The Black Cauldron

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"Whosoever uses the Black Cauldron for evil will be all-powerful, for my blood will flow with his, and together we will either rule the world or destroy it."
—The Curse of the Black Cauldron

Meet Disney's Redheaded Stepchild and the 25th entry in the Disney Animated Canon, 1985's The Black Cauldron. It is the story of Taran, a young Assistant Pig Keeper who desperately wants to be a great warrior. He is charged with hiding Hen Wen, an innocent-looking pig -who is actually an oracle. The Big Bad, the Horned King, wants the pig because she can uncover the location of the Black Cauldron, with which he will bring to life an army of invincible, undead warriors to conquer the world.

Along the way, Taran meets Gurgi, a cowardly, furry creature who is always looking for food to eat. Hen Wen is soon captured by the villain's agents and taken to his castle, but Taran helps the pig escape before she fully reveals the cauldron's whereabouts. Imprisoned in the Horned King's dungeon, he soon encounters fellow inmates Princess Eilonwy and the wandering minstrel Fflewddur Fflam. Together, they escape from the castle.

After an unexpected side trip to the fairy world of the Fair Folk, the trio and Gurgi acquire the Cauldron in a trade with 3 witches. But they are soon recaptured, with Gurgi running away beforehand. The Horned King wastes little time in activating his deathly army.

As the unbeatable Cauldron Born set out to destroy all life and take over the planet, there is only one way to stop them. Someone must jump into the cauldron, at the cost of their life...

Based on a series of novels, Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, The Black Cauldron is easily one of Disney's darkest animated features. It is significant for the company in two ways:

  • It is the first Disney animated feature to be rated PG in the USA... and the reasons why are evident.
  • It is the first Disney animated feature to have absolutely no singing; thus, there is one less element available to alleviate the movie's dark elements.

A common misconception is that The Great Mouse Detective was the first animated Disney movie to use CGI. Actually, it was this movie - the Bauble, boat, explosions, and cauldron itself were animated with CGI.

The Black Cauldron was also a mildly successful computer game released by Sierra Entertainment in 1986 (yes, the same folks who produced Space Quest and Kings Quest).

A 25th anniversary edition was released on September 24, 2010, so it seems Disney is confident of some demand for it among audiences.

