Monday, June 25, 2012

D52 - Week 25 - The Black Cauldron

Assistant Hamster/Gerbil Keeper Kevin---

Oh geez. Where do I start with this.
Well, it's a mess, isn't it? It's an amalgam of Lloyd Alexander's first two in the Chronicles of Prydain series, The Book of Three and The Black Cauldron. I haven't read any past that, but there didn't seem to be anything extra that could've been from any of the other books, except maybe Creeper? The presence of dragons? That's about it. But since I had already seen The Black Cauldron before (and as recently as within six years ago) and thought it horribly made at the time, I thought maybe reading the books might help me appreciate it a tad bit more.
It turned out to have the opposite effect. It only highlighted everything the movie does wrong, story-wise, because all of those problems came about as a result of changing elements from the book. Now I'm not saying that a movie can't deviate from its source material. But the important thing is that if a movie changes something, it has to be changed for a reason and anything else affected by that change has to be adjusted accordingly. The Harry Potter films did a pretty darn good job at following this rule. For example, Dobby isn't present in the screen version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Maybe for time reasons, effects budget, whatever. But in the book Dobby has the important role of giving gillyweed to Harry for one of the Triwizard challenges. So instead Harry gets gillyweed from Neville Longbottom, which does make perfect sense since it has been established that Neville has an interest in herbology. It also helps give extra screen time to a character who would have a more important part later on.
In the book "The Black Cauldron," Gurgi is not the one who sacrifices himself into the cauldron. It is done by a "deleted" character named Ellidyr. You see, Ellidyr has his own story arc in which he starts off as the jerk with evil looming over him, and in the end he sacrifices himself to basically repent. Oh, also, he stays dead. If he were just brought back to life right afterward, that would kind of cheapen the meaning of the sacrifice itself, wouldn't it? But since Ellidyr isn't in the movie, someone else needs to willingly go into the cauldron so...Gurgi, then? The character we didn't establish having any particular reason to give up his life for Taran's group? And why does Taran care about Gurgi at all? If they instantaneously and forever bonded for that first few minutes they met, I must have missed it.
Now I should also say I didn't really love the books or anything, but at least they were more or less straightforward. Things tend to happen for a reason in the books. In the movie several ideas are just haphazardly thrown at the audience with no regard for purpose or pacing. When we first meet Fflewddur Fflam, we see his harp's strings as he stretches the truth in introducing himself, but whereas this is a running gag (it was easier to make people laugh back then) throughout the novels, I don't remember it coming up again at any point after his first scene. So why not cut out the harp string gag altogether? Also, why was Fflewddur himself in the movie at all? In the book he helps to build Taran's fighting army (also, in the book the characters actually engage in direct combat, imagine that!) and is a comic relief type (he's slightly funnier in the books, though that's not really saying much), but what does he actually do in the movie? Does he join Taran, Eilonwy and Gurgi just for the sake of that one pants-ripping bit? Also Doli - who in the books aids with his invisibility power and yes, actually physically fights the opposing armies - here, just...says a few things, goes away, then shows up at the very end as if to say, "Ha! I didn't have to do anything!"
And then there's Eilonwy, who was only revealed at the end of The Book of Three to be a princess, but as a last-minute joke of sorts (paraphrasedly, "Oh yeah, she's a princess. You didn't know that?"), to let Taran know that the person he'd been treating as just some girl all this time was an important one. But the film misses the point by letting her introduce herself as a princess. So what's the point of that if not for the pay-off at the end? Why then does she need to be a princess at all? I could even go on longer about all of these little gripes (that darn forced kiss at the end! Aaagh!) but my overall point is, again, it's not that you shouldn't change details when making a movie based on a book, or an anything based on something else; you just have to be mindful of why those details were there in the first place. Really, I think Disney's The Black Cauldron would've been better if they had gone the Roger Rabbit or Rescuers route and started from scratch altogether, fitting in selected themes and characters as they went along, instead of mashing two books together like Play-Doh and ungracefully picking and jabbing at it to create an ugly kindergarten-quality sculpture.
I haven't mentioned the animation or music because...I don't have much to say about either for this one. I do wonder what it would've been like in an alternate universe where The Black Cauldron has songs with lyrics. I can't imagine it would be much of an improvement, though.

