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Melody Time

Here at MMR, we love obscure Disney films.  Well, maybe the less heard of ones at least.  Melody Time is one of these.  This would be the 10th animated feature to pop out of the Disney cannon, in 1948.  It is essentially a mini Fantasia, made up of a series of shorts which are set to music.  Several films of its kind were produced by Disney, with this being the fifth; the others were Saludos Amigos, Make Mine Music, The Three Caballeros and Fun and Fancy Free.  There are seven short segments knitted together to make Melody Time, but they are all very different.

 

The first, Once Upon a Wintertime, was styled by Disney artist Mary Blair.  Her style was very graphic and modern compared to a lot of the other Disney artists, who achieved a more traditional look to their work.  Her work was beautiful, and she did a lot of concept art for Disney films; in the future she would go on to contribute to many features, including Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, as well as being key in the designing of It’s a Small World in Disneyland.  Unfortunately, in Once Upon a Wintertime, you can see that her characters do not translate as well as her still environments do, as their simplicity limits a lot of their personality through movement and facial expressions.  It also seems to lack festive spirit a bit, considering that it is set in winter.  It is about a young couple whose fun on the ice swiftly turns into peril; a nice little story, including quite a few animals.  I really wanted to like it, but I can’t help but think that it would look better static as a print on a wall rather than an animation.  It was later released as a standalone short though, so it must have been loved!

 

Bumble Boogie is the second segment, which is set to the jazzed-up tune of Flight of the Bumblebee.  The style is such that would fit perfectly into Fantasia, with a bumblebee trying to fight off a frenzy of music and musical instruments.  In fact, the music was originally considered to be in Fantasia several years earlier.  This piece is much more fun and a lot less ‘grown-up’ than Once Upon a Wintertime, which makes you think that maybe Mary Blair’s style would have been more suited to Bumble Boogie!  The bee is cute, which helps the audience to feel his frustration in this crazy little number.

 

The third short, Johnny Appleseed, was also styled by Mary Blair.  It is about American legend, John Chapman, who roamed Mid-Western America planting apple trees (hence his nickname).  In comparison to Once Upon a Wintertime, the characters seems to flow much better, and the colours of the backgrounds are rather beautiful, with bright green trees and rosy red apples.  Considering the subject matter, however, maybe a more traditional style could have been used to tell the story.  Johnny is visited early in the short by an angel, who sends him on a mission to plant lots of apple trees.  Johnny does so all of his life, wandering fields and meeting animals, and planting hundreds of trees.  The characters, particularly the angel, are quite humorous; the angel is a no-nonsense type with a pushy attitude, but also has a streak of kindness in him.  The story is quite educational in its own way, and probably one of the best stories in Melody Time.

 

Little Toot, in my opinion, is the first segment in Melody Time that has a style to match its subject.  Little Toot is a tugboat, who wants to be just like Big Toot (presumably his father), but ends up causing chaos instead of helping.  It is based on the story by Hardie Gramatky of the same name, and the music is provided by the Andrews Sisters.  This one is probably aimed more towards children, as it is a story about proving yourself, and putting right your wrongs.

 

Trees.  Trees, trees and more trees.  This one is based on a poem by Alfred Joyce Kilmer, and kind of reminds the audience of Bambi, with the forests and whatnot.  Essentially, it is a very slow paced piece, which also looks like it could have fitted nicely into Fantasia.

 

Things are taken up a notch in this next segment, Blame it on the Samba, which looks like it escaped from The Three Caballeros.  Donald Duck and José Carioca are woken by the Aracuan bird, who introduces them to the joys of samba music.  Ethel Smith plays the organ while Donald and José dance on top of it, so live action and animation is twinned in this piece.  Definitely uplifting compared to Trees, and generally more fun!

 

Now we come to the last short on Melody Time, Pecos Bill.  This also includes live action and animation, but not simultaneously.  Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers tell/sing the story to Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten, who some of you may remember from Song of the South.  Bill fell off a wagon as a baby, and his parents didn’t notice, so he ended up being raised by wolves, almost like Mowgli in The Jungle Book!  The turned out to be the best cowboy that ever lived along with his horse, Widowmaker.  We are told of all his tall tales, but one day he meets a girl named Slue-Foot Sue, who he intends to marry, essentially taming his wild lifestyle…slightly.  She decides that she wants to ride Widowmaker on her wedding day, but Widowmaker does not like Sue, as he is jealous of her relationship with Bill.  It just so happens that on this day, Sue is wearing a mighty big bustle, so when she gets on Widowmaker and he starts trying to buck her off, she goes flying up into the air.  Nobody, not even Bill, can stop her bouncing, and eventually she bounces all the way onto the Moon.  In his depressed state, Bill goes back to live with the wolves, and howls at the moon for his beloved.

