The Black Cauldron
Posted by martinteller on July 1, 2012
I don’t read nearly as much as I used to, but when I was a kid, I was a very avid reader. Among my favorites was Lloyd Alexander’s “Prydain Chronicles”, a 5-novel series tracking the Welsh mythology-inspired adventures of Taran, assistant pig keeper. In his company are the flighty but bold Princess Eilonwy, the bard with a flair for embellishment Fflewddur Fflam, the half-man half-beast Gurgi, and the magical pig Hen Wen. They were fine fantasy tales for a child, although when I reread them some years ago I found they didn’t hold up very well as adult entertainment. Lots of juvenile humor (not potty humor, just dumb humor), much borrowed from “Lord of the Rings” (like just about every fantasy series, and we could get into a whole thing about the hero’s journey cycle in mythology but whatever) and well, kinda boring.
Disney’s adaptation of the second novel avoids at least the last problem by clocking in at a lean, mean 80 minutes… including credits. It’s not long before we’re thrust headlong into the meat of the saga and nary a second is wasted. It moves like gangbusters. Maybe nothing here is particularly original, and the animation is somewhat lackluster, but if nothing else it’s an easy pill to swallow. We’re also spared the usual litany of chipper tunes, as this is a much darker affair than the usual Disney product. This is pretty grim stuff at times, but I wouldn’t think it’s anything the average child couldn’t handle.
There is a smattering of the terrible comic relief you expect from the studio, but in all fairness, it’s there in the source material too. The wacky sidekick role is filled by Gurgi, who I recall as a much more repulsive character in the book (along the lines of Gollum) but is a cute and cuddly furball here. No matter, I don’t require absolute allegiance to Alexander’s characterizations. More perplexing is the casting of Fflewddur — a thin young man in the books — as a potbellied old geezer. Perhaps to give Taran less romantic competition for Eilonwy? I don’t know, the romance isn’t played up much here. Again, it’s not hugely important but it is an odd switch.
I wouldn’t say I was won over by this film or anything, but I much prefer it to the typical Disney cloying, saccharine fare. A swift, engaging adventure with nice character moments and reasonably satisfying fantasy tropes. Rating: Good