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The Black Cauldron

When first released in 1985, Disney's The Black Cauldron created a fair share of concern due to its dark tone and scary content. The only Disney cartoon ever to receive a PG rating, Cauldron was also, at the time, one of the studio's most expensive projects. Its disappointing box-office performance furthered the slump from which Disney didn't recover until 1989's The Little Mermaid, prompting Cauldron's subsequent near-burial. Unreleased on video until now, the film has accumulated a largely undeserved mystique over the years, its reputation for darkness and cutting-edge animation far surpassing anything the film itself has to offer. Based on a terrific series of children's fantasy novels by Lloyd Alexander (themselves based on Welsh mythology), The Black Cauldron follows the adventures of Taran, an assistant pigkeeper. After the evil Horned King (voiced by John Hurt) kidnaps a pig with the ability to see visions, Taran and a mixed group of assistants begin a quest to rectify the situation and prevent the villain from obtaining the titular black cauldron. While more grim than most Disney films, it's not bleakness that gets in the way of The Black Cauldron succeeding; unmemorable protagonists, annoying sidekicks, an awkwardly episodic plot, and animation that ranges in appearance from impressive to cheap to unfinished take care of that. It's not a bad movie, exactly, and it still has considerably more going for it than any work by Disney imitators, but it's far from the studio's best. This much can be said for it: In light of the treacly soundtrack to this year's otherwise solid Mulan, Disney might at least consider reviving Cauldron's song-free approach at some point in the future.

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