Favorite Character: NOT APPLICABLE
Least necessary character: Hard to pick, but I'll say Fflewddur Fflam, which is a shame, because I liked him well enough in the books and he has a funny name.
Overall: I don't care for this one.

Amanda of Caer Amanda:

OH MY GOD. WHY why why why did I make myself watch this movie again?  Kevin may have read the books, but I'm generally not into that genre and didn't feel the need to spend any time investing myself for a movie that I hated from the start.

In my world, movies are generally more enjoyable when they have a theme. I'll even pluck a loose theme from some of my least favorite Disney movies to show that there is in fact redemption.
Alice in Wonderland: What you wish for isn't necessarily what you'll enjoy.
Peter Pan: Growing up can be an adventure too.
The Rescuers: Big or small, with determination you can make a difference in your own life and the lives of others.

You see what I mean?  Now near the beginning, it was introduced that Taran dreamed of being a warrior in armor at the front of a battlefield.  While he did go on an ... adventure, I guess?... the dream is never mentioned again!  Hen Wen can see the future or some such thing, and perhaps there could have been a theme wedged in there such that seeing the future can't change your destiny or that one should make one's own future, but no, that was skipped right over as well.

And if you can't have a theme, then at least have a story!
Snow White: Jealous Queen aims to destroy pretty girl who is saved by her beauty and the many friends she makes.
Cinderella: Jealous Family members treat a girl poorly until her constant faith and hope bring her magic which she uses to meet a prince and live happily ever after.
Winnie the Pooh: A stuffed bear is imagined to have a personality and has short adventures including surviving a flash flood, outsmarting a swarm of bees, and giving a donkey a birthday present.

What happens in The Black Cauldron? I honestly have no idea at all.  A pig-keeper tries to take a pig to a cottage on the outskirts of a forest, but gets distracted by dragons.  He meets a weird monkey dog.  He walks to a castle and meets a princess and a minstrel.  They leave the castle.  There are some fairies, I guess?  They meet these three witches who like to make bargains. The witches turn the minstrel into a frog.  They find the cauldron. The monkey dog jumps in and presumably dies.  He's not dead! The pig-keeper kisses the princess. Uh... the end, I guess?

Does random things happening constitute a story? NO, I don't think so.  Maybe the books had a cohesive thread somewhere along the line, but the movie strongly reminds me of a very young child telling me ad invented story but without any of the charm.  Yes, they have plenty of ideas and are very creative, but none of the ideas mesh together, every thought that is begun seems to have no end to it and is never addressed again, and then a tag line is stuck at the end such as "they got married, the end!"  But at least when a 5 year old tells you a story, it's endearing to see their young mind develop the creativity even if it never goes anywhere.  I don't want to watch a movie made by professionals and have the same experience. 

So maybe an epic adventure is enough to keep your attention.  That's great, but epic adventures need to be epic.  They are grand and long and have many hardships to overcome (falling into a pit of fairies that immediately float you out is NOT a hardship).  They are on a large scale covering whole countrysides or even whole continents.  Perhaps the characters in The Black Cauldren DID have to take a long journey, but if so then that point was not driven at all.  Every time a new scene started it's as if they looked over the next hill and there was the castle.  A 2 minute walks from there is the witches' house, and the only reason they never made it to the pig cottage is because they missed the bus.

Favorite Character: UGHHHHHHH
Least Favorite Character: ALL of them! I'm not even joking.  I don't see any redeeming qualities to any character in this film.  It's a shame too because all while watching the film, I was able to imagine a very slight change to give the character a purpose and therefore a reason to be part of the story. 

Overall: If someday someone reimagined the entire story (and not even the book, but just the Disney movie version) I could see there actually being a decent movie coming out of this.  There are a thousand little changes involving, take away this easy out, give this character this job, rearrange the order of certain sequences, nix these characters, etc., then I would watch it again. As it stands, No no no... unless I need a nice long rant to make me feel better about something else in life.


  1. But Gurgi IS an evil being who must sacrifice himself to repent! In what universe is trying to strangle a defenseless old man for munchings and/or crunchings NOT an evil sort of thing to do?

  2. True, but since that wasn't what the movie was going for it doesn't count.


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