly real heart.
5. Anastasia- one of the best animated romantic comedies put onto film. Great chemistry, a fun villain, and decent music. The story is silly but I still find it very entertaining.
6. How to Train Your Dragon- haven’t seen sequel but want to. Original was very entertaining. It’s a predictable story but told very well. Great voice cast and a great heart to the story of Hiccup and his desire to please his demanding father. The relationship between him and the dragon is very absorbing. Beautiful flying visuals.
7. Prince of Egypt- some people have problems with the changes from the Biblical story but not me. I am mad for the music, just love it and the scene where Moses communes with the burning bush is breathtaking. I’m a huge fan of biblical epics and this stands with the best.
8. Arthur Christmas- A movie I thought looked really stupid and then totally surprised me. Santa’s youngest son Arthur believes in bringing Christmas to every child and when he finds a girl has been missed will do anything to make it right. I love the idea that even the North Pole has become over-commercialized for Christmas. I love Christmas movies so this is a big win. Great voice cast. Real heart.
9. Chicken Run- An homage to Dirty Dozen and other prison escape movies from the 50s. Great writing and voice work. Terrific villain and the stop motion animation is fabulous.
10. Transformers 1986- Michael Bay should be strapped down and forced to watch this movie for a week straight to understand how it should be done. Those bloated, obnoxious mess of movies don’t have 1/10th the heart of this animated film. Orson Wells is Optimus Prime and he is great. It’s got action and fun characters and with every Michael Bay monstrosity it looks better and better (Transformers 2 and 3 are 2 of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. I just can’t see 4. It’s too much.) Boys deserve better transformers movies and this animated film gives it to them. .
11. Charlotte’s Web- One of the best non-Disney animated musicals. Sweet songs with great vocal performances by Debbie Reynolds and Paul Lynde. It’s actually pretty sad but in a way that will teach kids about friendship and sacrifice.
12. Iron Giant- If you haven’t seen this film, stop what you are doing, go out and watch it. The animation is stunning. The story has real heart and lovely characters. It is a total winner!
13. Paranorman- everyone who thinks I’m a total softy when it comes to darker movies will probably be surprised to find this on my list. I like a good ghost story and this definitely fits the bill. It’s more for teens than children. Some of the images are pretty scary and the humor, like the jock actually being gay, is probably more for teens than little kids. It looks amazing. Has some genuine scares and the story surprised me. Very well done.
14. Simpsons Movie- Everyone is always shocked to find out I love the Simpsons. My favorite show of all time. My brother and sister and I would watch it every week and 26 seasons later still do. The movie is overwritten and could have been better but I still really enjoy it. I love the characters and the HD colors add a nice touch to the movie over the TV show. Simpsons has given me so many laughs I love it. Lisa is my particular favorite.
15. Pirates: Band of Misfits- A movie nobody saw but I really enjoyed. It’s funny with Charles Darwin as our unlikely hero. The stop motion looks great and voice work is engaging. A hidden gem!
16. Curious George- So few movies are made well for children under 5. Curious George is one of those movies. It is sweet and engaging with lovely songs from Jack Johnson. One that is unabashadly for the smallest of children and yet adults won’t be miserable.
17. Lord of the Rings (Bakshi)- It’s not as good as the Peter Jackson movies but it is also a different take on an epic story. To me there is room for multiple retellings of the Lord of the Rings and Bakshi crams a lot of story into this film. Maybe not a masterpiece but I enjoy it. The music is wonderful and characters engrossing. If you like the story of Lord of the Rings give this animated version a chance. I think this is what the Black Cauldron was trying to be and it isn’t near as successful.
18. Batman Mask of the Phantasm- Still my favorite Batman movie (yes, you read right). Intense without being too violent. Batman is interesting without being over-the-top. I hate in the live action movies how the villains are always more interesting than Batman. Not the case here. Great animation. Great voice work. If you haven’t seen it and love the Nolan films give it a shot.
19. Happy Feet- A flawed film but I love the music and it is so unabashedly cheerful I enjoy it. It’s the kind of movie I put in when I’m sick and it brightens my day. Huge talented cast and serviceable story.