The song in Pecos Bill is pretty good, I recommend that everyone goes and listens to it!  Apparently, all scenes of Bill’s cigarette were digitally removed on the NTSC versions of the film, and one scene cut entirely, where Bill rolls a cigarette and smokes it.  The PAL version still includes these scenes.  Also, if anyone has visited Walt Disney World, they will be familiar with the burger restaurant: Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe.  Definitely visit if you can, they do out-of-this-world food, and even have ‘props’ on the wall from the film, including Sue’s white gloves.  This is without a doubt, the best short on Melody Time, so they saved the best until last!

Overall view?  Pretty good.  It is hard to give a rating to something with such a diverse selection of segments.  I think you can judge how much I liked each one by how much I’ve written about it.  Definitely check it out of you get the chance, it is worth it for Pecos Bill alone.

 

Out of the seven shorts, I really liked 3 of them, and the rest I could leave alone.  So for that reason, I give this movie 3 Tinks.

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Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween from Magical Movie Reviews!  I hope everyone has a fantastically frightening time carving pumpkins and eating lots of candy!  Check out the Haunted Mansion movie review.  Here is a video from Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party that I took last year, including Hallowishes and the Boo to You Parade with the Headless Horseman!

Have a wonderful Halloween!

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The Haunted Mansion


It has a Living Room, and a Dying Room…

Ok, so at the time of writing, Halloween is only a few days away, so I thought I would get cracking with a review of one of Disney’s supposedly more spooky efforts, The Haunted Mansion.

The film starts off nicely, with a promising title sequence which gives a nod to the floating candelabra in the Haunted Mansion attraction.  We are also given a glimpse of a back story, which doesn’t seem to give much away to the viewer.  We are then introduced to workaholic Jim Evers, (Eddie Murphy) who is a realtor, and his slightly neglected wife Sara (Marsha Thomason), who are due to celebrate their anniversary.  It appears that Jim had not been too attentive to his family recently, so to try to get back in his family’s good books; Jim decides to take them all on a trip to the lake for the weekend.  Before they leave, Sara receives a phone call from Edward Gracey (Nathaniel Parker), who is looking to sell his property, a large mansion near an isolated bayou.  On their way to the lake, Jim and his family stop off at the mansion to do some business.  When they arrive, they are solemnly greeted by Master Gracey’s butler, Ramsley (Terence Stamp) who then introduces them to Mr. Gracey himself.  It is made painfully clear to the audience that Master Gracey has a questionable interest in Sara, Jim’s wife; however Jim seems pretty oblivious to that at this point.

Ramsley has a chat with Jim, and then leaves him alone in the library, where Jim accidentally stumbles upon a secret passage into a long corridor.  It is at this point in the film where a lot of influences from the attraction can be seen.  The schizophrenic pictures on the wall will be familiar to Disney theme park fans, as well as the ‘inside out’ busts and the ride’s signature purple wallpaper with glaring eyes.  At the end of the long corridor Jim finds a door that appears to be bulging, with what he suspects to be termites.  He passes through the door and continues deeper into the mysterious darkness.  Meanwhile his two children are following a floating ‘glow’ up into the attic, (time to whip out your imagination a bit at this point) where we can see a bridal gown (another Haunted Mansion reference) as well as countless other cobweb-clad objects.  In the attic they see a portrait of what appears to be their mother, but are sharply told not to ask any questions by a strange little man, who is actually a ghost called Ezra, and a jumpy maid called Emma.

In the meantime, Jim encounters Madame Leota (Jennifer Tilly) in the séance room.  Fans of the ride will be familiar with this scene, where Madame Leota’s head smoothly recites incantations from inside a glass ball.  There are musical instruments floating within the room that periodically make noises in response to her readings.  Jim has a very strange encounter with Leota and is seen running down a corridor trying to escape a cacophony of instruments from the séance room; this is one of the film’s many pathetic attempts at comedy.  We then learn that Master Gracey is in fact dead, and needs Sara (who he believes is a reincarnation of his lover) to be reunited with him to free all of the residents of the mansion, who are also all ghosts.  We are then treated to what is possibly the best part of the movie (at a stretch), as Jim and his children are carried through the grounds of the house in a horse and carriage.  Haunted Mansion fans will recognise the horseless carriage from outside of the attraction in Disneyland and Walt Disney World.  It is also here that we see a lot of the ghosts which occupy the famous attraction, the see-saw ghosts, the groundskeeper and his dog, and the particularly famous ‘Hitchhiking Ghosts’, also known as Phineas, Ezra and Gus.