Tropes used in The Black Cauldron include:
  • Abhorrent Admirer: One of the witches to Fflewddur Fflam.
  • Accidental Kiss: Taran and Eilonwy are sort of tricked into one of these at the end, not that they particularly mind.
  • Adaptational Villainy: The witches. In the books, they're True Neutral figures that bend their own rules to help Taran and his friends dispose of the cauldron. In the film, they try to trick him into giving up a treasure for the cauldron only to retrieve it later.
  • Anticlimax Boss: Despite all the build up the character had, the Horned King doesn't put up much of a fight before he is sucked into the cauldron: He lunges unarmed at Taran and grabs him, showing no display of powers or fighting abilities whatsoever, and is killed when Taran pushes him in the general direction of the cauldron.
  • Artifact of Doom
  • Bad Boss: The Horned King's first response to any setback whatsoever is to strangle Creeper, whether it's his fault or not.
  • Berserk Button: Eilonwy. Don't ever be sexist (Taran) in her presence. Nor take the side of said sexist (Fflam).
    • Also, the Horned King is quite calm and cold-blooded, but if you spoil his plans he immediately gets enraged and tries to choke you to death.
  • Big Eater: Gurgi is always on the lookout for "munchings and crunchings".
  • Brick Joke: Hen Wen is left under the guard of the Fair Folk when the heroes go after the Cauldron; she doesn't turn up again until the very end of the film, where she's shown back at Dalben's house, revealing to The Obi-Wan what happened to his student. Doli's there, too, indicating that, unsurprisingly, he got stuck with the job of going wee wee wee all the way home...
  • Butt Monkey: Creeper is always getting abused by the other henchmen, stepped on, strangled by the Horned King, and things tend to fall on his head.
  • The Cameo: Tinkerbell makes a brief appearance among the Fair Folk.
  • Canon Foreigner: Creeper, who was not part of Alexander's original series.
  • Cartoon Creature: Gurgi is a strange example of this trope, looking something like a cross between an Old English Sheepdog, a marmot, and a gibbon.
  • Closing Credits: Notable due to their absence in previous Disney animated films. From Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs through The Fox and the Hound (film), Disney held onto the old Hollywood format of having a long opening credits sequence with no credits at the end, Alice in Wonderland being the only exception and even then it was only a cast list. From The Black Cauldron onwards, all Disney animated films have closing credits.
  • Collapsing Lair
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Quite a few.
    • Prince Gwydion, who in the books was the only one able to defeat the Horned King.
    • Also, Achren and Coll.
    • And almost every supporting character from the book called The Black Cauldron, such as Prince Ellydir and King Morgaunt.
  • Clingy MacGuffin: Eilonwy's "bauble", which floats around chasing rats. This is (again) a huge departure from the books, in which the bauble was neither sentient nor able to move under its own power, but had many other magical properties.
  • Composite Character: The book's Arawn and the Horned King are combined into one in the movie. Though the filmmakers work Arawn in by alluding to him as the sealed evil in the cauldron in the prologue.
  • Dem Bones: The Cauldron Born.
  • Dirty Coward/Lovable Coward: Gurgi always ducks out at the first hint of trouble, much to Taran's fury...until he volunteers to give his life to stop the Cauldron Born.
  • Disney Death: Heroic Sacrifice necessary? No worries.
  • Due to the Dead: Eilonwy disapproves of Taran taking the sword from a grave.
  • Dueling Movies: With The Care Bears Movie, its polar opposite. Guess which was the more successful film!
  • Everything's Better with Princesses: Eilonwy, the Redheaded Stepchild of the Disney Princesses; this being one of the "unpopular movies" mentioned in the trope entry, you won't be seeing her plastered all over your local department store. For added hilarity, in the books, the character was described as having red-gold hair while in the film it's Hair of Gold. This is brought up in the Disney Princess cosplay skit, in which all of the Disney Princesses meet onstage and argue. When Eilonwy introduces herself, everyone pretty much asks "Who the heck are you?" When she mentions the film's name, they all say, "Never heard of it!"
    • In the books, she is known as a Princess of Llyr. She's actually the daughter of the Princess Angharad, who fell in love with a commoner and ran away from her royal family to marry him. Eilonwy is kidnapped from her parents and orphaned as a very young child. In the books, after the first adventure, she goes to live with Taran and Dallben at the farm Caer Dallben. Anyone who wants to belittle her calls her a "scullery maid", in reference to the chores she does there. The film reflects this point but fails to explain or develop it.
  • Evil Brit: The Horned King (being voiced by John Hurt). Of course, most of the good guys also have British voice actors.
  • Evil Gloating
  • Evil Overlord
  • Evil Sorcerer: The Horned King
  • Evil Minions: The henchmen and the Cauldron Born
  • Executive Meddling: The film was originally intended to be the beginning of a Darker and Edgier Disney, aimed more at teens and young adults. It was originally much more graphic and violent. However, at the last minute, the Disney execs changed their minds and cut several completed scenes.
  • Expy Imagine Gurgi meeting Gollum from Lord of the Rings.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: The Horned King. And how!
  • Failure Hero: Taran so wants to be a Knight in Shining Armour, but at almost no point in the film does he successfully do anything useful with his own skills: He loses Hen Wen almost immediately after being entrusted with her; when held captive by the Horned King he only escapes with the help of Eilonwy and the magic sword; and he unwittingly brings the Black Cauldron into the Horned King's hands by getting it from the witches with whom it probably would've been completely secure. At the end of the film, Taran actually acknowledges that he's a failure as a warrior and forfeits his chance to become one in order to resurrect Gurgi.
  • Farm Boy: Taran
  • The Film of the Book: Of the books, more accurately. This film is a bit of a mash-up of elements from the first two books of the Prydain series, The Book of Three and The Black Cauldron.
  • Gag Boobs: Orwen of the Three witches, who is on the heavier side and well-endowed enough to lose a frog in her bodacious bosoms.
  • Gendo Pose: The Horned King does this several times.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Umm... Fflam, in frog form, getting helplessly trapped in the witch's bodacious bosom, anyone?
  • The Grim Reaper: The Horned King looks like the Reaper's brown-robed twin but with horns.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Doli, in probably the only characterization completely faithful to the books other than the species switch from dwarf to fairy.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy
  • The Face: Eliowny, as a princess, contrasts the guys of the group and talks reason into the big headed The Hero.
  • Heroic Sacrifice
  • Horned Humanoid: The Horned King.
  • Hostage for McGuffin: Hen Wen will be beheaded unless Taran makes her reveal the location of the Black Cauldron.
  • How Do You Like Them Apples??: Gurgi.
  • Implacable Man: The Cauldron Born are the Implacable Army.
  • Karmic Death
  • Karma Houdini: Creeper.
    • Given the crap that Creeper's taken for everything that wasn't his fault, he might be an exception.
  • Keystone Army: The Cauldron Born.
  • Kid Hero: Taran.
  • The Load: Fflewddur, who only proves useful twice in the entire movie: weakly trying to convince the feuding Taran and Eilonwy that they have to work together and taunting the three witches into trading the restoration of Gurgi's life for the return of the Cauldron.
  • Load-Bearing Boss: The Horned King's demise barely precedes the destruction of his entire castle.
    • Ironic, since it's explicitly stated that it's not even his castle. It was built long ago, and he just took it. (One wonders how it managed to stand all those centuries before he arrived?)
    • The Cauldron looks to get extremely hot after it has absorbed the Horned King - hot enough to start a China Syndrome and melt through the floor. This is probably what actually triggered the collapse of the castle, which was already in pretty rough shape.
  • MacGuffin Delivery Service: Not long after the heroes get the Cauldron, the Horned King's men capture them and bring the prize to their master.
  • Magical Girl: In this movie, Eilonwy's magic is only evident in the magical bauble that accompanies her and is the reason the Horned King kidnapped her; in the original novel series, she performs much greater magical feats.
  • Marshmallow Hell: Fflam suffers this from Orwen.
  • MacGuffin: Hen Wen and the eponymous Black Cauldron.
  • Milking the Giant Cow: The Horned King loves doing hand gestures during his gloatings or whenever he's excited.
  • Mood Whiplash: Constantly.
  • More Expendable Than You
  • Never Say "Die": Averted: They explicitly say the Horned King is going to kill them all. One more nail in the coffin of family-friendliness.
    • The Horned King trying to raise his defeated Cauldron Born: "GET UP! KILL!!!"
  • Nigh Invulnerability: The Black Cauldron cannot be destroyed, only its power stopped; the Cauldron Born are invincible -- unless someone lays down their life...
  • Non-Human Sidekick: Gurgi, a dog furry, for the hero Taran; Creeper, a goblin, for the villain The Horned King.
  • No Sense of Humor: The Horned King.
  • The Obi-Wan: Taran's mentor, Dallben, who, at the beginning of the movie, shows Taran just why it is so important that they spend their lives guarding Hen Wen.
  • Off-Model: On the poster above as well as the official soundtrack cover (which uses the poster's art), Eilonwy's dress is blue instead of violet and pink. On the 25th Anniversary DVD cover, Gurgi has brown eyes and Hen Wen has black eyes instead of them both having blue eyes.
  • Older Sidekick: Fflewddur Fflam. In the books, he's only around 30 years old.
  • Oracular Urchin: Hen Wen comes close enough.
  • The Other Marty: Hayley Mills was originally cast in the role of Princess Eilonwy and even hosted a behind-the-scenes special in which she introduces herself as the voice of said character. Then, for reasons unknown, Mills was replaced.
  • Our Liches Are Different: The Horned King.
  • Protectorate: Hen Wen.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits
  • Rebellious Princess
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: The Horned King's eyes literally light up whenever he gets excited.
  • Redheaded Hero: Taran.
  • Redhead in Green: Taran.
  • The Renaissance Age of Animation
  • The Renfield: Creeper.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Arawn's the evil force within the Cauldron.
  • Shout-Out: After the Cauldron-born start dying:

The Horned King: GET UP YOU FOOLS...KILLLLL!!!

  • Wacky Wayside Tribe: The Fair Folk.
  • Wandering Minstrel: Fflewddur Fflam.
  • Well, Excuse Me, Princess!: Eilonwy never misses an opportunity to remind Taran that he's just an assistant pig keeper. She also makes quite a few references to the fact that she's a princess, something which the original novel character almost never did.
  • Wicked Witch: 3 for the price of 1! In the books, they're forces of nature, quite literally the three fates of Greek mythology.
    • The books and the characters were inspired by Welsh mythology. The three witches are based on the concept of the triple goddess- maiden, mother, and crone.
    • And really, they're not all that wicked. Jerk Asses, yes, but they do bring Gurgi back in exchange for the cauldron.
  • Xanatos Gambit: The sneakiest of the witches convinces Taran to trade his magic sword for the Cauldron, counting on the notion that he and his friends won't know what to do with it and will eventually give it back -- so she and her sisters will own both the sword and the Cauldron! It's then beautifully crippled by Fflewddur, who remembers in the nick of time that if they're going to take back the Cauldron, then they must give the heroes something in return.
    • Even so, the Witches do indeed own both articles by the end of the film. Even if they didn't get the cauldron back, they'd still have the sword. There really was no down side for them.