20. Charlie Brown Christmas Special- I realize this was for TV but I couldn’t not include it. One of the best Christmas movies ever made. Perfect soundtrack. Lovely message and delightful characters. It focuses on the Christ message of Christmas in a way that is powerful without being overbearing.
Long ago there was a legend of a great movie flop. A flop that nearly crippled the great life force known as Sir Disney. It was even defeated by a mangy set of daemons known as the Carebears. Could it rise up and conquer as the beautiful Princess Rachel trogged through it sore knee and all.
Well good friends let’s talk about the Black Cauldron…
First there is a lot to talk about with production on this one. Black Cauldron was released in 1985 after a 9 month delay insisted upon by then Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg (later Disney traitor!).
Based very loosely on a series by Lloyd Alexander called The Chronicles of Prydain. Alexander later 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.”
I actually think this is super cool of Alexander. It must be hard as writer to see your work and passion changed by another source (especially one as big as Disney) and to still have warm things to say about it is very commendable.
The movie has a darker feel than previous Disney films or at least since the minion scenes in Sleeping Beauty but there was a certain string of animation at the time that liked such mythological dark stories. Two I thought of were Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings animated movie (better than this and in 1978 so 7 years earlier) and Don Bluth studio’s Secret of Nimh.
Secret of Nimh even has a character with bone hands like the Horned King here. Nimh is the better movie IMO but you can see a similar trend in the movies and animation of the era.
That’s why it is maybe a bit surprising that so much ‘to do’ was made about the Black Cauldron being too dark and scary for kids. Many similar looking films had been released within 7 years so why did this one cause such an uproar?
Black Cauldron was actually the first animated film to receive a PG rating, so that may have been part of the backlash; but also where people are able to take a bold artsy film from Bluth and Bakshi they expect lightness from Disney (although have these people seen On Bald Mountain or Pinocchio?)
Nevertheless, the movie had bad buzz before it’s release. Evidently at one point Katzenburg actually tried to edit the movie himself to keep the violence down. Michael Eisener, who Katzenberg would later use as inspiration for the design of Shrek, talked Katzenberg out of the editing room but he was still vocal about his distaste for the film. (Such drama!) All of this bad vibes didn’t help the marketing by Disney and it was a huge failure at the box office. The worst in all of Disney history.
In addition to being the most expensive animated film ever at the time, it was also was one of Hollywood’s top flops including live action:
“It’s right up there with Cleopatra and Heaven’s Gate as the most expensive film (unadjusted) made at the time, costing $44 million to produce, it grossed only $21.3 million domestically”
Worthy of the Hate?
So is it worthy of such hate? Yes and no. The animation is stunning. It looks full and rich with details rarely seen even today in a Disney film.
If we look at the shot above in the castle you can see how rich the backgrounds and animation is. Every crack and crevice of that wall is textured and ridged. The backdrops are also gorgeous, like a dark watercolor.
The other major standout of the movie is the score. Written by the great Elmer Bernstein it is one of the most stirring scores I’ve ever heard. And you’ll never guess who played the orchestrations?- The Utah Symphony! Right here at home recording for Disney! It’s one I might consider purchasing because I loved it and I like to listen to scores while I am working sometimes.
Where the movie looses me BIG TIME is in the voice work. With the exception of the Horned King (who has just standard villain voice by John Hurt), I thought all the voices were not only wrong but cringe inducing.
The worst of all is Gurgi, a dog, who sounds like Donald Duck is on the journey. It is Jar Jar Binks bad. The voice of the Princess Eilonwy by Susan Sheridan, while not as bad, is high pitched and annoying and even the lead Taran by Grant Bardsley is awfully whiny. They are all missteps.
I almost wish they could go in and record new voices like they do with the Miyazaki movies. It is so distracting.
The story is pretty long and convoluted but it works all right; although, it feels like a poor man’s version of the kind of lore and legends of Secret of Nimh or Lord of the Rings. A prophetic pig and a black cauldron just doesn’t have the same gravitas as the ring of power or the amulet in Secret of Nimh.
