The film that almost killed Disney
I finally got to re-watch this movie after seeing it more than 30 years ago. It's October as I write this, which means Halloween is coming, so this is a good film to write about.
In the mid-2000s, I made a decision to re-watch a bunch of movies I saw as a kid. One of them that I couldn't watch was Disney's The Black Cauldron because no DVD release was available at the time. It didn't become available until some years later, but I didn't know that, so I just gave up. However, I just found out it's on Amazon and available to stream, so I finally got to re-watch this again.
The first time I saw The Black Cauldron was in 1985 when in theaters. Before re-watching this, I remembered next to nothing about this flick other than it had this villain so scary that it was enough to give any kid nightmares. More on that in a moment. I also vaguely remembered the red eyes of the villain and red smoke that took on skull shapes during certain cauldron scenes.
When re-watching this, I wasn't sure if this was the movie I just had vague memories of from so many years ago. But the moment The Horned King's face appeared on screen, yep, this was the one. This was that elusive Disney movie I had been searching to see again for so long...
...and it was fantastic. This is by far one of the darkest Disney animated movies ever made. It's so dark that on a test screening, kids were fleeing from the theater crying, along with angry parents thinking this was going to be some kind of happy-go-lucky Disney movie when it definitely is not. The Horned King character, the way he was voiced, his animations and everything else about him will scare the crap out of kid.
Critics of the time actually liked this movie, but parents and kids hated it. And I mean REALLY hated it.
The Black Cauldron unofficially earned the title of "the film that almost killed Disney." It did not do well in the theaters, and Disney lost a bundle on this one. They lost so much cash on it that it was put into question whether Disney animation studios was even worth keeping in operation.
This film did so bad in the theaters that Disney did not release a home video copy of it for over 10 years. And when they did finally release one in the VHS format in 1997, it was only in the UK, probably to test the waters just to see if fans would recoil from this flick seeing the light of day again. Fans didn't recoil but instead quite enjoyed it, so about a year later in 1998, Disney released a VHS edition in the United States. And for the DVD release, that didn't happen until 2010!
Is the movie bad?
No. While true the characters aren't really that memorable, this is not a bad movie...
...but it's dark. Dark enough to where it's not kid-friendly, but not so dark as to be considered horror.
The one thing fans of this movie want - myself included - is that infamous 12 minutes of deleted scenes that show the undead army fighting other soldiers, which includes one soldier's flesh rotting off and another tossed into a green pool and "misting" (as in melting) to death. I'm not into horror nor gore, but to see that stuff in a Disney animated film would be incredible.
Disney has never released that 12 minutes of The Black Cauldron deleted scenes. Should they? Yes. It was fans of the movie that pleaded and outright begged for the movie to be released on home video in the first place that got it there. These same fans to this day still want to see those 12 minutes, but Disney has never delivered. The "deleted scenes" on the DVD releases do not show the undead fight sequences.
Those 12 minutes caused a lot of infighting at Disney between the film producer, the studio chairman and even went all the way to the CEO himself. The story of what happened with this flick, the very rocky road it took just to get it out to theaters, the fact it was originally scheduled for a Christmas 1984 release before rescheduled to a later '85 release, and tons of other things just make The Black Cauldron a fascinating film.
After re-watching this, I can honestly say that yes, I enjoyed it.
I can also say that yes, if Disney grew a backbone, spent the money and put back in those 12 minutes, I'm 100% certain home video sales would not only make up the cost but also turn a profit. From what I understand, fans of The Black Cauldron would throw money as Disney just to see what the true original cut of the film was supposed to be. I know I would.
Even though those infamous 12 minutes aren't in the film, I'm still glad Disney actually released The Black Cauldron out on home video. It's a great movie, especially for those interested in seeing the darkest Disney animated film of all time.