A young boy sets off on a quest to keep a magical object out of the hands of a dark, seemingly undead force. Along the way he’s befriended by a ragtag group of people who aid him on his quest. There’s a call to adventure, a fearless sacrifice, and even a hint of love.
Sounds like an awfully familiar story, right? You probably don’t remember it from The Black Cauldron though, a movie that was a failure at the box office and doesn’t seem to make it into the ranks with other Disney films as one of the classics. You probably know the story due to its GLARING similarities to a better-known story, a little tale called Lord of the Rings.
Seriously, this movie has so many parallels to that story, it’s astounding they didn’t get sued.
The story opens on Taran, a young pig herder. He is instructed by the elderly man (who happens to be some sort of wizard) to escort a magical pig (Hen-Wren) to safety. It turns out that this pig knows the location of a magical cauldron that can let an evil force control the dead, among other things, and so Hen-Wren must be protected and kept out of the evil clutches of the Horned King.
That alone sounds a little too close to the intro to Lord of the Rings, a la “Gandalf tasks Frodo with keeping the ring of power guarded and out of Sauron’s grasp”. Still, it’s a simple enough trope, and I could overlook the similarity if it ended there.
Not so. Taran embarks on his quest, but quickly loses Hen-Wren. While he searched for the missing pig, he is met by Gurgi, essentially a furry Gollum.
Not only does Gurgi exhibit the same personality traits as Gollum (obsession over food, talking about himself in the third person, a shift between being deceitful and well-meaning) but he also sounds identical to the voice Andy Serkis used in his portrayal of Gollum for the films. To be fair, this movie was made a few decades prior to the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, so one could argue that Serkis copied this movie. Still, the Gollum similarities are far too apparent to be a coincidence, and I spent the entire movie expecting Gurgi to call Taran “precious”.
Another glaring similarity? The Horned King, who bares a striking (and terrifying) resemblance to LOTR’s Sauron.
This dude is completely terrifying. Every time he was shown on screen I found myself wondering just how this made its way into a Disney film without parents being up in arms about the inappropriateness of showcasing such a horrifying villain in a kid’s movie. Then I remembered that this was the 1980s and our parents weren’t as sensitive to such nonsense as people are today. Still, I can imagine this giving a fair share of little kids nightmares if they were unlucky enough to watch this at too young of an age. Even as a 27-year old adult, I’m not too proud to admit that I was glad to be watching this in the light of day. The glowing eyes, skeletal body, and terrifying voice are more than enough to induce a few nightmares.
Peppered throughout the movie are characters who serve no real purpose other than comic relief, clearly Disney’s attempt to lighten to overall tone of a rather dark movie. These characters, such as the fairies (whom Mistah J labeled “Snap, Crackle, and Pop”) serve no inherent purpose in the outcome of the film, and whose bright colors and stabs at humor feel out of place and unnecessary.
Such inclusions left the movie feeling disjointed, with these inconsequential characters interrupting the flow of the main story.
Blatant Lord of the Rings similarities and unnecessary light-hearted character aside, I was actually impressed with this film. As a Disney movie it’s really just out of place, not really having the right tone or morality that we’ve come to associate with more recent releases. As a film for adults though, this was wonderfully done, with the right mixture of action, adventure, and darkness to keep me entertained. I wouldn’t recommend this for younger viewers, but if you like your animation a little darker, check this one out. I didn’t watch this as a child (as Mistah J pointed out, it’s pretty much a young boy’s fantasy come to life: go off on an adventure, fight bad guys, save the girl, etc.) but it’s definitely worth a viewing, if only to see how dark Disney was willing to go prior to their Renaissance. An odd, twisted conglomeration of characters that somehow makes for an enjoyable movie, even if it may not be 100% original.