Things become a little more tedious after this scene, and the rest of the story limps along lifelessly, however I won’t spoil the ending for anyone who wants to give this movie a fair chance!

The Verdict

The Haunted Mansion was released after The Country Bears and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, and all three are based upon Disney theme park attractions.  Of course, there is no need for me to tell you which one of these films did insanely well at the box office, unless you have been living under a rock since 2003.  Unfortunately, The Haunted Mansion followed in the footsteps of The Country Bears, and did a belly flop into that ‘at capacity’ pool of Disney duds of years past.  What could have been something very creepy, very dark and very entertaining turned into a snooze-fest, dragged lifelessly through its 99 minutes by Eddie Murphy at a (pardon the pun) deadly slow speed.  Although watchable, it does beg the question of why this popular and well-loved attraction had to be degraded in a film which is in a tug-of-war over whether it wants to be scary or comedic.  In the end, neither wins out, leaving us with a confusing and shabby storyline with flat characters and drab dialogue to match.  Eddie Murphy should have been as strong of a character as Captain Jack Sparrow, carrying the story and making for very many laughs along the way, however he relies on his signature smile to steal a giggle from the audience, which hasn’t worked since the 90s.  Marsha Thomason who plays Sara Evers delivers some truly wooden acting, making the ghosts look vivacious.  Master Gracey who is played by Nathaniel Parker does not seem to have that ‘aura of foreboding’ about him that you would expect from a dead man, and therefore does not make for a very remarkable character, where he should have been exactly that.  The two most outstanding performances are by Jennifer Tilly and Terence Stamp, although they cannot carry the film along on their roles alone.

Ok so having angered all the fans of this movie, all 3 of them, I will move onto some good points, of which there are few.  As I mentioned earlier, there are many references to the attraction which the movie is based upon.  The main story of the film follows, albeit loosely, the story which runs through the Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris, as it involves a bride and a bunch of dead folks.  I mentioned above the scene with Madame Leota, the Hitchhiking Ghosts and the decor throughout the mansion.  Haunted Mansion buffs will also welcome the sight of the singing busts, which are actually voiced by the Dapper Dans Barbershop Quartet who perform in Disneyland.  The famous ballroom scene from the ride is also shown to the audience briefly, however it is not as grand as it is in the ride.

The sets are rather beautiful, large, spacious, luxurious, yet old and musty at the same time.  I remember visiting some of the sets at Walt Disney World at one point, and they were interesting to see, however I did wonder how many visitors had actually seen the film first.

In contrast to Pirates of the Caribbean (I make this comparison since the films were made around the same time and have the same basic idea behind them), there seems to be a lot of scenes and/or characters which have been taken directly from the attraction and used in the same form, rather than using them simply as a framework to build upon.   Sadly, since the film relies upon the audience’s sense of nostalgia regarding the attraction, it severely chops down the number of viewers who will ‘get it’, and therefore again cuts down the re-watch ability of the movie.  In fact, the ride which lasts only a few minutes, holds much more charm than this film ever could.

I am reviewing this film from the DVD version, (not the Blu-ray, I wouldn’t waste my money on that) which has a few underwhelming features.  The one I headed to first was ‘Disney’s DVD Virtual Ride: The Haunted Mansion’, thinking, as you would, that it was something to do with the attraction rather than the film.  Ok so they got me to click on it, but as soon as I realised that it was a very poor tour of the mansion in the film, it was swiftly turned off.  The rest of the features include commentaries, a deleted scene, an outtakes reel, and one of those God awful music videos.  If you’re looking for information on the ride, there is a feature that allows you to see photos and learn about the history of the attraction when you put the DVD into your computer.

I think children may enjoy this film, however for anyone else; it is certainly one to miss.

I give this movie 2 Tinks.

