Continuing right where we left off, following immediately with a demonstration of the Horned King’s feelings towards incompetence by way of frightening Creeper enough to get the pint-sized troll to choke himself, we find our group of heroine, plucky comedic relief, and annoyingly whiny protagonist licking their wounds so to speak. To be fair, the only real injury was to Fflewddur’s pants, which Eilonwy tries to mend with limited success. To be fair, she’s got little material to work with and give the girl some credit for the actual attempt. Of course, Taran has to go and be his usual idiot self and put his foot and a good chunk of leg besides into his mouth by way of this scene here…
I’m having the weirdest sense of déjà vu with this scene… For some reason, I really feel that Eilonwy should have slapped some common sense and/or decency back into Taran at the end of her little tirade… Because really, in order of his stupidity, no. No you did not get anyone out of the castle, Eilonwy got your weepy butt out of your cell and led you to the sword, the very sword you stole from a dead guy’s tomb no less! As to being enough of a “great warrior” to handle a sword like that, are you talking about when you stabbed at a couple of barrels like a nut? Or when you started swirling around with it like a kid on Christmas morning? Because if you’re talking about defeating those two brigands, congrats.
You know how to block with a sword. Go fetch yourself a cookie. Preferbly one meant for the pig because really, you don’t deserve any better than that because you, my dear boy, have committed the greatest sin of all.
He made Eilonwy cry.
Something that the Horned King and all of his evil minions could not accomplish at this point so congratulations to the protagonist of this film for doing more than what the actual antagonist was capable of doing.
Well anyway the two are called back to camp by way of a panicking Fflewddur who’s screaming bloody murder, quite literally, at the reappearance of our film’s hero, Gurgi who takes the bard’s panick to the fullest and tries to make off with the man’s hat and harp. Upon spotting Taran and Eilonwy however, Gurgi quickly changes his tune, even going so far as to try and tidy himself up a bit before the princess. Trying to defend himself against Taran’s admittedly slightly justifiable accusations of cowardice, because really a poor little creature like Gurgi would help so much against an army of degenerate brigands and the wicked sorcery of the Horned King.
… Huh, for once, the lad does have something of a point though more on that later.
Gurgi inadvertently leads the group to a pond that is in truth a portal to an underground fairy mound, which is home to a small party of Fair Folk led by King Eiddileg, who is surprisingly different than what one would expect not only of a monarch but of the Faerie as well. Not only is King Eiddileg willing and glad to get his hands dirty helping Doli, his right hand fairy, in fixing a… something-or-other… More than that however, King Eiddileg was not only perfectly civil to the humans, and beasty, intruding upon his kingdom but was willing to offer quite a lot of help towards them without wanting anything in return.
While not necessarily a rule amongst most fantasy stories, it is exceptionally rare to encounter an immortal anything that is willing to give so freely without wanting something of equal or ridiculously greater value as payment. King Eiddileg not only shows that he and his people found, rescued, and generally cared for Hen Wen but are also willing to lead her back to her proper owner and show Eilonwy and company to the Marshes of Morva where the Black Cauldron is being kept in the clutches of three witches so that the Princess and her intrepid band may destroy it before the Horned King can find it and claim it for himself.
An extremely reluctant Doli, who is quite literally the fairy equivalent to the dwarf Grumpy which in itself is extremely ironic considering that his book counterpart is actually a dwarf and not a fairy, leads the way to the Marshes and also promptly hides when the witches reveal themselves to the band shortly after the group had unwittingly released a whole plague’s worth of frogs, formerly people, back into the marshes.
As to the witches themselves, oh boy, where do I even begin? There’s the eldest sister of the group and self-confessed hoarder Orddu, the second eldest though easily the cackliest of the sisters Orgoch, and the youngest and, ahem, plumpest of the three Orwen who surprisingly takes an instant liking to Fflewddur much to his bewilderment and horror. Contrary to the fairy king, the three witches act every bit the part of their roles, particularly Orgoch who pokes fun at her younger sister by turning Fflewddur into a frog while Orwen is hugging the breath out of him leading to some… ah… surprising close encounter for the bard-turned frog…
Moving on, the magic sword, having enough of the witch’s antics and Taran’s lack of actually doing anything substantial, takes matters into its own blade and proceeds to slice and dice all of the flying kitchenware the witches have sent out to demonstrate their collection of cauldrons. Orddu, immediately taken by the sword’s magic and power, decrees that she must have that sword and is gladly willing to part with the Black Cauldron because she knows that Eilonwy, Gurgi, and Fflewddur are the heroes of this tale but that Taran is far too cowardly to make the necessary sacrifice to destroy the Black Cauldron and that him being the “leader” of the group, the rest will follow in his example.
