The Black Cauldron: An Underrated Gem
This film has gotten more crap than It really deserves. Created at a time when Disney Animation was going through a transition, and trying to appeal to more of a teen crowd, it was a flop at the box office. Did it deserve that? In my opinion, no.
While this isn't a great animated fantasy film, it's certainly a good one. Then again, I may be somewhat biased, since the Chronicles of Prydain, the series of books it's based on were the first books I ever read that didn't feature the adventures of Dick, Jane, and Spot.
And while I haven't read the books since (which I really should fix, as I remember loving them), they certainly left an impression on me, even all these years later. So maybe I'm not the most objective reviewer.
Anyways. the film concerns Taran, a young man who wishes he was a hero, but is, instead, an Assistant Pig Keeper. However, the pig he is the caretaker of, Hen Wen, is an oracle, and much in demand by the villainous Horned King, who wants her so he can learn the location of the titular Black Cauldron, a fel artifact which can be used to raise an army of unstoppable undead which the Horned King in turn wants to use to take over the world (OF COURSE!...sorry, had to do that)
So Dalben, Taran's master, sends Taran and Hen Wen away to hide. However, because Taran is inattentive the creatures of the Horned King are able to snatch Hen Wen up. In his attempt to rescue her Taran is able to free her, but gets himself caught. Only with the help of his fellow prisoners the princess Eilonwy and the bard Fladwur, as well as the furry thieving creature Gurgi, can Taran escape, track down the Cauldron, and find a way to destroy it so that the Horned King will be defeated.
All in all, although the story seems somewhat slight (even with a detour into the realm of the Fair Folk and some bargaining with three tricksy witches), it's a good tale, pretty well executed. Taran can be a bit of a whiner (he is a teenager), but he gets better as the story gets along. Gurgi is also a little annoying, at times seeming like a melding of Jar Jar Binks and Gollum, but he too grew on me, particularly as he metamorphosed from a cowardly thief to a truly heroic fellow. I liked the bard (a boaster whose harp strings break when he lies), and Princess Eilonwy is great at having the air of a princess while not acting like a princess at all.
As I mentioned earlier, the only real flaw I found with this story is a certain lack of epicness. The events of the story take place over maybe 2-3 days, and the Horned King seems to be nothing more than a minor feudal lord, if one who appears proficient in sorcery and looks like Skeletor with horns. This is partially because we're told the Horned King is a bad guy several times, but we're never told who he is really, or even what he's done, besides generic statements about him causing wars. All of this together makes the story seem smaller and slighter, which is a bad thing for a heroic fantasy. But, all in all, the film's relative competency trumps this comparatively minor flaw.
If you see this movie around, you might want to check it out. It's good, it's just not great. Also check out the Chronicles of Prydain, which are even better.