We start out with a pig-keeper Taren daydreaming about becoming a great warrior.
As it turns out the very pig Taren is helping has special powers. He can see into the future if he dips his head in water (strange super power but there you go)
Next we meet the villain of the picture, the Horned King. The design on him is great but I’m not sure we get enough backstory of who he is or why he wants the cauldron. As contrast, Sauron in Lord of the Rings has a detailed backstory of why he turned and why the ring had such power over him.
Still it’s a cool design and the one voice I liked by John Hurt.
The other problem with the story in The Black Cauldron is there is never a sense of real jeopardy for the characters. I’m not sure if it is the comic relief thrown in at odd times but it never felt to me that they might not make it. In the Bakshi version and definitely in Secret of Nimh there is a real sense of peril for the characters.
The other difference is our character motivations. Frodo and Mrs Brisby have selfless motivations. Frodo wants to serve his friends and do what Gandalf asks. Mrs Brisby wants to save her son. Taran wants to be famous. He wants to be a celebrated warrior in all the land, which just isn’t as gripping as more noble ambitions.
In fact, Taran looses Hen-wen, who he has sworn to protect very quickly because he is daydreaming about being a ‘famous warrior’.
As Taran journeys to the castle fairly uneventfully we meet Gurgi who I already said is so out of place in this kind of film. The voice is just insufferable.
Anyway, Taran gets to the castle relatively easily. Again in Nimh and Bakshi there is way more peril at every step of the way, not just the climatic battle. This makes you care about the journey and the characters much more and be invested in the battles.
One cool thing at the castle is there are layers to the sound (sound mixing I think?) which I had never heard in a Disney film. You’d have a conversation going on in the forefront but could hear murmurings from the pub or guardsman in the background. That is a very cool immersive touch I think they should do more often.
So Taran and the Horned King meet and long and short of it Taran ends up in the dungeon and Henwen escapes. In the dungeon Taran meets a princess with the tough to pronounce name of Eilonwy. I agree with Doug Walker’s review of the movie on youtube that there really is no good reason to make her a princess. She doesn’t have any kingdoms we see, people looking for her or following her, or any of the other vestiges of royalty. There’s no sense of loss to her people shown if she isn’t freed from the Horned King. I also think if she is a Princess than she wouldn’t be in the dungeon with all the other prisoners. Think like Star Wars where Leia is used as a tool by Vader to try and get what he wants. In fact, I’m not sure if we ever see the Horned King with Eilonwy? (There actually isn’t enough of the Horned King in general).
I found her voice by Susan Sheridan to also be incredibly annoying. Not as bad as Gurgi but still very bad.
But to Taran’s good luck Eilonwy is escaping just as he arrives in the dungeon and she allows him to accompany her. They also meet a minstrel player named Fflewddur Fflam (doesn’t that name seem like something out of a Monty Python skit?) He doesn’t add much to the story but he is fine voiced by Nigel Hawthorne.
Taran also gets a sword of power kind of given to him but why we aren’t really sure? When Harry get’s Gryfindor’s sword he has been brave and it is a gift from Dumbledore. Here he kind of finds it which doesn’t quite make sense for this kind of story. Later the 3 witches will trade anything even the black cauldron for the sword, so why would Taran just stumble upon it? And again, he is most excited about it at the start because it will make him famous…
Eventually the band gets free from the castle and there is some bonding time, romance time that really falls flat (Eilowynn has such a dopey laugh) but it’s fine I guess. This middle section should be building peril and endearing us to the character but we don’t get that.
They stumble into a whirlpool that takes them to the world of fairies. Considering Disney knows how to design fairies I don’t know what they were thinking with these. They feel very Saturday morning animation style with the crabby faerie roped into helping the group on the quest.
I guess they are cute but why go the cute route? I would have gone the mystical route like the faeries in Fantasia.
So fairly easily they are taken to the room with the black cauldron but it is guarded by 3 witches who are fun with the exception of one who falls instantly in love with Fflam. Instant love? Haven’t seen that before in a Disney movie…And in this case it does nothing for the story except to be funny and for her to have big Dolly Partonish breasts (a strange design choice for a fable action movie)..
