Monday, February 27, 2012

#25: Calling the cauldron black*

(c) Disney : if you look closely, I think our pantsless friend makes an appearance in this shot!
The Black Cauldron, 1985
watched February 19, 2012

Since I myself had never heard of this movie until I decided to start this blog, I should probably give you readers a little bit of context. If you want to know what this movie's about, think Lord of the Rings, except instead of a ring it's a black cauldron. The main character isn't a hobbit; it's an assistant pig-keeper named Taran. Replace Sauron with a creepy-looking cloaked skeleton dude called the Horned King, complete with green mist and a zombie army. The "fellowship" doesn't include Samwise Gamgee, Legolas or Gimli, but a princess with a name impossible to pronounce, and a goofy minstrel. Instead of Gollum, there's, well, a furry Gollum (he even talks in third person!)

Replace the magic wand with a magic sword and you've got a touch of Harry Potter, too. Oh, and we can't forget the magical pig named Hen Wen. I guess she's sort of like the opposite of a pensieve? When she dips her face in something liquid-y she can tell the future.

Yup, that's The Black Cauldron. In a nutshell.

The similarities it shares with so many other popular stories initially give the film lots of promise. Being based on not one but a series of five books means there's plenty of interesting material to work with. Unfortunately, however, it simply does not stand up as a timeless adventure as do other classics. As a first-time viewer, I found myself feeling confused about who all the characters were and why I should care about them.

Still, I can't completely dismiss The Black Cauldron. There are redemptive qualities about it. While the hero, Taran, is frustratingly slow and whiny, he is undoubtedly trying his best to do the right thing. The lowly pig-keeper loses his magical pig within the first 10 minutes of the film; clearly he's in over his head. Even so, he continues to look for a way to thwart the Horned King's evil plans. His efforts are commendable, even if a little pitiful.

And surprisingly, the most significant moment of the film comes from Gurgi (aka furry Gollum). While he spends most of the film stealing food and running away from trouble, in the end he demonstrates what it means to be a true hero. By throwing himself into the black cauldron, he does the only thing that can destroy its power, knowing his own life will be taken.

And so we see that The Black Cauldron shares similarities with another famous Story. In that one, the power of evil and death also can be overcome only by the sacrifice of life. And despite our meager efforts to fight, our only real power comes from something outside of ourselves. (Funnily enough, it's a sword for us too.) And finally, another person ultimately gives himself up to save the world. In this weird, largely unheard of movie, we actually see one of the clearest examples of the true Gospel story told in a Disney film.

So what's the conclusion? Gurgi comes back to life and all is well. But in our story, the resurrected Savior also becomes King. And that's even better.

Sorry if I just gave away the ending. Some stories are too good not to tell.

*I'm aware that this idiom doesn't quite fit the content of my review. I just really wanted to use this title!


  1. Heh, I should've pointed the redemptive quality out to my mother. She would've let us watch it then, I bet!

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