A Side Note:  Director Guillermo Del Toro is a massive fan of the Haunted Mansion attraction, and has, at the time of writing, almost finished the screenplay for a remake of The Haunted Mansion.  Of course, from a director such as Toro, great things are expected.  Great, dark, things.  Apparently the illusive Hatbox Ghost who was a part of the Disneyland attraction for not very long after it opened will be the villain in this film, and in honesty, I cannot wait to see it!

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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

‘I have done with society for reasons that seem good to me. Therefore, I do not obey its laws.’ – Captain Nemo

First off, I would like to state that this review was a joint effort.  Thanks Dad!  It would be silly to know a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea fan and not utilize their wealth of information…

After Treasure Island and Robin Hood rolled out of the Disney studios in the early 1950s, another live action adventure would not be far behind them.  Though originally intended to be an animated feature, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (based on the novel by Jules Verne), after much storyboarding, was put into production as a live action feature.  This is the 2nd Cinemascope film ever made, took 2 years to make and wound up at $9 million.  This is one of Disney’s hidden treasures, which almost got the Disney Studio closed down, and which also apparently never made any money…

The Story

At the start of the movie, curtains go up to give the feeling of being in a theatre.  An elaborate copy of the novel appears on the screen and opens to a page that tells of a sea monster that is menacing shipping in the year 1868.  Next, a steam ship is seen sailing on a calm evening sea.  The camera pans down to show a monstrous shape surrounded by a green glow, rising from the depths of the sea and heading for the ship at a great speed.  A large explosion suggests that the ship has been destroyed.

The scene then switches to San Francisco harbour, where three of the principle characters are introduced; Ned Land (Kirk Douglas), a harpooner, immediately gets involved in a western salon-style fist fight for no logical reason.  Meanwhile, French Professor Pierre Aronnax (Paul Lukas) and his apprentice Conseil (Peter Lorre) are trying unsuccessfully to find a ship to take them home.  Approached by a government official, the French pair are persuaded to join an American warship that is setting out on an expedition to prove or (preferably) disprove the existence of the monster that is causing such havoc with the nation’s shipping.  Ned Land also joins the expedition-to hopefully kill the monster if it can be found.

Whilst in search of the monster, there are a few false alarms, such as the sightings of whales and dolphins.  They finally give up searching for the mysterious creature.  Ned celebrates in the form of song.  His singing causes a ship to blow itself up in the distance.  Well, actually, a ship just blows up, causing them to believe that something struck it, possibly the sea creature.  Sure enough, the creature’s menacing shining lights are soon seen in the distance.  We never really see much of the creature other than the very top of it and its gleaming ‘eyes’ for a good while into the film.  This adds to the mystery of what it might be.  The warship fires at the monster which attacks their ship, and unfortunately, Ned’s harpoons are no match for its tough outer shell.  The creature strikes the ship a glancing blow, causing the Professor and Conseil to go overboard, and while they are swimming, looking for safety, the monster emerges out of the mist, looking a lot less frightening without its menacing lights aglow.  Finally, realising that it is a man-made craft, they climb aboard, searching for signs of life, but to no avail.  Pierre discovers a large room in the submarine with beautiful red velvet seats, matching curtains, and a grand organ taking centre stage at the end of the room, with reflections of the sea coming in through the window and adding a mystifying characteristic to the silent submarine.

Ned is found floating along on one of the warship’s boats, and ends up joining Conseil and the Professor on the submarine.  Aronnax, fascinated by the underwater view through the saloon window, spots the submarine’s crew performing an underwater burial ceremony, complete with coral cross.  It isn’t long before the Professor and Conseil are spotted through the window by the crew, who capture them as they try to escape in Ned’s boat.  We then meet Nemo (James Mason), captain of the submarine that we now learn is called the Nautilus.

The three companions end up as guests/prisoners of Nemo’s, who by his own admission is not a civilised man.  After an eventful meal where we meet the remaining main character, Esmeralda the sea-lion, Ned’s best buddy, there is an expedition to collect food which provides an opportunity for some spectacular underwater photography.  There is also the obligatory tour of the submarine and its (apparently) atomic power plant. 