I do like though that Taran calls the sword his dearest possession considering he’s had it all of a day. The dead king whom he stole it from would likely argue the use of such words. But that’s neither here nor there as the real question remains to be asked.
What does it take to destroy the Black Cauldron?
The answer is an absolute one. Nothing whatsoever. Its form and its function as a prison for the hellion soul of a truly daemonic king can never be destroyed. However, much like all magical creations, that which was used to create its power can also be utilized to severe it. In the Black Cauldron’s case, a life willing given by way of climbing into the Cauldron itself, knowing full well that they will never climb out again. Only then can its power be destroyed forevermore.
Later that night Doli, apparently channeling my inner opinions declares the group as a whole a bunch of blundering misfits, that things never work out when dealing with humans, and that Taran can go back to feeding pigs before leaving back to the fairy mound. Darn, and he had a good tirade going too…
Welp, the long and short of the film’s climax goes that the Horned King’s brigands catches up and promptly captures the group save for Gurgi who had run off at the first sign of trouble by way of the circling draconic monsters in the sky. The Horned King, has the three humans tied up and held as witnesses to the start of his reign and here’s where something interesting occurs. He calls the three of them out on what he sees them to be. He calls Taran a pig boy, which is the best label for him yet, Fflewddur a broken down minstrel, but it’s what he calls Eilonwy that had me both surprised and confused.
He calls her a scullery maid.
Now why on earth would he call her that? Make no doubt, Eilonwy is a princess albeit an orphaned one to a kingdom that is, at best, a large city rather than a whole entire land. In point of fact, it is described in the books that she is a descendant of the Welsh god Llyr. Heck, nearly all of her matronly line are enchantresses with Eilonwy being one herself, albeit one with little skill and knowledge at this point in time. So why call her a scullery maid, the lowest rank of female servants often reserved for the extremely young and were, more often than not, mere assistants to the kitchen maids?
It wasn’t until I happened upon a tumblr that collected and showcased a lot of concept art from various films that I got the answer and rather than tell, I think that I’ll simply show…
Yeah, quite the difference between what might have been to what is, isn’t it?
Moving back to the film, the Horned King unleashes the power of the Black Cauldron to all its hellish glory, awakening and arising the bodies of the deceased not as zombies but as a specific type of undead that he calls the Cauldron Born but are in actuality more likely a species known more commonly as revenants. A revenant is not strictly a zombie but rather a type of undead that is called forth for a specific purpose and are different from the atypical zombie, vampire, or any other such monstrosity for one simple but oh so powerful aspect.
A revenant is still in possession of its soul and as such, is far more dangerous than any zombie could be. For say what you will of a zombie apocalypse, there is nothing more frightening than a creature resembling them in appearance but is nigh invulnerable and in full possession of all its knowledge, skills, and determination that it had in life.
As the dead arise to do the Horned King’s bidding, the brigands make for a hasty retreat and with good reason too. For you see dear readers, a good twelve minutes of the film had been cut prior to release with an decent sized chunk of it being from this scene. Though unconfirmed but for two pieces of cell art lingering about the expanse of the Internet, this segment supposedly included a brigand being swallowed up by the spewing mists of the Black Cauldron and turned into one of the Cauldron Born by way of having his skin melted off. Another was to die by way of being cut in two by that same former ally.
… Y’know, if ever there’s a time machine made, forget going to see the lost ages of the dinosaurs or visiting the farthest reaches of mankind’s future. I want to see what the 1980’s were like because if the movies from that decade are anything to go by, it was one heck of a decade.
The Horned King leaves the chamber to watch as his army marches out towards the land with the sickly green shroud of the Black Cauldron aiding them, completely heedless of the intrusion of Gurgi. The little beastie frees Taran who tells Eilonwy and Fflewddur to follow Gurgi out of the castle while he climbs up to try and stop the Black Cauldron only to be stopped by Gurgi.
Gurgi doesn’t want his friend to die and says that Taran has many friends to live for while he doesn’t before jumping into the Black Cauldron, causing the Cauldron Born to collapse where they stand. The Horned King returns, presuming that the Black Cauldron needs another body to enhance its power. While Eilonwy and Fflewddur leave at Taran’s instance, the boy tries to see if Gurgi can be save from the bowels of the Black Cauldron only for it to suddenly come alive again as it draws back in all of its evil mists and the Horned King himself as well.
