Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.



Review by Dennis D. McDonald

A classic this isn’t, but for the fan of animation, it’s a must. There are breathtaking sequences here that remind you of the classic era of hand drawn animation that was drawing to a close as senior Disney artists were retiring around the time of Black Cauldron’s release. Watch the floating orb of light as it travels around the underground keep, casting shadows that travel with varying lengths and angles. Or the exterior castle shots at night as the hero struggles up. These are gorgeous scenes, on a par with anything done before by the Disney group.

There’s also much that reminds you how animated films have changed. If you watch The Black Cauldron back to back, say, with Disney’s ATLANTIS, you’ll see the difference. Most immediate is the difference in characterization and character animation. Animated movies are now professionally directed, with character development and story taking center stage. In cases like SHREK, MONSTERS INC., ATLANTIS, and HERCULES computers are integral but do not take center stage — character, story, and voice acting are what draws us in. With Black Cauldron, (most) characters are almost blank, with little humor, strength, or immediacy.

My guess is that this big difference is because animated films are now produced like movies, not like cartoons. They are serious money makers. The competitive stakes are too high to be left in the hands of “a bunch of artists,” like in the old days.

Still, I enjoyed The Black Cauldron quite a bit. It’s an odd mix of fantasy, adventure, and classic animation themes. Its overall darkness and grittiness place it outside the mainstream of Disney creations, and the few characters that shine, such as John Hurt’s evil monster king, make parts ofit memorable.

The DVD’s extras are meager, but very interesting, including glimpses of Tim Burton characters that were not used in the film.

All in all, this film  is a very interesting historical document.

Copyright (c) 2002 by Dennis D. McDonald

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