The witches make a deal with Taran to give them the black cauldron in return for his sword (which again he had just kind of stumbled upon). He gives it to them but it turns out he can’t really use the cauldron. It is only magical if someone jumps into it to their death, making the ultimate sacrifice.
I liked this idea of a Messianic feel to the cauldron. Many of these stories have Messianic overtones (anointed one, called to sacrifice for good, fights the devil, etc). That gives the story the kind of heft it sorely needs.
Eventually they end up back in the castle with the Horned King. He is attempting to use the power of the cauldron to create an army of the undead, which is super cool looking. I’m not sure how they did the design but they look like cellophane, layered on top of each other.
The Horned King is going to keep building his army if the black cauldron isn’t stopped. Again, this animation is awesome!
Someone must make the sacrifice into the black cauldron and in a very touching scene despite the annoying voice Gurgi takes the fall for his friends.
When he enters the cauldron it reverses the army of the dead and sucks the horned king into the cauldron in an awesome scene. I think it is one of Disney’s best villain deaths they’ve ever done.
With the Horned King gone the castle starts falling apart (not sure exactly why? Is his castle part of an evil spell or creation?) But the team escapes and meets the witches who try to give Taran the sword for the cauldron. Taran doesn’t want the sword. He just wants Gurghi back.
It’s a fine scene but I don’t know if the narrative has really earned it? I think it is good in Lord of the Rings for Gollum to make the ultimate sacrifice for the ring which has ruined his life. Or in Harry Potter when Dobby sacrifices himself we have an emotional tie to the character. I don’t know if I ever feel such a closeness between Taran and Gurghi or that he has really grown from wanting to be famous?
But it’s ok and Gurghi returns and our story is basically finished.
So in the end is The Black Cauldron the horrible piece of junk some claim it to be? No. The animation alone takes it beyond the putrid level. While not as beautifully animated as Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings or Bluth’s Secret of Nimh, it still has stunning moments of visual artistry.
It doesn’t have the heart or the story which Bakshi and Nimh have either and the voice performances are almost all terrible. However, I think if they recorded new voices like they do with Studio Ghibli movies and rereleased The Black Cauldron might be a pretty big hit nowdays with kids sensibilities being more comfortable with darker stories.
The score by Elmer Bernstein is tremendous. Every scene it immerses you in the story in a way the story itself doesn’t actually do. It’s sweeping and then soft and magical at the same time. I loved it.
The characters motivations and the gravitas behind the prophetic pig and the cauldron just don’t have the weight of similar stories and movies. I know we are supposed to see Taran grow and learn that being famous isn’t everything but I needed another layer of motivation for him to go on this quest and make choices.
The other side characters are fine once you take away the voices. Princess Eilonwy doesn’t need to be a princess. In fact, I think her character might be more interesting and layered if she was a normal girl caught up in the magic like Taran.
I really liked the villain. I wish more had been done with him, explaining his backstory or why he wants the power of the cauldron but his design is very cool (and the only voice I didn’t want to punch in the throat).
So The Black Cauldron has its big flaws. Evidently Disney kind of dropped the ball on the marketing too so I can see why it wasn’t a big success but I’d take it any day over a mean spirited entry like The Rescuers. I know we have the undead and a Horned King but I still thought it was a more enjoyable and less cruel story than Medusa abducting Penny…
If you like this kind of adventure story and have seen Secret of Nimh and Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings than give this a watch. You won’t have a miserable time at the movies. As far as entertainment for kids it is pretty dark but then again kids like pretty dark in Lord of the Rings (Jackson version) and Harry Potter and even How to Train Your Dragon. So it just depends on the kid. If I was making a rule I’d say 10 and up.
It would be more terrifying if there was a real sense of peril for the characters like in Harry Potter or even the bear scene in Fox and the Hound. That to me is much scarier for kids because it comes out of nowhere and it feels like our heroes could actually lose. As much as I liked the Horned King I never felt like he was going to win.
There is some nice messaging about friendship, sacrifice and not seeking fame that would be great for kids. So depending on the kid give it a watch.