What follows is easily, without question or argument, the most gruesome death of a Disney Villain …
The film wraps up surprisingly quickly with Creeper at first lamenting the loss of the Horned King before celebrating like a madman as the castle crumbles straight down to its foundations whilst Eilonwy and company make it safely out just in the nick of time. They arrive on a nearby shore and watch as the only thing to survive the castle’s destruction, the now powerless Black Cauldron, washes up nearby. The Witches of Morva arrive stating that they have business with the little hero to which Taran protests stating that it was Gurgi who was the real hero.
Yep. That’s right, he said it and not a one of you can say I’m being generous in calling Gurgi anything else but the hero of this film!
Anyway, the Witches try to take the Black Cauldron back as our heroes have no use for it but Fflewddur, surprisingly, grows a massive spine but standing up to the Witches turning their own words against them. He informs them, in no uncertain terms, that they must offer something for the Black Cauldron and though the eldest sister protests, the other two offer Taran back his sword. He refuses, saying that he’s a pig boy and has no use for a sword but is willing to trade the Black Cauldron for the return of Gurgi’s life.
The Witches protest, saying that it’s impossible for them to do such a thing to which Fflewddur calls them out on, claiming that they don’t have any power. The Witches demonstrate that they have this and more in spades, taking the Black Cauldron and leaving behind an unconscious but alive Gurgi who awakes in a weeping Taran’s arms, trying for another apple. Much rejoicing is to be had amongst the group who make their way through the forest and back towards Taran’s home where we see his master, Doli, and Hen Wen watching them through Hen Wen’s oracular visions.
Thus ends the film The Black Cauldron, which in itself is described as being quite different from its titular book. Though I’ve read it for myself, it’s been a long time since then and aside from the little tidbits I shared throughout this exceedingly long review, there are only two major differences of note.
The first being that Fflewddur Fflam is not a bard by occupation but by simple amusement as he is in actuality a king, albeit one of an extremely small location wherein the people very rarely seem to take notice of his departures as he somehow always manages to get back to being a king right when they need him to be one. The second, and far more surprising, difference is that of the Horned King being a man who wears a horned helm rather than some manner of demonic looking lich.
… Think about that for a moment. The people at Disney chose to make the Horned King look the way he did in all of his infernal glory rather than having him be a regular, if not scarily dressed, mortal man. The 1980’s… What a decade. Ironically, the original author himself claims to not like the movie whilst comparing to his original books but when standing on its own merits, gives it nothing but praises.
As much as I’ve nitpicked in this film, more specifically on Taran, I still find it to be one of my favorites of the Silver Age and with good reason too. The Horned King is a spectacularly evil villain in appearance, mannerisms, and endgame. For all the idiocy and incompetence of his chief crony and crew, he was still succeeding in robbing the graves of the dead to amass a large and unstoppable army.
I have made no secret of my disdain for Taran and the best way that I can simplify it is by making a rather odd comparison. This film is akin to reading a Harry Potter novel but with Harry Potter being replaced by someone who has all of the negative traits of Ron Weasley and Draco Malfoy. I blame a friend of mine for getting this thought process started when they had made the comment that Eilonwy reminded them a lot of Hermione Granger and that Taran was a more selfish version of Ron. In a way, I can’t disagree as I find it next to impossible to emphasize let alone actually care what happens to Taran as a person.
He grows and changes throughout the film but how we see him in the first half of the film paints him in such an extremely poor light, it’s little wonder that this film is all but a black sheep in the herd of other Disney animated films. Well, that and the horrifying imagery that is the dead coming to life and the horrendous visage of the Horned King does not make this a family film. Well, not for audiences younger than say… eh, ten or perhaps eight. Honestly, it’s more a matter of a child’s level of being desensitized to such scary things. I hate to say it, but most animated films and cartoons nowadays are a bit more coddled towards kids than what they were like when I was younger.
Most… but not all of them.
Despite this though, I give The Black Cauldron… eh, four out of five stars. I’d give it more, a good ten easily, but… blast it all it comes right back down to Taran being such an unlikeable character and all but bringing down the movie in most scenes that he’s in. Ah well, we’ll just have to see how Disney’s next attempt at it goes won’t we?