Aronnax, Ned and Conseil have different attitudes to Captain Nemo and their captivity on the Nautilus.  Ned has several confrontations with Nemo, and is desperate to escape.  Aronnax is overwhelmed by Nemo’s genius, and makes it his mission to persuade the captain to share his secrets with the rest of the world.  Nemo at first refuses, saying that such power in the wrong hands could destroy the world.  Conseil, at first, remains faithful to his professor.  Nemo gradually opens up to Aronnax, revealing some of his past.  At one point, he takes the professor ashore, to show him gangs of slaves loading nitrates into a ship-a cargo used for the manufacture of explosives.  Nemo reveals that he was once one of those slaves, before escaping and setting up a base on the island of Vulcania.  The Nautilus lies waiting for the nitrate ship to sail, and when it does, it attacks it, ramming the ship at full speed.  The ship sinks and explodes-watched by Aronnax, Ned and Conseil through the Nautilus’ window.  Aronnax is furious with Nemo, calling him a murderer and a hypocrite.  Nemo defends himself, calling himself ‘the avenger’, and saying that those on the ship were the real dealers in death.  In his mind, by preventing that cargo from reaching its destination, he has in fact saved hundreds of lives.  His actions are, in modern terms, those of a terrorist.

The Cast

It is hard to imagine anyone else but James Mason as Captain Nemo after watching this film.  He lives and breathes the role, perfectly portraying the mysterious and questionably villainous captain.  Kirk Douglas’ portrayal of the outspoken, down-to-earth Ned Land is also wonderful, providing comic-relief in an atmosphere which needs a little lightning from time to time.  Conseil as played by Peter Lorre, is the voice of reason, though torn between the beliefs of the Professor and the thoughts of Ned.  Paul Lukas portrays a perfect vision of a professor of this period of time.  He is intrigued by Nemo, and in a way they are similar through their fascination with knowledge; however the professor is much more civilized than the captain.

The Production

So 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, may not be one of the most famous Disney movies, but the Nautilus is instantly recognisable, even if you don’t know exactly what it is!  In fact, there were several different models of the submarine used for filming, including 20ft, 11ft and 6ft models, as well as a model of the fin of the Nautilus which was attached to a real submarine, for shots showing only that part of the vessel sticking out of the water.  Along with these outer elements of the submarine, a 150ft deck of the Nautilus was also made for shooting interior scenes.  A ‘squeezed’ version of the Nautilus was also created, to be filmed with a standard lens, and still be seen normally when projected in Cinemascope.  Production Designer Harper Goff designed the Nautilus, and said that it was basically a cross between an alligator and a shark, and was powered by nuclear energy, not by electricity as in the novel.  The Nautilus was furnished by Emile Kuri, who also designed Walt’s apartment at Disneyland.  The organ used in the film was bought for a mere $50, and can be found in the Haunted Mansion attraction in Disneyland, being played by a ghost!  The curved couch from the Nautilus can also be seen in the library set of the Haunted Mansion movie.

Harper Goff also designed the special diving suits which were worn by crew members when shooting underwater scenes.  They were essentially scuba diving suits, made to look like diving suits.  They had metal helmets which weighed 150lbs, and had tanks on their backs which contained enough air for 1 hour of filming.  Underwater shots were particularly difficult to shoot, especially as, when the crew all stood on the sea bed, the silt was stirred up and everything became too cloudy to film.  They got round this by putting carpet (that’s right, carpet) on the surface, preventing them from kicking up any of the floor.  Another difficulty they faced was that they were using only natural light to film, and weeks of cloudy weather put the film behind schedule.

A total of 3 lots were used for filming: Burbank, Universal and 20th Century Fox.  Of course, filming was expensive, with the original estimate at $2.7 million and the final total reaching $9 million.  It took them two years to complete the film.

The part of the film where we see Ned and Conseil trying to escape from natives on an island was shot in Jamaica, and there is a lot of footage of the crew, including Walt himself filming here.  If you look closely as the natives run towards the camera, you may see that one of them has ‘Eat at Joe’s’ written on his head…Another man’s head says ‘I ate Joe’.

Whale of a Tale is a fairly well-known song, especially in the world of Disney fans.  However, Kirk Douglas does not believe that he had a very good voice, but admits that he thought he did at the time.  Whilst this is the only song in the film, the main theme of the film is dramatic yet delicate and adventurous.

