Over the weekend I published news that Walt Disney is to release a MAMMOTH movie box set featuring 55 films. The set – The Disney Classics Complete Movie Box Set – will be available on DVD (priced at £200) and Blu-ray (priced at £250) and will contain pretty much all of Disney’s Animated Classics (with a couple of exceptions).
As noted in my previous post, if you opt for the Blu-ray set then you will discover that the collection includes 50 Blu-rays and five DVDs. The reason for this is that Disney is yet to release five of the movies on Blu-ray and by the looks of things, there’s no plans to change this situation, so you have to make do with the DVDs instead.
To recap, the five movies only available on DVD (and not Blu-ray) are as follows: Saludos Amigos (1943) The Three Caballeros (1945) Make Mine Music (1946) Melody Time (1948) and The Black Cauldron (1985).
Four of these movies – Saludos Amigos to Melody Time – are classed as ‘package films’ as they were produced by combining a mix of cartoons/live-action segments to make a whole film. To be honest, these aren’t the greatest Disney films of all-time and are really only for a Disney completest, so not getting upgraded to Blu-ray isn’t the end of the world.
But what about The Black Cauldron?
The Black Cauldron is a full, feature-length animated adventure film – so why isn’t it getting upgraded to Blu-ray? The answer is simple – The Black Cauldron is the black sheep of the Walt Disney Animated Classics collection.
The Black Cauldron
The Black Cauldron is an animated fantasy film about Taran, an assistant pig keeper, and his adventures in the land of Prydain. The movie is based on The Book of Three and The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander and features one of the scariest Disney villains ever committed to cinema – The Horned King.
Walk into any Disney Store today and amongst the Moana costumes, the Beauty and the Beast plush toys and the Snow White cutlery sets, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything related to The Black Cauldron, other than a copy of the film on DVD. You can search high and low, but you’ll not find anything.
You’ll also struggle to find The Black Cauldron on your TV planner as the film never appears on television. In fact, unless you’re well versed in Disney, or you remember when The Black Cauldron was released at cinemas, the chances are you either know nothing about the film or you’ve completely forgotten about its existence.
The reason for this is because Disney tends not to talk about it. But why?
Disney first optioned The Black Cauldron during the early 1970s, with a view to developing the Prydain stories into an animated feature. As is often the case, the film took quite sometime to transfer from page to screen, not helped by a lengthy development process which saw a number of directors come and go.
By the time the movie got off the ground it wasn’t an easy development, with the release date getting pushed back as a result. Eventually, work was completed, but the initial test screening wasn’t particularly well received and cuts were ordered before the film was to make its official debut.
With the cuts made, the film was re-edited, with scenes reanimated accordingly. A release date was then in sight!
Erm… well, maybe not quite.
The Black Cauldron was released during the summer of 1985, where it subsequently bombed at the box office.
According to reports, the film cost $44 million to produce, making it the most expensive animated film of its time, but only grossed $21 million domestically – less than half its budget. That’s not the kind of returns that Disney would expect from a picture – especially one that took so long to produce.
The critical response wasn’t particular great either and if you’ve ever watched The Black Cauldron, you’ll know why. While the animation is FANTASTIC, the narrative is a mess resulting in a boring tale with dull characters and barely any redeeming features.
In short, if The Black Cauldron didn’t look as good as it does, it would be instantly forgettable. In fact, I’ve seen it twice and I can barely recall any standout moments other than the terrifying look of The Horned King.
With the film failing to cut the mustard at the box office, during a period of time when Disney films were becoming a little bland *Cough* Oliver & Company *Cough*, the studio was perhaps less-than-impressed with the product it had on its hands. As such, outside of its theatrical release, The Black Cauldron pretty much vanished without a trace, before finally getting a home video release towards the latter end of the ’90s – more than a decade after its theatrical debut.
That initial video release was superseded in 2000 by a DVD release, which was updated (slightly) in 2010 with a second DVD release for the film’s 25th anniversary. But that’s not a lot of releases in 25 years, is it?
Since this time, the DVD has remained in circulation and a digital download of the film has been made available, but there’s no sign of a Blu-ray release. The likelihood is that the film won’t get a Blu-ray release, at least not until the 35th anniversary in 2020 and even then, that’s only speculation on my part. (Update: It’s 2020 – still no Blu-ray).
If you’ve never watched The Black Cauldron, but you are very curious about it, then you can buy a digital copy of the film via Amazon. This is a HD edition of The Black Cauldron, so you can see what a Blu-ray copy could look like.
You should probably know that The Black Cauldron is actually the second story in Alexander’s Five-book Prydain series, which begins with The Book of Three. If you want to start at the beginning, then The Book of Three and the three other stories in the series can also be purchased via Amazon UK or US.
The legacy of The Black Cauldron
Disney has a vast catalogue of films and not all of them can be as good as the next and sadly, The Black Cauldron just isn’t a particularly great movie. Whether intentional or not, Disney just doesn’t show this movie any love and in reality, there is perhaps good reason for it.
If The Black Cauldron ever gets a second wind (or even a first wind), then maybe it will become a film that more people recall, but I doubt it. The film remains a largely forgotten entry in the Classics collection and while part of me wishes that wasn’t the case, I really can’t argue for it not to be.
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