The Squid Attack


Of course, I don’t want to give the whole story away; however, one of the most famous scenes in the film is the dramatic squid attack.  This scene was undoubtedly the hardest scene for the crew to film.  There were two takes of the scene; the first take was ruined by a terribly unrealistic squid and a very calm sky, rather than a terrifying squid and a thunderous sky.  The cables which held up the tentacles kept breaking, and the crew started to see that the take wasn’t going to work.  More importantly, this scene had a lot of the film’s budget tied up, and filming it again was going to be very costly.  Everyone working on the film was gravely concerned not only for the future of the movie, but for the future of the Disney Studios, because of the vast amounts of money that were being sucked up solely on that feature.  Thankfully, the extra money was secured after financial backers were shown some shots from the film, and convinced that it would be a success at the box office.  When the second squid scene was filmed, the sky was made darker, taking place at night in a thunder-storm, which meant that the squid would be seen only in flashes of lightning.  However, this was not completely necessary, as a new 2 ton squid had been built, with longer tentacles giving the effect of snakes, as well as different methods being used to move them.  So much water was used on this scene that the entire set was flooded, pouring out into the lot, with even Mr. Disney himself having to don his wellingtons!


The Theme Parks

Disney’s Fantasmic was originally to have a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea sequence which would include a Nautilus on one barge, a squid on another, and presumably a fight between the two!  CinéMagique in Disneyland Paris also missed out on a taste of 20k, when the clip was not included in the final cut, and was instead replaced by a clip from The Hunt for Red October.   20,000 Leagues Under the Sea also found its way into the Disney theme parks.  Walt Disney World’s Fantasyland welcomed the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction in October 1971 as a sister attraction to the Submarine Voyage in Disneyland.  This ride lasted until 1994, and is very much missed by 20k fans and Walt Disney World purists.  In Tokyo DisneySea’s Mysterious Island, which is based on the storytelling of Jules Verne, and is home to the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea dark ride.  In Disneyland Paris’ Discoveryland, which is based on the style of science-fiction writers (Jules Verne in particular) you can find Les Mystères du Nautilus, a walkthrough attraction, allowing you to tour the Nautilus for yourself, including a glimpse of the menacing squid!  Disneyland in Anaheim also housed the sets from the film from 1955-1964.

The Verdict     

If you made it this far, well done!  20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is certainly a film that you should see a least once, as it is a Disney classic.  I am reviewing this film from the 2 disc DVD edition, which contains as much information as anyone could wish to know about the film (unless you are a die-hard fan of course!).  Let us look forward to the Blu-Ray!

I give this movie 5 Tinks.


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The Black Cauldron

‘I started with a movie that nobody has ever seen called The Black Cauldron.’

– Andreas Deja, Disney animator, when asked about the Disney movies he has worked on during his career.

So, to be totally honest, I hadn’t heard much about the Black Cauldron until about 2007, when I decided to buy it because I wanted to write about it in a university essay.  I had heard it mentioned on a podcast, and one of the presenters was saying how underrated it was, and that it was actually a good movie.  This being said, I thought that it might be a little like Treasure Planet or Atlantis; sort of a diamond in the rough, however it turned out to be something I did not expect.

The film was released in 1985, and was the first Disney animated feature to be given a PG rating, being suspended from a video release for many years until 1998.  It was, therefore, a questionable choice for Walt Disney World to open a restaurant themed around the film, since it was not in circulation at the time the eatery opened in 1986.  I use the term ‘restaurant’ lightly, as it was a counter service fast food place serving the usual unhealthy theme park food that we all love.  ‘Gurgi’s Munchies and Crunchies’ managed to survive to over six years old, which seems like a long life for a place themed around a film which, we can assume, that a lot of guests may not have known anything about.

Anyway, food aside…Any Tim Burton fans would be interested to learn (if they did not know already) that he worked on the pre-production of the film as a conceptual artist.  Along with Mr. Burton, many of the Disney animators who would become instrumental in the second ‘Golden Age’ of Disney features worked on The Black Cauldron.  The film is based (apparently loosely) on the book called The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, which is based on Welsh mythology.

The film seems to be aimed more at a male audience, particularly pre-teens, and its dark aura does not lend itself to younger viewers.  It could be argued that most Disney films are more aimed at females, or more specifically little girls, with stories of princesses living happily ever after.  That said, many little boys seem to enjoy those movies too, whereas the same cannot be said about The Black Cauldron.

Enlarge the image to see a hidden Mickey!

The hero of the story is Taran, an assistant pig keeper who has dreams of being a warrior.  It turns out that one of the pigs under Taran’s charge, Hen Wen, is a magical pig, who knows the location of the mystical black cauldron.  Ok so this is the point where I gave the T.V the look of ‘what the heck?’  A magical pig?  It seems a little childish.  However this nonsense was balanced out by one of the most evil and frightening Disney villains I’ve ever seen, and let’s be honest, there are a fair few to choose from.  He is The Horned King, (think Hades meets Skeletor but minus the comedy) and he is trying to locate the cauldron for himself, and unleash an army of invincible undead warriors called ‘The Cauldron Born’.  On Taran’s quest to keep Hen Wen safe, he meets a small, very annoying dog-like creature called Gurgi.  Speaking of annoying, there is one prominent female character who goes by the name of Princess Eilonwy.  She does not appear to be a typical princess compared to characters such as Cinderella, although you can understand that due to the dark subject matter, the animators would want to prohibit her from skipping around amongst forest animals or singing uplifting sugary songs.  There are the usual escapades, running away, being captured, escaping, looking for a magical pig…Then before you know it, out of this dark and strange land we are introduced to the Fairfolk.  They are small fairies, some of which slightly resemble the seven dwarfs, along with a few females.  They are brightly coloured, glowing, and seem to provide a lot of information to our heroes about what to do next to find the black cauldron.  If you look closely you may even see Tinkerbell!

One of the (few) pros about this movie is that it does not take long to get the story started.  The downside of this is that the rest of the film seems to amble along rather slowly, and unlike most Disney films that had gone before, it did not possess any musical numbers to lighten the mood.  Speaking of lightening the mood, I have to say that I did not laugh once during this film, it is rather serious, and any attempted humour seems to fall by the wayside.

Something which seemed to stand out like a sore thumb when I first started watching the film was that there was something strange going on with the lip-sync.  Possibly not even that, but it didn’t sound like the voices were coming from the characters on the screen, it is hard to explain, and needs to be seen to be understood.  Another thing that was very noticeable was the quality of the film, with lots of particles of God-knows-what and fading in and out of colours, the film dated itself about 20 years!  The character animation is good, but there are times when the characters look faded, or lit differently from the rest of the scene.  There is also some CGI used, in particular in one scene for a pink sky where Taran and Gurgi are talking to each other.  Unfortunately, the 2D animation against a 3D background mix about as well as laxatives and sleeping pills, at least in the realms of 1985.

While the production values on this film are by no means awful, they do leave a lot to be desired, as mentioned earlier.  On the up-side, the backgrounds are very nicely drawn, with lots of detail and more moody tones than a 15-year-old.  I realise that the film is old now, but other Disney films from the 1980s and earlier stand up a whole lot better than this one does, quality wise, as well as regarding the subject matter.

There are a few scenes missing from this film, ones which had been completely animated, in fact.  A scene where one of the Cauldron Born mauls a man was famously removed from the final cut, as well as scenes of graphic violence, including a man being graphically dissolved by mist, and the quaint Princess Eilonwy almost showing all she’s got.  We have Jeffery Katzenberg to thank for these changes; however I can honestly say that I doubt that keeping those scenes in would have made the film any more interesting.  When the 25th anniversary edition DVD was released, many people were half expecting these deleted gems to be included in the special features, however, this special edition turned out to be a single disc which did not boast many more features than the first DVD release.

           Being dissolved by mist, not seen in film.

Who will enjoy this film?  In my opinion, not many people.  At the time not too many people did either, or just didn’t bother going to watch it, because it was a box office bomb.  The folks who grew up watching it as youngsters probably will, as well as children who are young enough to overlook the fading colours and questionable lip-synching.  I have yet to see the 25th anniversary edition of the DVD, which I gather has been cleaned up a bit compared to the original DVD release.  The only reason I can see for buying another edition of this film, is if they restored the deleted scenes, which I think is never going to happen!  So regarding the special features on the DVD I am reviewing from, which is the 2002 release, well, don’t get too excited…We have a ‘Quest for the Black Cauldron’ game, a still frame gallery, and a ‘Trick or Treat’ Donald Duck short.  The gallery on Disney DVDs is always worth a browse through, and the Donald Duck short provides that Disney hydration you need after being parched from watching the main feature.  On the anniversary edition you will find the same features, plus another game *sigh*and a deleted scene called ‘The Fairfolk’.  The deleted scene that I imagine most Black Cauldron fans were least excited about seeing.

I realise I am probably enraging many Black Cauldron fans out there, but this is just my opinion, and comments are welcome!

I give this movie 1 Tink, simply because I refuse to cut Tink in half.

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